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Author Topic: Sweeteners  (Read 2564 times)
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« on: April 03, 2016, 03:12:41 pm »

Although other substances can be sweet to taste, for our reference here sweeteners with one exception at the end, are going to be either one or a combination of one of four sugars, maltose, glucose, fructose or sucrose, sugars are sweet tasting carbohydrates with have short chain molecules and  are easily soluble in water and alcohol. 

What we know as common white (refined) table sugar is mostly pure sucrose and until into the 19th century, was produced almost entirely from the juice of the sugar cane plant of which there are several species, the one used for commercial production are cultivars of Saccharum officinarum.  This plant has its origins in Southeast Asia and was known in China and India before the birth of Christ, it spread from into Eastern Africa and other areas such as the Middle East, with a warm enough climate that had enough moisture.   

Sugar was brought back was brought back from the Middle East to Europe by the Crusaders, and became a popular, although expensive, commodity coming in by land and sea routes.  Until the 18th century India was the major producer of sugar to the world and sugar was a very costly item in Europe and the Americas.   Starting in the early 18th century, the Colonial powers of Europe decided that much of tropical and sub-tropical America including the Caribbean Islands were suitable for growing sugar cane on a large scale, due to earlier plantings that thrived.  This mass scale production brought the mass importation of Blacks from Africa to the Americas.  The sugar used in the United States in the 19th century came from mostly from Louisiana, Brazil or the Caribbean, islands especially Cuba, this sugar came as white refined sugar or it was unrefined sugar of the type we call brown sugar. 

A problem with these sources of sugar is that it has to travel quite a distance in many cases such as to northern Europe, also often the sources of sugar were often controlled by some other country and political disputes could cut off the supply through boycotts or blockades, to help alleviate this problem other sources of sugar were sought and in the late 18th century, the solution was first found in Germany in the root crop we call beets (Beta vulgaris) which contain sugar, specifically the type called Mangelwurzel (Beta vulgaris cultivar group Crassa ) a large beet grown mostly for stock feed, careful selection of the types and selective breeding established a type with a sugar content of 6% and breeding has brought that up to about 20% today, this created a different type of beet we call sugar beets (Beta vulgaris cultivar group altissima) and methods of extracting the sugar were developed Napoleon funded some of this research because of the problems of obtaining sugar from normal sources due to him being at war with much of Europe.   

By the 1830ís a large part of Western Europeís sugar was being produced by the newer improved strains of beets and the newer methods of extracting sugar and by the American Civil War most of Eastern Europe was producing their own sugar since sugar beets can grow in temperate climates. Although there were experiments with these in the United States at this time, sugar beet production did not reach a large scale in the United States till the 1880ís and 1890ís a lot being located in eastern Colorado and western Nebraska in the Valley of the Platte River.  By WWI the United States was making a majority of their sugar from beets.

Despite what is often pushed around, the only differences in table sugar between cane sugar and beet sugar takes a laboratory to tell the difference, both are almost pure sucrose.   White refined sugar was far more expensive till late in the century than brown sugar so a majority of cooks used brown sugar for cooking and used white sugars for table use, hence the name often used for white sugar, table sugar. 

The way sugar was bought started changing about the time of the Civil War, before that almost all sugar whether refined or unrefined, was made into cones or loafs at the refinery. The sugar syrup was poured into cone or loaf shaped moulds and allowed to harden. These were wrapped in paper and shipped to the consumer markets.  This meant the cook had to remove chunks of the sugar and grind or crush the chunks before use; there was even a plier like tool with sharp jaws called sugar nippers made to perform this task.  This type of sugar lasted into the early 20th Century, mainly because many thought granulated sugar was easy to adulterate buy the seller, as it was.  There are accounts of granulated sugar being adulterated with fine sand, so there are valid reasons for this thought.  Today there is a small amount of brown sugar still sold in cone form, mostly in Hispanic grocery stores and by companies selling to the reenacting trade. 

The granulated refined sugar was and still is passed though sieves into different grades of coarseness. These different grades still exist today as:

Coarse grade or sanding sugar, this is often colored and is used to decorate the tops of some baked goods such as sugar cookies.

Normal granulated sugar, this is the common table sugar most use today.

Super fine is a much finer grade and is used where a sugar that is easy to dissolve is needed.

Powdered or confectioners sugar, this is very fine and often mixed with an anti-caking agent to prevent lumping. It is used most often for icing.

