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THE ""SWEET OF "SWEET HOT" . . .
As we all agree, the right balance between sweet and hot is the secret of
great barbecue. There are numerous ways to sweeten sauces and dry rubs.
Choosing the right sweet and the right heat is the difficult part.
Understanding the differences in sweeteners makes it easier to achieve the
The intense sweetness of refined white sugar is familiar to us all. White
sugar has one note, sweet and a little goes a long way. Brown sugar has a
somewhat more complex flavor. White or brown sugar most commonly used
either in granules or in crystal form, is the result of refining processes.
After sugar cane is harvested, the juice, produced by crushing the cane,
is boiled to produce sugar crystals and molasses.
The dark brown, unrefined cane sugar that results is known as muscovado.
Muscovado is a super-rich, molasses-flavored product which is available in
several intensities through ingredient suppliers. Dried molasses (an
entirely different product) is easier to obtain and comes in several
varieties. Some dried molasses is mixed with corn starch or soy flour.
This addition makes it easier to work with in a dry mix and will contribute
to the texture in sauces. There is a real affinity of molasses with meat
and the complex flavor combines well with spices.
Most molasses is a blend of syrups from different varieties of cane.
Blackstrap molasses,which is thicker, stronger, and darker, is the
concentrated syrup left over after sugar has been refined. It contains
about 50 percent minerals and organic materials. It is nutritionally rich,
helps preserve products, and has a complex interesting flavor.
What we know as brown sugar is a refined sugar, artificially colored with
caramel. Brown sugar is useful in sauces, but is difficult to work with in
dry mixes. Its tendency to become hard requires the use of chemical
additives to keep it free-flowing.
Turbinado sugar is a refined sugar with the flavor of molasses
reintroduced. The flavor is similar to brown sugar, but it has none of the
caking problems which makes it a good substitute.
Honey, the world's oldest sweetener, is available in liquid and dry forms.
Honey's soft mellow flavors are being used successfully to create wonderful
barbecue sauces. Because honey has a lighter, more subtle sweet, it must
be carefully combined with spices so as not to be overwhelmed. I prefer
the way single flower honeys hold their own with spicy mixtures. I
especially like the strongly flavored buckwheat honey.
Maple syrup is a brown syrup produced from the sap of two types of American
maple trees. It has a smooth, rich flavor, rather like rum. It is seldom
used in savory dishes, but has been used successfully with bacon, sausage
and spare ribs. Maple sugar has the same flavor profile as maple syrup and
can be used in dry rubs to create the very special flavor.
Fruits and vegetables are great sweeteners. In recent barbecue contests, I
have found barbecue sauces sweetened not only by apples and plums, but also
carrots. Tamarind, available in oriental markets, is made from a tropical
fruit and contributes both sweet and sour to barbecue sauces. This product
deserves more recognition within the barbecue industry. It has long been
the secret ingredient in commercial sauces. A-1 Sauce relies heavily on
Tamarind and I have seen it on the ingredient list of some Worcestershire
And last, but not least, the sweet plays a vital role in the touch of
caramelization that is so essential to great barbecue.
Copyright (c) 1998, by:
Ann D. Wilder, President
VANN Spices, Ltd.
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