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Traditional Cooking Chemicals (part 4) - Sugar - Sugar Swizzle Sticks, Candied Orange Rind

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2. Sugar

Sugar, like salt, can be used as a preservative, and it works for the same reasons. The sugar changes the osmotic pressure of the environment, leading to cellular plasmolysis and inhibiting the growth of microbial cells. This is why sugary foods such as candies and jams don’t require refrigeration to prevent bacterial spoilage: their water activity is low enough that there’s just not any free water for the bacteria.


Note:

Sugar’s osmotic properties can be used for more than just preserving food. Researchers in the UK have found that sugar can be used as a dressing for wounds, essentially as cheap bactericidal. They used sugar (sterilized, please), glycol, and hydrogen peroxide (0.15% final concentration) to create a paste with high osmotic pressure and low water activity, creating something that dries out the wound while preventing bacteria from being able to grow. Clearly, whoever said “pouring salt on an open wound” didn’t try sugar!


Sugar Swizzle Sticks

This is just plain fun. You can make fancy sugar sticks for sweetening your coffee or tea with very little effort. While probably not something you’d use on a daily basis, it’s a fun project to do with kids.

In a saucepan, boil until completely dissolved:

2 cups (430g) sugar

1 cup (240g) water

Allow the sugar syrup to cool. While waiting, fetch the following:

1 narrow drinking glass

1 small wooden cooking skewer

Tape, such as masking tape

Plastic wrap

Dip the first two or three inches of the skewer into the sugar syrup and then into dry sugar to create seed crystals on the stick.

Stretch a piece of tape across the top of the drinking glass and poke the skewer through the tape so that it’s dangling in the center of the glass but not touching the bottom. You might need to use an extra piece of tape around the skewer to keep it from dropping down.

Once the sugar syrup has cooled (to avoid thermal shock breaking the glass), pour it into the glass. Cover with plastic wrap. Set the glass someplace where it won’t be disturbed and check it every day as the sugar crystals grow. Remove the skewer when the sugar crystals have reached the desired size.

Note

  • You can add food coloring to the water to make colored sugar crystals. Note that some food colorings are not suitable for vegetarians, such as red food coloring (cochineal or carminic acid), which is derived from the scales of an insect.


Simple Lime Marmalade

Marmalade is made by boiling sliced citrus fruits in sugar water and then adding pectin to cause the liquid to gel. For an intensely bitter marmalade—whether you like this style is a matter of personal preference—use Seville oranges. These can be hard to come by, which is why I suggest using limes here. Try this with other citrus fruits, or try a blend!

In a saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer for half an hour or so, until the rinds are soft:

1 pound (400–500g) limes, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced thinly (about 6 to 8 limes’ worth)

2 cups (500g) water, at least enough to cover limes

1.5 cups (300g) sugar

Once the fruit has softened, remove from heat. The marmalade should be intensely bitter at this point; you can add a bit more sugar if you find it overwhelming. Add pectin, following the directions on the box. If you’re using a highmethoxyl (HM) pectin, keep in mind that some amount of acid is needed for it to set; in contrast, low-methoxyl (LM) pectin requires a sufficient amount of sugar to set. If your marmalade or jams aren’t setting, you’ll need to either add something acidic for HM pectin (e.g., lemon juice) or sugar for LM pectin.

Cool and store in fridge.


Candied Orange Rind

In a pot, bring to a boil:

2 cups (475g) water

2 cups (430g) sugar

Orange rind from 3 to 6 oranges, cut into strips of width around 0.5 cm / ¼″

Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the rind is tender. Remove rind from pot, dry on paper towels, and transfer to a container. Add more sugar to container to help pull out moisture in the rind.

Notes

  • The bitter compound in citrus pith (or as a biologist would call it, the mesocarp) is limonin, which can be neutralized either by heat or by steeping in a base. Sugar is used for its preservative qualities that prevent bacterial growth, not for counteracting the bitterness of the raw pith.

  • Try other citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, lemon, lime, or tangerines; or fruits such as cherries, peaches, or apples. You can add spices such as cinnamon to the water as well, or substitute liquors such as Grand Marnier or dark rum for part of the water.

  • You can chop up candied rind and use it in baked goods, or try dipping the candied rind in chocolate and serving it as a simple candy.

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