Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
Black treacle or golden syrup? Choosing your parkin ingredients
While the confectionery products on shopfront displays this Halloween weekend will typically be made from straight sucrose, invert sugar syrup, and glucose syrup, the focus of this blog will be on a traditional Halloween and Bonfire Night application that relies on more flavoursome pure sugar ingredients: parkin.
Here, we explain what parkin is before exploring its heritage in the North of England and comparing how different pure sugar products perform in different variations of the cake.
What is parkin?
Parkin is a type of cake or loaf made from oatmeal, ginger, soft brown sugar and either golden syrup, black treacle or molasses – or a combination of all three pure syrups. It is popular throughout the UK but particularly so in the North of England where, for centuries, oatmeal was a staple and widely accessible grain.
Since the first references to parkin were made in eighteenth century Yorkshire, the cake has been used to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. It is believed the cake’s spices symbolise the bonfire while also providing the ideal treat to warm consumers up at the turn of winter. Its story never fails to fascinate, either, having also embodied a rivalry between two historic counties, Yorkshire and Lancashire, the so-called ‘treacle mines’.
The difference between Yorkshire parkin and Lancashire parkin
The healthy rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire has persisted ever since the infamous War of the Roses in the 15th century. This competitive streak also applies to food and, specifically, parkin.
So, what’s the difference between Yorkshire parkin and Lancashire parkin? Within the last century, Yorkshire parkin has traditionally been made using black treacle, whereas Lancashire parkin has been made using golden syrup, likely due to the prominence of the Merton Grove refinery in Bootle, Lancashire. But beware, many online bloggers will suggest the opposite, presumably because golden syrup has a lighter flavour and may be more appealing to some domestic bakers.
And of course, before these products were invented, molasses was used – and still is today in many recipes – because it had been imported from the Caribbean, along with sugar, since the eighteenth century.
How does pure syrup ingredient selection impact parkin?
Unsurprisingly, the biggest difference between using black treacle and golden syrup is taste.
By using black treacle, Yorkshire parkin has a rich but rounded taste that complements the spiced flavour of ginger. This results in a hearty overall flavour, with the product often described as winter comfort food. Of course, using black treacle also impacts the colour of the parkin, developing a dark-coloured cake. Whereas if baking a traditional Lancashire parkin, the cake will have a mellower and subtler taste, more like toffee, with a golden colour.
However, despite these differences in flavour and colour, it is worth noting that black treacle and golden syrup are not all that different in terms of functional performance. This is because black treacle is a type of treacle – a by-product of the sugar refining process like molasses – that is expertly blended with refiner’s syrup to develop a more rounded flavour profile, which is where the connection with golden syrup lies.
Why? Because refiner’s syrup is a very similar product to golden syrup – it is also a partially inverted syrup, just with a stronger flavour. As a result, golden syrup and refiner’s syrup share the same functional qualities, such as being able to reduce crystallisation and withstand higher baking temperatures.
Pure sugars satisfy all parkin taste requirements
Whether selected for Yorkshire and Lancashire county loyalties or to gain marketing advantages, black treacle, golden syrup and molasses can each play the leading role in developing the flavour and colour of parkin. And, crucially, each of these pure syrups can be easily substituted for each other without negatively impacting the texture of the parkin.
Ragus is a specialist manufacturer of bulk pure sugars and syrups for industry, including golden syrup, black treacle and cane molasses. To learn more about our products, please contact our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn.