Today I have a guest on my blog! Fellow foodie and Italian interpreter Andrea Alvisi from Attitude Translations and I have decided to team up on a difficult topic for who translates recipes: sugar. There are many different kinds, more than you could imagine, and not all of them are available everywhere.
Today Andrea will give us an overview on white sugars, and next week I’ll add my two cents on brown sugars. I am sure you will enjoy all the precious infos!
Imagine a crunchy biscuit, biting into a slice of a moist and decadent chocolate cake, spreading some fruit chutney on a crisp cracker alongside that piece of mature cheddar. Or drizzling your French fries with tomato ketchup (so not healthy, but oh so good), drinking a glass of your favourite fizzy pop or even indulging with a soft and creamy toffee candy. All of these foods have a common ingredient: sugar.
Far from launching into a tirade on the health risks associated with an abuse of sugar or getting involved in the debate surrounding fizzy sugary drinks in the UK, today we would like to take a closer look at sugar in translation. Little did you know, for instance, that the type of sugar you eat can indeed define the country you live in. When we look at the variety available in Italy, for instance, we can see the choice is somewhat limited if compared to the UK.
Let us start with the basics: white sugar. After being extracted from sugar beet and/or sugar cane, this product is refined and contains no impurities (hence the name). The size of the sugar crystals is responsible for the different varieties currently available on the market:
Sometimes spelled ‘castor’, this type of white and granulated sugar has very fine crystals. Its texture lends it perfectly to baking, where it is very prone to dissolve in cake batters, meringue mixtures, etc. So far, so good. This variety has a direct equivalent in Italian: zucchero semolato. The Italian etymology makes reference to the very fine particles, similar to those of milled wheat.
If compared to caster, this type of white sugar has coarser crystals and is best used to make preserves, sugar syrups and jams. Quite surprisingly, Italians seem to prefer their sugar very fine, seeing as there is no direct equivalent. Zucchero granulato and granella di zucchero refer to decorating sugar (also pearl, sanding, coarse or crystal sugar), which has large crystals and is usually sprinkled on baked goods for garnish. Quite interestingly, the type of sugar you find in cafés or use on a daily basis in the kitchen tends to be slightly coarser than your usual caster/semolato. However, the texture is never as coarse as granulated sugar.
Aka confectioner’s or powdered sugar, this is obtained by grinding sugar into a smooth powder and adding cornstarch, which prevents clumping. The Italian zucchero a/al velo (literally, creating a light ‘veil’ of sweetness) is the direct equivalent and is similarly used for decoration.
Obtained by adding vanilla seeds, it can either refer to powdered or caster sugar. Homemade versions call for one or more open vanilla pods to be inserted in a jar of sugar, so as to infuse it over time. In Italy, you will mostly find a mixture of vanillin and icing sugar. Therefore, we have zucchero al velo vaniglinato (Paneangeli), zucchero vanillinato (Cameo) and zucchero vanigliato (others). References to a coarser, caster-like sugar with vanilla are found under zucchero aromatizzato alla vaniglia, which indicate the homemade version as opposed to something you are likely to come across in shops. Translators (and Italians) face further confusion because you can also buy vaniglina or vanillina in Italian supermarkets. While very similar to vanilla sugar in texture and appearance, this powdered substance is simply vanillin, the chemical which imparts the vanilla flavour to bakes and cakes.
As their names suggest, these are used to make jams, marmalades, jellies and other preserves instead of regular white sugar. They mostly comprise caster sugar with the addition of pectin (a gelling agent), citric acid and/or potassium sorbate. The way we make jams in Italy must be completely different because we tend to add pectin as a separate ingredient alongside the fruit and sugar. Therefore, there is no direct equivalent for this one.
Thanks Andrea for such an interesting piece. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter, so you drool over his cake pictures. 🙂 If you encounter the same issues while translating sugars into your language, please share them with us- I am always curious to learn more!