Cube sugar, those cubes that are often on hand for coffee, those were invented in Europe before the Civil War and do show up on grocery lists in the last quarter of the 19th century and are a handy way to serve sugar for tea and coffee in camp, if the camp status bears this out.  As a note, the brown sugar cubes you see today are a late 20th century product, mainly intended for the coffee house trade.

In the older types of brown sugar seen on the market in the time, there are going to be two main types, the first and oldest is called Muscovado sugar or sometimes Barbados sugar. It has large crystals and is high in molasses content and is very sticky. It can be found as granulated sugar and in the traditional cones. The best places to look for it is in heath food and Hispanic stores as well as larger grocery stores carrying a large selection of Hispanic foods.  In the past this term was used for any high molasses sticky brown sugar, but the term means a sugar made by evaporating the water out of the juice of sugar cane, in other words it is a true, unrefined sugar and in the time was considered a low grade inferior type, today though it will be fairly expensive due to it being made in only a few places in small batches, mass production lowering the cost on many items.

The other type is called Demerara sugar or Turbinado sugar, this is made by taking the crude unrefined sugar and spinning it in a centrifuge (turbine) this removes some of the molasses. This also has large crystals.  This type of brown sugar can be found in must large grocery store under the name Sugar in the Raw or Raw Sugar.  The molasses content of these can vary from light to dark and though it most often comes with a larger grain than our modern brown sugars.

Granulated sugar, both brown and white, were sold in bulk from barrels and weighed, this was often put in a paper sack, machine made sacks dating to the 1870ís.   Often the sugar got hard in the barrel and an auger had to be used to get it out and it often had to be run through the large in-store coffee grinder.  The pre-packaged sugar put up in paper bags at the factory started coming on the market in the 1890ís along with this type of packaging for many other items.

Most of the sugar I use in my cook camps is brown sugar; this is one place I do vary from true period correct a lot, today most brown sugar sold is refined sugar that has had some molasses added back after refining. Although at first glance this makes no sense, in cost it does, it's cheaper and easier with modern manufacturing to do it this way.  Also it is much easier to make a consistent product from batch to batch, and this allows the more common beet sugar to be used and then the better tasting sugar cane molasses to be added to it. The older types of brown sugar can still be found but the cost is greater than the type made by the more modern methods. The modern type is sold as both light and dark, the dark having more molasses in it.

Molasses and other Syrups

These are a very viscous product containing sugars and are used in cooking for both sweetness and to solidify a product such as some candies, pies such as pecan and oatmeal as well as condiments.   The ones we are concerned with here are molasses, maple syrup, cane syrup, sorghum syrup, golden syrup and corn syrup.    Often they can be used interchangeably but the flavors will vary with the product used.   


The true product we call molasses (treacle in Britain) is a by product of sugar refining, the product we use in cooking is from the sugar cane, sugar beet refining also leaves molasses, but has a bitter taste so is used for animal feeds, making industrial alcohol and other industrial uses.   Molasses is also acidic with a Ph level of around 5.5 and can be used as the acid part of a chemical leavening with baking soda providing the alkaline product.   

The molasses we call light molasses is molasses that has been through the extraction process one time and it is called Light Molasses or sometimes ďcane syrupĒ but this is not the true cane syrup (see).  It tends to be dark brown and has high sugar content; this is the molasses most people use in cooking.   The second extraction has less sugar, is a very dark almost black color and has a slightly bitter taste; this is often sold as Dark or Full Flavor.  The third extraction leaves what is called Black Strap Molasses and is very dark and more bitter than the dark molasses, the sugar content is less, it is often used for making rum and alcohol, it was considered a very inferior product in times past, but often eaten today for itís high mineral content.

Although a popular in kitchens and cook camps, molasses was considered a product even inferior to brown sugar and a much inferior product to refined table sugar.   The cost compared to brown sugar and refined sugar would keep it popular with cooks needing sweetener on a budget.    Today molasses is often used for flavoring in items such as barbeque sauces and baked goods such as gingerbread and molasses cookies.

Cane Syrup

Cane syrup in the true sense is the juice from sugar cane that has been boiled down to form thick syrup with no other refinement being done.   The Ribbon Cane that is well know from small production lots in the deep south is a different cultivar of the common sugar cane grown for mass sugar production, it has a lower sugar content but is a slightly hardier type, it actually was the common cultivar grown in the southern United States when we were a major sugar cane producer, it is called ribbon cane because of it dark maroon stripes on the stalk of the canes of the plant. 

