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German foods: sugar applications from across the North Sea
The next blog in our series of global sugar applications focuses on a not-too-distant neighbour, Germany. Though discussion of German food and beverages may crudely conjure images of sausages and beer, its food heritage is much more diverse and varied. Read on to find out how a selection of traditional German foods utilise pure sugar products for both function and flavour.
Savoury German foods
Pure sugars and syrups perform important functions in a wide range of savoury German foods. We outline three unmistakably German savoury sugar applications below.
A traditional street food, currywurst is enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
While not the oldest dish in German cuisine, currywurst is undoubtedly one of the most famous German foods. It is a popular street food said to have originated in 1945 when Herta Heuwer mixed curry powder and ketchup from British soldiers and served the resulting sauce over a sausage. To this day, over 800 million currywurst are consumed in Germany every year.
Modern formulations for the curry ketchup vary, but the bulk produced sauce that is bottled and sold in supermarkets and wholesalers typically uses invert sugar syrup to act as a natural preservative and to ensure ease of pourability for consumers.
Smaller-scale street food stands that choose to make the sauce from scratch tend to use onion, spices and among other things, a small amount of straight sucrose to add the expected sweetness that would have originally come from the ketchup and to help bind the ingredients together.
Bauernbrot’s traditional split top highlights where the bread has risen.
Sugar is used to activate and feed the yeast in bread that rises. This is no different for traditional German breads produced on a commercial scale, which are typically dark and dense and made with varying ratios of rye flour. Bauernbrot, which is a traditional farmer’s loaf, uses over 50% rye with a sourdough starter for both flavour and taste.
The spices or flavourings in these loaves vary between regions, but for commercial production, a sweeter, less distinct spice mix is used, as well as using white beet sugar and yeast to deliver a consistent rise, shape and flavour.
Sauerbraten is traditionally served with cabbage, potato and bread.
Sauerbraten, which translates as ‘sour roast’, is recognised as the national dish of Germany. The dish sees beef or venison heavily marinated in herbs, spices and red wine vinegar which, of course, provides the dish with its ‘sour’ name. Once cooked, the meat is covered in gravy – and this is where pure sugar products play a role – to balance out this sour flavour.
Pure sugars are used to keep the gravy rich and sweet, with the choice of sugar varying from region to region or chef to chef. White beet sugar is much more likely to be used in domestic settings or by smaller-scale restaurants because it is the most readily available. High-end restaurants that produce luxury gravies or retailers that sell fresh gravies on a larger scale are more likely to also use muscovado sugar to complement the larger range of ingredients involved in creating the premium product. Commercial manufacturers may also use caramelised sugar syrup to develop the brown colour of the gravy.
Sweet German foods
Pure sugars and syrups are integral components in the manufacture of sweet German foods, with confectionery being one of the nation’s flagship food exports. You can find out more information about the role of sugar in German confectionery in a recent blog.
Below we focus our attention elsewhere on some of Germany’s other sweet sugar applications.
Sugar feeds the yeast in this traditional German recipe.
Butterkuchen, or butter cake, is a traditional German cake produced with almonds, butter, sugar and streusel toppings. It often accompanies afternoon coffee and is baked in homes, served in cafes, and sold in bakeries and supermarkets. The traditional recipe also holds an important place in German food heritage because it is a cake that uses yeast, rather than baking powder, to rise.
In both the traditional and modern recipes for butter cake, straight sucrose is used to sweeten the mixture and increase the shelf life of the product. The traditional recipe also puts this multi-functional ingredient to task by utilising it as feed for the yeast.
Pfeffernüsse are coated in powdered icing sugar or a thin layer of white icing.
Many traditional baked goods have made their way over from Germany to the UK but perhaps the most famous is pfeffernüsse, which means ‘pepper nuts’. For many of us in the UK, these spiced and coated cookies are a yearly treat that we look forward to consuming at traditional Christmas markets each December. That’s because pfeffernüsse, invented in eighteenth century Germany by the confectioner, Johann Fleischmann, have been associated with the festive season since the 1850s.
Along with the core ingredient – pepper – the collection of warming spices and the white icing coating, what defines these cookies is their dark colour and chewy texture. Molasses is the vital sugar constituent that develops these attributes. Its viscosity lends the cookies the chewy texture and its rich flavour uplifts, but does not overpower, the carefully selected spices in the cookies, with the humectant qualities keeping the cookies moist and soft.
Gebrannte mandeln has a distinctive ‘burnt’ coating.
Gebrannte mandeln is another traditional German food that is often found at Christmas markets. They are candied almonds produced from cinnamon, vanilla extract and demerara sugar. As with candied almonds created in other countries, the method involves dissolving the sugar, adding the almonds and then waiting for the coating to harden.
Demerara sugar is primarily used for its mellow flavour, which is the ideal partner for vanilla extract. It also aids the development of the dark brown colour and shine that is sometimes referred to as appearing ‘burnt’.