Over the past 200 years we have come a long way with sugar. In the early 1800s it was a measure of wealth. And yet in this millennium, sugar has been vilified and purged from our diets in our fight against all things unhealthy and fattening. But for many, the brownest of sugars is still a pantry staple.
Brown sugar is the same crystallised disaccharide as white, but some molasses remains after the first clean. The level of “brownness” is dependent on the molasses retained and often the result of scale of factory operation more than desire for different grades. Muscovado sugar, for instance, comes from smaller factory productions in Mauritius, where lack of scale and technology has been the mother of invention. Demerara sugar is created from raw sugar cane juice, with more processing resulting in larger crystal formation. Our common, supermarket-stocked brown sugars are more procedural than accident, with the molasses recombined with the crystallised refined sugar.
Brown sugar replaces white sugar easily on the sweetness scale, providing a more distinctive flavour, colour and characteristic. In early days it was used for gingerbread, fruit cakes and flavouring honey cakes, but is now often chosen over white refined sugar for a more caramelly taste and colour.
Ever wondered why brown sugar clumps and goes hard in your well sealed jar, yet caster sugar can stay silky smooth with separated grains? Molasses is the culprit as it contains water. If brown sugar is exposed to dry air, it will oxidise and become hard and lumpy.
To keep it soft, store it in an airtight container with a terracotta disc (sold at most kitchen shops) which will help prevent it drying out or place in an airtight container in the fridge. If brown sugar has solidified, try grating it, pulsing it in a blender until it crumbles, covering it overnight with a damp cloth or heating it in a microwave for a few seconds. Then enjoy the sweet life.