Because it is made in small lots by locals using traditional equipment it is darker and richer that mass produced cane syrup, more resembling molasses or sorghum syrup, where mass produced cane syrup more resembles corn syrup and in the past was used and still is to some extent in the same manner as corn syrup, in cooking they are interchangeable for items like oatmeal and pecan pies as well as candy making.   Sales from local producers (where applicable) and internet are the best bets to locate cane syrup of both types although it does show up in stores from time to time.

Sorghum Syrup

Sorghum syrup made from one of several cultivars of the species of grass known as Sorghum bicolor, the group includes the common grain crop we call milo as well as the type called broom corn used to make brooms as well as other varieties, one which is a noxious weed.   

Like the grass known as sugar cane, the sweet sorghum produces a lot of sugar which it stores in the stalk, like sugar cane, the stalks are de-leafed and then run through rollers to produce the juice which is also boiled down into syrup in flat, shallow pans.   
This plant has itís roots in south eastern Africa and was brought to the United States in the 1850ís to see if sugar production could be developed from it, this was not a success, however it was taken into the new settlements in the Midwest where it could provide a cheap sweetener that could be produced close to home and would not have to be shipped, adding to the cost.   

Its introduction came in time for it to be carried to the new lands being settled after the Civil War where there were few honey bees yet (see honey) and few maple trees to produce maple sugar and syrup, it gradually also moved into the south where home grown sugar production was welcome in areas where sugar cane will not grow since it only takes 12-15 inches of rain a year and has a 120 day growing season.   

Similar in taste and look to dark molasses, today it is not an important crop; most is grown on a smaller scale to provide the limited demand for this syrup.    But like cane syrup it can be found in some stores and can be shipped in via internet and catalog sales.   

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup (and sugar) is made from the sap of trees in the maple family; the one used the most is the species commonly called a Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) although almost any species of the maple can be used to produce maple syrup.   This tree is native to the north-east United States and into Canada, as far west as the Mississippi area and as far south as the area of the Ohio River although the large concentrations of these were and still are in the New England area and into the region of Canada just to the north.   

These trees store starch in their roots that is converted to sugar and rises with the sap in the early spring, the trees are tapped with holes and spouts in the early spring and the sap collected, this is boiled to reduce the water content and it takes 20-50 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.   This can also be reduced to the point the sugar granules crystallize, producing maple sugar.

As the settlers moved west, the supply of maples grew less and less; requiring other sources of sweeteners if it was to be made at home, this as noted already was often supplied by sorghum syrup. 

Golden syrup

Golden Syrup can mean two different items, before the middle 1880ís, golden syrup was a name often used for light treacle aka the molasses from the first run, after the sugar has been extracted.  More of a British term, it was still used in America from time to time, although the term molasses and light molasses took over for treacle and golden syrup in American English.   

The Golden Syrup referred to here is made from the light molasses but the sugars are inverted by an enzyme, in other words, the sucrose molecule is split and turned into fructose and glucose, this gives the syrup a different flavor and also keeps the sugars from crystallizing as sucrose sugars can.   This helps in baking and candy making where this effect is undesirable.  This was first marketed in England in 1885 by the Abram Lyle Company and some did make it into the US as it does today.  It is also eaten as a topping on pancakes, scones and other items any other syrup like substance would be used for.   It is similar to the original corn syrups (see corn syrup) but has higher fructose content, although it is not as concentrated as the modern high fructose corn syrups; it is also in many ways, similar to honey.

Corn Syrup

Corn syrup today can mean to separate products; one is the High Fructose Corn Syrup HFCS that is creating such controversy today, this is a late 20th Century product and will not be discussed here.

Early in the 19th century it was discovered that corn starch could be converted to glucose by adding dilute hydrochloric acid and heating it under pressure, this formed thick syrup and was first brought on the market in the early 1880ís.   Useful for any item other syrups were used for the glucose allowed it to be used as a thickener for items like candy because the glucose would not crystallize like syrups containing sucrose would, the lower cost and this property and cost helped expand the candy industry and bring down the price of many cadies such as the popular gum drops and jelly beans.   The popular brand Karo started bottling both light and dark corn syrup in handy containers right after the turn of the Century making it popular for home use.   

There is some evidence but beyond the scope of this document, that one of the newly developed artificial flavorings, maple, was added to corn syrup and either sold as maple syrup or used to adulterate maple syrup or both.  This ended in theory in 1906 with the passage of The Pure Food and Drug Act. 

