I bet if you went into your baking cupboard onboard, you would find a number of different sugars. We stock several kinds because recipes call for different ones. We have regular white crystals, brown crystals, the stuff in the pink packets, the stuff in the blue packets, clear liquid, and more. We cook with it, put it in our coffee, make desserts with it, etc.
Let’s take a look at the most popular options available and decide which work best.
Basic, plain, white sugar: The refined white stuff used heavily in baking is bleached and has no nutritional value whatsoever. It does, however, make things taste good. But it also rapidly increases glucose levels in the blood, giving the diner short bursts of energy. Too much of it has detrimental effects on the body.
Beet sugar: By the time it is refined and ends up white, it has also lost all of its nutritional value so it’s basically the same as white sugar, known as sucrose.
Stevia: This commercial product is far from the leaf that it used to be. By the time it reaches store shelves, it has been refined into a white powder, liquid or crystals to remove some of the bitterness. If it is packaged to be used for baking, the manufacturer might have cut it with maltodextrin or inulin to help with the aftertaste. There’s no denying the bitter aftertaste.
Truvia and PureVia: These are the new stevia-based sweeteners that take the sweet compounds from the stevia leaf, purifying them, and mix them with zero-calorie sugar alcohols. Not really that appealing, is it? The kicker here is that zero-calorie products can increase our appetite because they confuse our appetite regulation system.
Brown sugar: While brown sugar can be less refined than white sugar, it’s usually just white sugar with molasses added in for color. Dark brown sugar is exactly that; more molasses is added. Molasses is what is left from the sugar refinement process.
Xylitol: This is sugar alcohol, not sugar and not an alcohol that you drink. The alcohol is plant based, either from hard wood birch bark or plants, and is good for people watching their sugars such as diabetics as it won’t raise their blood sugar level. I use it for sorbets but it will not hold up to baking. You can find it by the common name of Xyla or Xylitol and it’s not cheap.
So which sugars should you stock on board? For baking, I like less refined sugars, such as evaporated cane juice, which have a richer flavor profile. Often, the color of the crystal will let you know how deep the flavor profile will be. The darker, the richer. It depends on the flavor depth you want.
Plain white sugar is bland but it gives the product sweetness. Artificial sugars just don’t hold up well in baking due to their inability to supply texture and browning. They leave a disappointing result and, too often, they can cause stomach distress. Plus, we really don’t know what the long-term consequences are of ingesting the stuff.
I have used every one of the products mentioned here and the one I always go back to for baking, sauces, coffee, you name it, is honey. Natural sugars, such as honey, are much healthier for us and their flavor holds up well to everything we chefs want to do with it. So I turn to honey, and plain old white sugar.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.