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Yes, We ‘Cane’

February 18, 2010

Ahh, sugar.  So many drinks call for this wonderful little item, but where does it come from? 

Sugar is a carbohydrate which includes all those “ose” things we hear about on cooking shows: Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, Lactose, Maltose.  Every plant in the world produces some kind of sugar through photosynthesis.  However, there are only two that have a harvestable amount: Sugar beets and sugar cane.  We are gonna stick with sugar cane.

Originally grown in India, Sugar cane was brought to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus in his second voyage across the pond where it flourishes to this day.

Making sugar cane  into sugar is a fairly simple process and is like doing laundry in reverse.  The stalks are harvested and run through a set of rollers (like the old wash board things your grandma had before electricity).  The juice is extracted then mixed with lime  no, not the little green fruits) to clean the cane juice.  The dirt is returned to the fields, and the juice is then placed in an evaporation chamber to thicken and further clean.  Once done, it is then put in a large pan and boiled down until crystals begin to form. It is then put into a centifuge chamber and spun at a high speed like the spin cycle on a washing machine (Remember?  Laundry in reverse) 

Finally the refined sugar is dried using hot air to complete the process. (BTW the left over stalks/fibers are sometimes used to run the boilers and turbines to create the heating and electricity during the refining process.  Cool thing is these fibers are renewable energy meaning they only give off CO2 wich goes back into the sugar cane  fields and feeds the photosynthesis process!

Now there is some stuff left in the pans after boiling: molasses.  There are 3 grades of molasses (A, B, and C Grade).  Before we continue there though, let’s talk about TYPES of refined sugar…

  • Table Sugar; those neat little granules or cubes we see everywhere. 
  • Superfine/Castor Sugar: table sugar that where the crystal have been pulverized into an almost fine powder
  • Confectioners Sugar; Superfine sugar with added cornstarch
  • Brown Sugar: Refined sugar that has a little molasses left in it
  • Raw Sugar; Goes by many names pending on where it is made including demerara, tribunado, nad muscovado.  They range in color from light tan to almost black and are the best tasting sugars.

Now if you ever tried to make a drink with table sugar, i  et you had a hell of a time getting it to dissolve.  Thats because table sugar is not soluble in water.  This is where simple syrup comes in.  If you mix sugar (sucrose) into boiling water the sucrose molecule will break apart into 2 other simple sugars, Fructose and Glucose, which DOES dissolve in water.

Because superfine sugar is table sugar where the crystals have already been “broken”, this is the choice of most bartenders in making drinks.  If your boss isn’t buying it, take a cup of table sugar and put it in your blender for about 1 minute.  VOILA!  Superfine sugar.

Back to molasses, the byproduct of the sugar-making process.  Molasses is the residue left in the pans form the sugar boiling.  This can be bottled up and used in baked goods, but my favorite application is rum,  and we will get to that in the future.

If you are using simple syrup for your libations there are a couple of ways to go.  Bars use either 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of water to  table sugar to make simple syrup.  However, you can also use the other sugars as well!  Raw Syrup and brown sugar syrup are excellent in drinks. Just keep in mind that because these syrups are not clear, they will add color to your cocktail, which may be a concern when mixing with clear liquors.  There is also Rock Candy Syrup which is a supersaturated water and sugar ratio to where the water cannot handle any more sugar and rock candy will form on a stick when inserted.

In my bar, I have use a variety of sugar syrups as well as sugar cubes and superfine sugar( it’s all about the show, baby).  I use them depending on the drink.  Each can add a different depth of flavor to your drinks.  If you want to experiment, make the same drink substituting each syrup and see what you think.

Happy mixing!


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