Honey is best defined as the nectar from flowers, gathered by bees, modified by enzymes and dehydrated into a thick liquid to prevent spoilage.   This is done by ingesting and regurgitating the nectar several times, thus mixing it with the enzymes and evaporating some of the water content.   The water content is further reduced after it is put in the cells of the honey comb by many bees fanning their wings to create air flow, when it is reduced in water content enough to prevent spoilage the cell is sealed with wax.

Honey is typically around 40% fructose, and 32% glucose as well as a smaller percent of other sugars and about 17% water, these figures will vary with the honey source.  The flavor and color of the honey will also vary with the source of the flowers and can range from a light golden color to very dark brownish color.  The different types of honey from different flower sources could almost fill a small book itself.  Honey also has a varied acidity depending on the source; the Ph level is in the 4.0 range most times but can range from about 3.5-6.0 also depending on the source of the honey, with the addition of baking soda this can be used as a leavening.

Although most bees produce and store honey, the only one that produces enough surplus to be useful to man, these are in the genus Apis and the one used for almost all commercial production of honey is the sub-species commonly know as the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera).   

Honey from bees is most likely the first sweetener known to mankind and was gathered in the wild by early man at what could be considerable risk since bees do sting to protect their hives which are often high in hollow trees.  Bee keeping also known as apiculture where man builds hives for bees to live in so the honey can be gathered most likely dates to around 4,500 years ago in Egypt.  Early forms of bee keeping meant the hive had to be destroyed to gather the honey, often the bees did not survive the winter, in the latter part of the 18th Century new type hives that allowed honey to be harvested with as little disturbance to the bees as possible were developed.  The movable frame type (called supers) developed and patented in 1852 by L. L. Langstroth has become the standard for American bee keeping.   

The honey bee is a native of the Old World and had to be introduced by the early settlers and was introduced along the eastern coast of North America by the early 17th century in what is now the United States at both Jamestown and Plymouth colonies.   They were introduced to the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Mexico at an earlier date.   

The beeís escaped as colonies swarmed and it has been said they moved into the unsettled regions at pace slightly faster than the human settlers till the reached the Great Plains where they were stopped by lack of suitable places to nest, due to the lack of trees.  They were moved into Utah with the early Mormons for who the bee hive was a symbol of there colony named Deseret.   The honey bee was not introduced to California till 1853 although the reasons the Spanish did not introduce them are not clear.

Most of the honey production in the United States was in the eastern half and California until the large fields of alfalfa (often called Lucerne at the time) and types of clover were planted for forage crops and hay on the Great Plains in the late 19th century, making bee rising in these areas practical and profitable.  .

With its high sugar content and low water content honey will keep indefinitely although at room temperatures the sugars sometimes crystallize causing a grainy semi-liquid because the water is so saturated with the sugars they tend to migrate out after time.  This can be reversed by heating the honey to over 120F, most often done by placing the container in hot water.   

The last sweetener does not contain any sugars and only has a minor roll in the very late 19th and early 20th century, it would come into itís own during WWI.  The substance is saccharin, first produced in Germany in 1879 from coal tar and a way to make it inexpensively was patented 5 years later and put on the market in the late 1880ís, in Germany and it would be first made in the United States in 1901, although it would not gain widespread popularity till sugar shortages during WWI.  Theodore Roosevelt was a well known user of saccharin.   

I mention it because of it being available late in the time period, it is not used a lot today, it was accused of causing cancer in 1977 and although not banned, it required warning labels, later  have decided it is not a cause of cancer and warning labels are no longer required on packaging containing it.

This information should help you be able to choose what sweeteners are right for your camps and the time/location you are depicting.   

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Mongrel Historian

Always get the water for the coffee upstream from the herd.

Ab Ovo Usque ad Mala

The time has passed so quick, the years all run together now.
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« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2016, 11:11:58 pm »

Fantastic Del, thanks for posting!

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« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2016, 08:21:44 am »

When do you go for publishing? Or are you self publishing?


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« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2016, 10:44:57 am »

When do you go for publishing? Or are you self publishing?


Self, about a year, right now I need a few more pictures the most and a little more work, won't do it till I am happy with it.

Mongrel Historian

Always get the water for the coffee upstream from the herd.

Ab Ovo Usque ad Mala

The time has passed so quick, the years all run together now.
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« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2016, 11:41:45 pm »

Great info, Del!!!

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« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2016, 01:14:52 am »

Excellent My Dear Del!

please let us know when books are out,
I'ld like an autographed copy if at all possible
and a hat.

prf mvl

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