Theresa Pereira Written by Theresa Pereira

Festive foods: how pure sugars deliver function as well as flavour

With just over a week until Christmas day, this blog focuses on the applications of pure sugar products in festive foods and beverages, explaining the qualities they offer industrial and artisanal producers. The blog centres on three key markets – bakery, sauces and alcoholic beverages – with each application from these markets requiring highly specific properties from the sugar constituents.

Manufacturing festive food and beverages

As detailed in a recent blog, the festive food and beverages that currently fill entire supermarket aisles have been produced well in advance of the season to give manufacturers enough time to produce sufficient volume, package in a range of options, and distribute efficiently from warehouses situated across the nation.

However, with Christmas week fast approaching, it seemed fitting that we immerse ourselves in the festive spirit and celebrate some of the seasonal applications of pure sugars and syrups. We have excluded perhaps the most iconic festive dessert, Christmas pudding, because details concerning this product – and the use of different pure sugars in its recipes – can be found in a previous blog. Instead, we will be focusing on other popular food and beverage products at this time of year.

Pure syrups are integral to the production of seasonal baked goods

Estimates indicate that the British public will consume over 781 million mince pies this Christmas. While being relatively unique to the UK and Ireland, mince pies are still a festive favourite that are typically absent from supermarket shelves for most of the year. Their origins go back as far as the Stuart era, when for 300 years they were filled with meat rather than the dried fruits and spice mixes introduced by the Victorians that we now commonly recognise. Today’s mince pies appear in a range of different styles and flavours, with glucose syrup acting as the key syrup ingredient.

Glucose syrup is a transparent, viscous liquid that is incredibly versatile due to its light, sweet flavour. Its viscosity makes it an ideal manufacturing ingredient for mince pies, acting as a binding agent for the fruits while ensuring an even spread of spice and flavour throughout. Furthermore, it is refined at varying sweetness strengths, measured by the Dextrose Equivalent (DE), which explains why it is a common ingredient in the extensive range of styles and flavours available.

Gingerbreads are often produced using the golden elixir as a sugar constituent. 

Gingerbread biscuits are another popular festive product, both domestically and internationally. The gingerbread biscuit recipe is said to have origins in the UK as far back as 992 CE, but its rise to popularity is largely a result of German baking in the 1600s, particularly in the historic medieval town of Nuremberg. Today, the old town is home to the BIOFACH Exhibition, the world’s leading trade fair for organic food. In addition, the German writers, the Brothers Grimm, further popularised gingerbreads – notably gingerbread houses – in the 1800s through their well-known fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel”.

Over the years, popularity has turned into tradition, and gingerbreads are now well-associated with the festive season – in addition to being popular biscuits and coffee-flavourings all-year-round. With regards to the biscuits, though, the majority of bulk manufacturers use an invert sugar syrup to act as a humectant, keeping the product fresh and preventing microbial spoilage. We recommend using the world’s most famous invert, golden syrup, as its distinctive mellow taste perfectly complements the biscuit’s warming ginger flavour.

Acting as humectants and flavour enhancers in festive sauces

Of course, sauces also play a prominent role at Christmas, aiding the flavour and adding moisture to Christmas dinners. It does not matter whether a household eats a traditional turkey or a more modern nut roast dinner, both will typically consume their 25 December meal with a jar of cranberry sauce on the table. These sauces can be recognised by their distinctive bright colour, thick texture and slightly tart flavour. Glucose syrup is the product that enables all three of these attributes.

By using a clear sugar syrup, the bright red of the berries is not diluted or compromised. Furthermore, the viscosity of glucose syrup aids the thick, scoopable texture of the sauce while its light taste means the sharp cranberries are sweetened sufficiently without overpowering their natural flavour.

But sauces do not only play an important role on Christmas day. They also play a supporting role in the days following, from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day, when many households in the UK traditionally consume lots of cheese and cold meats.

Dark cane muscovado sugar is a crucial ingredient in sauces, chutneys and pickles. 

For this reason, spiced chutneys become a particularly popular purchase during the month of December. Pure sugars play a pivotal part in the industrial production of these chutneys, developing their spiced flavour and extending their shelf life. Many crystallines and treacles are well-suited to the manufacture of spiced chutneys, but dark cane muscovado sugar is most widely-used for adding the ideal colour and flavour.

Crystallines and custom formulations in alcoholic beverages

Since the 19th century, mulled wine has been synonymous with the Christmas period. In the UK, for example, it is often the scent of many artisanal-focused outdoor Christmas markets. But it is also mass-produced for retail. Of course, it is a red wine with a spiced flavour, typically served warm. With these characteristics in mind, crystalline sugars are used in artisanal production to enhance the spiced flavour.

Pure sugars enhance the production of mulled wine on both an artisanal and industrial scale. 

Dark soft brown sugar or dark cane muscovado sugar are often used for these purposes because they have a higher molasses content than their light counterparts. These natural molasses properties better develop mulled wine’s spiced notes.

Other popular drinks during the festive period are those that are suited to the winter weather. For example, mild ales, dark bitters and porters are usually very popular at this time of year. These beers cannot be brewed – commercially or at a micro-level – without sugar, which serves a vital purpose in the fermentation process. For optimal results, though, we recommend brewing sugar because it expedites the fermentation process and gives a much clearer end product.

Brewing sugar is a custom formulation that breaks down different sugars into different constituents that are 95% readily fermentable. For a stout or a porter, we would advise using a darker variation, approximately 130 EBC, which helps produce the dark colour of the beer, and has a rich flavour that develops the beer’s mouthfeel.

Pure sugars are integral ingredients in festive food and beverage production

As demonstrated above through a selection of different markets, pure sugars and syrups are integral ingredients in the manufacture of festive food and beverage products. In terms of artisanal production, pure sugars are principally used to develop the ideal flavour profile for the end product. But for industrial production, pure sugars and syrups are used for function as well as flavour.

Ragus manufactures high-quality and consistent pure sugar products for the food and beverages industry. To find out how we manufacture our pure sugars and syrups today, watch this short video. To learn more detail about the right pure sugar product for your unique application, contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 575353 or sales@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.