How to Taste (Sasquatch Books, 2018), by Becky Selengut explains to readers how to properly taste your food and give it the seasoning it needs most. You will learn how to adjust dishes that are too salty or acidic, how to identify when a specific seasoning is missing, and how to use spices to balance your dishes. The following excerpt gives advice on swapping out different types of sugars when cooking.
You might think you could swap one type of sugar for another, as you might do with salts, but different sugars add more than sweetness alone. Only granulated sugar provides sweetness without aromatics (well, high-fructose corn syrup too, but you’re unlikely to be cooking with that). All other sugars will affect the flavor balance of the food by contributing the unique properties they have to offer. Think about what a really floral honey would add to a cake recipe, or how using raisins as a sweetener might affect texture and flavor. Total aside: You must try Tupelo honey sometime in your life; it’s incredible, with aromas of Earl Grey and flowers. It’s not too sweet, just barely citrusy, and very clean tasting.
You might be wondering about the use of artificial sweeteners, and while I’m sentimental about the pink package of Sweet’N Low that my stepmother repetitively taps on her finger before adding it to her decaf coffee, I don’t recommend them. Artificial sweeteners may or may not be harmful to us. But more relevant to this book, they taste strange to most people, with bitter or metallic aftertastes that are difficult to mask. Obviously many diabetics rely on them to satisfy any sweet cravings, so for that reason, I’m glad there are options, but as a general practice I avoid using them.
I aim to use naturally occurring sugars more than refined sugars in my cooking, though I’m not rigid about this. I will roast and caramelize vegetables and use fruits and naturally sweet vinegars, such as balsamic, before reaching for granulated sugar. If fruit or balsamic vinegar just don’t make sense in a dish, I will
add some honey or maple syrup. Ultimately sugar is sugar is sugar to your body, but honey has aromatic qualities and antioxidants, which refined sugar does not. When baking, I love using a variety of sugars to add depth to the finished product. When you venture beyond granulated sugar, you can enjoy a world of sweetness with more complex flavor profiles.
Sweetener Short List
Brown sugar: Many people don’t realize that brown sugar is simply granulated sugar with molasses added in, making it deeper and slightly more complex in flavor. Light brown sugar has less molasses added to it than dark brown.
Coconut sugar: Less refined than granulated sugar, coconut sugar is made from the sap of flower buds from the coconut palm tree. The taste is similar to dark brown sugar.
Demerara sugar: Demerara is a partially refined, large grain cane sugar used for its naturally caramel-like flavor and crunchy texture. It’s often used as a finishing sugar to provide texture and sweetness to a dessert, as in topping a cobbler or cookie.
Honey: The flavor of honey is as diverse as the plants from which bees harvest pollen, so it can’t be qualified in any generalized way. The stronger the flavor of the honey, the less easily you’ll be able to substitute it for granulated sugar.
Maple syrup: Maple syrup, made from tree sap, ranges from golden and delicate to very dark and strong. It’s a perfect sweetener for pork or winter squashes and, combined with dark brown sugar, when making baked beans.
Muscovado: This is a type of partially refined cane sugar with a strong molasses flavor. It is great paired with coffee or used in gingerbread.
Palm sugar: Used in Southeast Asian cuisine, palm sugar—made from tree flower sap—has a slightly toasty, smooth maple flavor.
Piloncillo: This unrefined whole cane sugar is commonly used in Mexico, often in moles, soups, and salsas. It’s strong with a pleasant smoky molasses flavor. Piloncillo and jaggery, used in Asian cuisine, are very similar and can be used in place of each other.
Stevia: Stevia is an extremely sweet herb, but when refined it has a strange aftertaste. I don’t use or recommend it.
Sucanat: Sucanat is a less refined granulated sugar that retains a higher proportion of molasses when compared to other types of cane sugars. It’s intense and has a toasty, charred flavor.
Turbinado: A less processed cane sugar, turbinado comes from the first pressing of sugar cane and retains natural molasses. It can be used in place of brown sugar in baked goods, though you will be losing a small amount of the moisture that brown sugar contains. Simply add a drop of molasses or honey to compensate for the loss of moisture.
More from: How to Taste• Using Alcohol in Your Cooking
• Fixing Under and Over Salted Dishes
© 2018 by Becky Selengut. All rights reserved. Excerpted from How to Taste by permission of Sasquatch Books.