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Around the world series – sugar’s role in traditional Scottish food and beverages
After landing in the enchanted wonder of Japan to bring you sugar applications in traditional Japanese foods and sauces, it was time to return closer to home. For this ‘around the world’ blog series, we arrive in Scotland, a country rich in culture, steeped in history and saturated with amazing food, drink and a history in sugar refining.
Traditional food and drink in Scotland include historic staples such as porridge, haggis and whisky through to modern creations like craft gin, haggis pakora and the infamous deep fried Mars Bar. The Scottish have never been afraid to experiment and create new things, and through the ages have provided the world with diverse food and beverages.
Historic Scottish sugar
Scotland has always loved their sugar confectionery, and their consumption is significantly higher than in other parts of the UK. During imperial expansion, a lot of raw sugar cane was shipped from the Caribbean back to the UK, much of it ending up in refineries around Greenock which was the seaport of Glasgow. One of these refineries belonged to Abram Lyle, of golden syrup fame, which finally closed in 1997.
This abundance of cane around greater Glasgow led to a cottage industry of candy-making. ‘Sweetie Wives’ were women who bought this sugar in bulk and boiled it into home-made sweets, which they sold at local markets. This history, alongside the colder weather in Scotland – which makes the human body crave sugary food to spike blood sugar levels – helped create a culture of Scottish sugar lovers.
Since late medieval times, oats have been grown in Scotland and were part of the staple diet of farmers – or crofters, as they are called in Scotland.
Evidence shows that hunter-gatherers first came to Scotland from Europe around 7000BC. Oats and barley remained the staple crop for the working mans’ food in Scotland so porridge, made with Scottish oats, became not only a cheap food to consume, but also one which was highly nutritious and sustaining, perfect for the inclement weather, often found in Scotland.
Once porridge was made, it become a hugely popular breakfast, and remains so till this day. The dish is best served with a traditional topping of golden syrup, which was created in London by Ragus’s founder Charles Eastick in 1883, while working for Abram Lyle. With its distinctive, caramelised mellow flavour and sweet taste, its distinguished flavour profile is instantly recognisable all over the world.
Scottish desserts for millionaires
Plain Scottish shortbread originated around the 12th century, and by the 19th century bakers had started to make the popular shortbread with additional toppings. In 1928, Charles Eastick also began to make specialist sugars with fruit-based goods such as candied orange peel which, along with almonds, were initially added to shortbread. But where and when the combination of caramel and chocolate first appeared or was popularised is not known; its modern refined form known as Millionaires Shortbread or Caramel Shortbread is said to be a tribute to the efforts of Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century.
Millionaire Shortbread evolved from its earliest recipes in Scotland where at first it was made with ground oats. Its base now is a sweet, unleavened cookie made from flour, muscovado sugar and butter. This particular sugar is applied to the making of the shortbread to develop a subtle flavour, creating its golden colour, as well as adding volume. This lighter form of muscovado sugar is used to add texture and depth, and can also be applied to salad dressings, meat glazes and ice creams.
A Hot Toddy on a winter’s evening is believed to have originated in Scotland in the 1700s. According to stories, the smoky flavour of the country’s staple liquor, Scotch, was deemed too harsh by many drinkers – particularly amongst women – and so the Hot Toddy was designed as a sweeter-tasting alternative.
It’s made by mixing a softer Scottish whisky, hot water, fresh lemon juice and soft brown light sugar. Not only is this tasty, but some people believe it relieves the symptoms of the cold and flu. The Scottish have described the drink as “the vitamin C for health, the sugar to soothe, the alcohol to numb”.
Soft brown light sugar dissolves quickly in this traditional beverage and adds a mellow aroma and subtle sweetness to balance the other flavours a Hot Toddy offers. The invert sugar in soft brown light sugar helps controls crystallisation, resulting in a smoother, silkier finish to this warm Scottish beverage.
Scotland, with its deep history and modernised versions of traditional food and drink, really does offer an array of sugar applications, all of which are rich, indulgent and warming for its climate and culture.
Join Ragus in our next ‘around the world series’ where we land in the wild West of the USA in Texas to discover the sugar application in BBQ sauces, rubs and traditional American beers.