Bring back the cane

food stuff

If you pop to your neighbours to borrow a cup of sugar you could be some time. The days of simply opting for granulated or caster - or demerara - if you were really lucky, are long gone.

Now there are over a dozen different types of sugar to choose from and any self-respecting foodie needs a whole shelf-full if they are going to have the right sugar for every recipe.

It all began when Billington's, who have imported sugars for more than 130 years, started producing unrefined sugar, or what is strictly known as raw cane sugar, on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

Nobody is claiming that sugar is the healthiest foodstuff, but unrefined sugar, unlike white sugar (or brown sugar, which is often simply coloured white sugar), does contain varying amounts of minerals and nutrients. Mostly, though, producers claim it just tastes nicer and more and more people seem to be agreeing with them.

A growing number of supermarkets have introduced their own brand unrefined sugars and some restaurant chefs are getting pretty sweet on it too. Phil Howard, of the modern French restaurant The Square, started using unrefined sugars in his kitchens three months ago - and now he is hooked. "Normal sugars are amazing sweeteners but unrefined sugars also have an amazing flavour," he says. "They add another dimension to a dish."

Having said that, he doesn't recommend that people use them for everything: "Sometimes you want a strong flavour and sometimes you don't. When you are making a lemon tart, for example, you just want a straight sweetener to counteract the acidity, so then I use a bog standard fully refined white sugar."

know your sugars

MUSCOVADO is the one that all the TV chefs seem to be getting their mouths around - it just sounds good.

LIGHT MUSCOVADO is recommended for butterscotch sauces, ice-cream, mulled wine and also tomato sauces.

DARK MUSCOVADO has a toffee flavour and adds depth to marinades, sweet and sour sauces and chocolate-based recipes.

MOLASSES SUGAR is the darkest and strongest of all. It is recommended for Christmas cakes and puddings and chutney. In some recipes it can be rather overpowering.

SEVEN THiNGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT SUGAR

l In 1099 the Crusaders in Syria were the first people from Britain to taste sugar.

l A spoonful of sugar in the bottom of the vase will make fresh cut flowers last longer.

l A couple of cubes of sugar in the tin will keep biscuits fresh and crisp.

l In the Sixties sugar was used to create bouffant hairstyles.

l Add some granulated sugar to mint when you chop it for mint sauce: it makes it easier to cut up.

l A teaspoon of sugar after a vindaloo will apparently take the heat out of your mouth, but it may not do much for your teeth.

l Sprinkle a spoonful over the surface of hot custards or sweet sauces and it prevents a skin forming.

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