Oh sugar, how I love thee. It’s no joke when I say I have a sweet tooth. I like to add a bit of sweetness to almost every recipe as long as it complements the dish. In basic everyday cooking a pinch of sugar to balance bitterness or acidity is a good trick. But when we start adding large amounts of sugar during the testing of a recipe we can run into brick walls. A high sugar content can help or hinder a recipe depending on the ingredients used. High sugar content is great for jams and jellies, but can completely alter how other hydrocolloids work. Knowing how to use sugar properly is a really amazing thing. We often take for granted the technical mastery that candy making is. So its common we get questions about confection making and how sugar content affects the final outcome.
“How is sugar affecting my recipe?”
Recently we tested a sour patch “bears” recipe. We started with a fruit turkish delight recipe and found them to be too soft. The recipe is a gummy bear with added cornstarch for a different texture. We then decided to raise the cooking temperature to 240°F or the soft ball stage. We found the sugar wouldn’t allow the gelatin to set. We tested a few different starches and cooking temperatures. They were either too hard or had an overly caramelized flavor to them. So at this point I took a look at my ingredient charts and attempted to find out what could possibly help this recipe. I came across rapid set HM pectin, The pectin needs a high sugar content to set. So after a few more tweaks and tests we came up with a recipe that we are so proud of. The gelatin and pectin give a nice chew where the cornstarch adds a nice elasticity. This recipe got me thinking, what other ingredients would have worked and what ones would have failed miserably? The first and easiest would be LM pectin which requires calcium to gel. LM pectin will not gel with a high sugar content even if it contains calcium. Gellan Gum F and Iota Carrageenan needs to be hydrated before the addition of sugar, or else the sugar will inhibit the hydration. While these are extreme example where sugar actually stops the ingredient from working, most ingredients will not be affected by a normal sugar content.
One should consider the following every time a substantial amount of sugar is added to a recipe that uses a hydrocolloid. The sugar will be absorbed by the liquid. Let’s take simple syrup for example; commonly simple syrup is 50/50 sugar and water. Let’s say the recipe is 500g water and 500g sugar. After heating the total weight will be 1000g of liquid. If you want to add 1% of sodium alginate would you add it to the total weight of the recipe or just the water (the part that it is soluble in)? If you were to add it to the total weight it would be 10g. But if you were to add it to just the weight of the water it would be 5g. This doesn’t mean you will need to remove sugar from the equation every time you add a new ingredient. Though it is good to think about how can affect the final outcome of a recipe, in this case a sodium alginate solution can be affected by the amount of sugar.
Sugar is an amazing ingredient that gives us the ability to do so many things. Sugar is the structure in so many of our favorite treats. Everything from the perfect cookie to the perfect ice cream is all in thanks to sugar. It’s good to know a little more about one of the most common and complex ingredients. So next time we try to transform a dish we will think twice about our friends sugar is affecting the final outcome.
Ready to get Cooking?
Give our Sour Patch Bears recipe a try! Breathe new life into your childhood favorite with these sweet and tart caniforms. Choose your own flavor adventure by adding any flavor drop paired with food coloring of your choosing. Nostalgia never tasted so good.