It might be the health trend we are witnessing in the cooking scene right now, but brown sugars are more popular than ever before. Since most of them contain molasses, which is rich in iron and vitamin C, they are deemed to be a better option, which also gives a nice twist to the flavour of the dishes or the beverages they are added to. This is obviously positive, but the differences and the variety of names can end up being a little (or a lot!) confusing! Following up on Andrea’s entry, I will try to understand the different types of brown sugars and their translation in Italian.
The kind of brown sugar you would find in cafés to sweeten your coffee, for us Italians is zucchero di canna- literally, cane sugar, as it also sometimes referred to in English. As you can guess, it is obtained from the sugar cane rather than from the sugar beet (the source of white sugar) and it is partially refined: its darker colour is due to the presence of residual molasses. The grain is generally as fine as caster sugar, and it can be used to replace it without much difference.
Another kind of semi-refined sugar is Demerara sugar, also known as Turbinado sugar in the US, because it is processed with turbines. The grain is larger and crunchier than cane sugar, and the flavour has some hints of caramel, but it is not too strong. In Italian, we would just call it zucchero Demerara – nothing too original here, but I have never seen it sold with the name Turbinado.
Let’s move onto the territory of unrefined sugars, which in Italian are also referred to as zuccheri integrali; with the adjective integrale, we tend to indicate everything that is not refined or processed, so we use if for flours, bread, pasta, rice – which in English would all be called wholegrain-, as well as with sugar. In this type of sugar, the molasses is not extracted, and according to how it is dried, the sugar has a different name.
When the molasses is boiled and evaporates while the sugar is shaped in blocks, we have panela sugar; the texture is quite sandy, while the flavour is not too intense. I haven’t seen much of this product in the UK, but in Italy it can be found both in health and fair trade shops with the simple name Panela.
If the molasses is frequently mixed and stirred with the sugar crystals during the dessication process, the typology of sugar is called mascavo, whose most famous variety is muscovado sugar; it feels like wet sand and it has a deep, intense flavour with licorice hints. In Italian, you can find it under the name zucchero muscovado or muscobado– I don’t know what the spelling difference is due to.
And we’ve arrived to the most difficult type of sugar to translate into Italian: light/soft/dark brown sugar or golden caster sugar. This variety is made with caster sugar coated in molasses- the quantity of the latter depends on whether it is the light or dark variety. Light brown sugar is very typical of the UK and it is difficult to find elsewhere. Unfortunately, it is often used in baking and when translating a recipe, finding a substitute can be tricky; it is generally replaced with caster sugar, because they share the same dry and light texture, although some compromise on flavour needs to be made.
Do you have any of these types in your country? Is there anything I haven’t covered that you think I should add to the list? Leave me a comment!