Food Opinion

A sugar by any other name would taste as sweet

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Sugar has been considered the “demon substance” on and off for some time, with popular waves of sugar-free existence often crashing onto the beach of our food paranoias.

Sugar is bad! No wait... fat is bad! No wait... the carousel of dieting fads goes around and around, serving only to fatten the purses of diet product pushers and leaving the unfortunate clingers to the ride in a destructive yo-yo dieting regime.

Unless there are specific medical issues with dietary requirements, most of us can consume sugar in moderation without facing dire consequences. It’s crystallised sucrose, not bloody cyanide.

There are many types of sugar, but unless you are using artificial sweeteners, most sugars contain a combination of sucrose, glucose and fructose. Substitution of coconut sugar for white sugar does not make a dish sugar-free.

Different sugars and syrups can add various nuanced tones to your dishes.

Types of sugar

White granulated sugar: Sucrose crystals, derived from sugar cane or sugar beets. Size around 0.6 mm per crystal.

White caster sugar: Smaller type of white sugar, 0.35 mm crystals.

White powdered/confectioner’s/icing sugar: Even smaller type of sucrose crystals — 0.060 mm, about ten times smaller than granulated.

Brown sugar: The higher the molasses content, the darker brown the sugar. Brown sugar also comes in various crystal sizes.

Coconut sugar: Chemically and nutritionally not very different to white granulated sugar. It’s a type of palm sugar produced from the sap of the flower bud stem of the coconut palm.

Palm sugar: Sap is collected from palm varieties such as the palmyra, date, nipa, sugar and coconut palms. It’s then boiled to make palm syrup and sold in bottles, or solidified.

Jaggery: A type of block sugar concentrate produced from cane juice and often date or palm sap without separation of the molasses and crystals.

Date sugar: Less processed than white sugar, a paste is made from dates mixed with maltodextrin and dried to form granules. Does not melt or dissolve.

Jyohakuto: Japanese white sugar has fructose and glucose added to it so it’s more moist than sucrose only white sugar.

Types of syrup

Honey: Mostly fructose and glucose, from bees regurgitating plant nectar from their special honey tummy.

Maple syrup: Derived from the sap of maple trees. Mostly sugar, has some trace minerals.

Corn syrup: Corn starch is converted to sugars (mainly maltose and glucose). High fructose corn syrup processes this further to turn glucose into fructose.

Molasses: This is a liquid by-product of sugar production, so has less sugar content. Blackstrap molasses is thicker and dark with little sugar content.

Inverted sugar syrup: Made by heating sugar and water, two parts sugar to one part water.

Kuromitsu: Japanese sugar syrup, lighter and thinner than molasses.

Recipe: Vanilla cupcakes

This recipe makes between 4-6 cupcakes, depending on your cupcake paper size. Enough for snacks, no waste.


  • plain flour, 60 grams
  • corn starch, 5 grams
  • baking powder, 3 grams
  • kosher salt, 2 grams
  • egg, 1 large, room temp (22ºC)
  • caster sugar, 40 grams
  • vanilla extract, 10 ml
  • unsalted butter, 60 grams
  • whole milk, 60 ml


  • muffin tray
  • paper cupcake liners
  • medium bowl
  • small bowl
  • microwave-safe bowl
  • whisk
  • wire rack (for cooling)


The mixing and putting into liners — probably about ten minutes. Baking — maximum of 18 (check around the 14-minute mark).


Preheat oven to 175 ºC.

Put 5-6 cupcake liners into muffin tray.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, corn starch, baking powder and salt.

In microwave-safe bowl, melt butter, let cool a bit.

Medium bowl, whisk egg and sugar together.

Add vanilla extract. Mix. Add cooled melted butter. Mix.

Add one-third of dry ingredients (flour and so on), mix through. Add one-third of milk, mix through.

Repeat twice, until all dry ingredients and milk are added.

Mix to combine, but don’t mix beyond that because it develops the gluten in the flour and creates a dry, dense cupcake.

Fill cupcake liners to just over half full.

Bake for 14-18 minutes, test with a skewer that they are cooked. Turn out of muffin tin, cool on wire rack.

Recipe: Vanilla ermine icing

This makes the perfect amount of icing for this cupcake recipe. Make it first and then set aside to cool before making the cakes.

An icing less sweet than American buttercream, but just as smooth.

The name refers to the silkiness of ermine fur — no actual ermines have been hurt in this recipe.


  • plain flour, 20 grams
  • caster sugar, 65 grams
  • whole milk, 120 ml
  • vanilla extract, 3 ml
  • unsalted butter, 160 grams, softened
  • kosher salt, pinch


  • saucepan
  • shallow dish
  • plastic wrap
  • mixer
  • piping bag
  • piping tip
  • spatula


Takes a bit of time to make the “pudding” and for it to cool down, the mixing at the end should only take 5-6 minutes. If you use a shallow dish, it will cool down faster.


Saucepan on low heat, add in flour and then while whisking slowly and continuously, add in milk.

After all the milk is added and mixed in with the flour, add sugar. Keep whisking until thickened into a “pudding” consistency (but not a paste).

Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla and salt. Pour into shallow dish and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the “pudding” (so it doesn’t form a skin). Leave to cool.

With electric mixer/stand mixer whip butter until fluffy and white. Add in milk “pudding” a spoonful at a time until it forms a smooth fluffy cream. Fill piping bag and pipe onto cooled cupcakes.


Pale butter (if you can source it) helps make the icing white. You can also add a tiny drop of purple food colouring to help whiten it up, since it counteracts the yellow of butter.

The “pudding” should be cool but not chilled. If too cold, it will not blend smoothly. Keep whipping until it does.

You can make this vegan by using a plant-based milk and non-dairy butter.

Megan Jane de Paulo is a Melbourne-based, inner-city latte sipper and social media provocateur. You can follow Megan on Twitter @gomichild.

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