Spanish cuisine and sugar uses: understanding the relationship
When thinking of Spanish cuisine, tapas, cured meats, seafood paella and fine aged Rioja might be the first images that spring to mind. Sugar, perhaps less so. However, pure sugar products play an important role in Spanish cuisine, just in more subtle ways than some first realise.
Read on to find out more about the pure sugar products used in Spanish cuisine, and the roles they play in the production of three famous Spanish foods and drinks.
Spanish cuisine history, and pure sugars
Spanish cuisine has long used sugar as an ingredient in the production of food and beverages, much like the rest of Western Europe, as sugar was introduced to the continent approximately a millennium ago.
Then, the discovery of the New World in 1492 – which was sponsored by the Spanish monarchs’ Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II – helped to establish the sugar cane industry, with cane sugar brought back to the country ever since.
Today though, most of Spain’s sugar is produced domestically in Northern Spain and imported from Continental Europe, meaning it mainly uses beet sugar. And notably, Spanish cuisine does not use brown sugars as widely as the UK. So much so that they are not always readily available on supermarket shelves. Instead, Spanish cuisine typically involves different forms of white sugar such as granulated sugar, caster sugar and powdered sugar. For example, in many of the nation’s famous traditional desserts, granulated white sugar is used and then caramelised.
Spanish food and beverage production does however depend on pure syrups such as liquid sugar and invert sugar syrup, as well as the sweetener syrup glucose syrup, as these are crucial ingredients in commercial food and beverage production due to their high-performance capabilities, such as versatility and efficiency. A wide range of branded baked goods, confections, desserts and soft drinks produced at scale rely on these syrups for taste, texture and appearance – and as such these syrups are used in Spain by large commercial manufacturers.
Time to explore the sugar applications
Now we have explained the types of pure sugar products typically used in Spanish cuisine, we can move onto some of our favourite Spanish applications, explaining the functions that sugar performs in each.
Below we explore three unique applications from the desserts, bakery and beverages markets.
Churros is dusted with granulated white sugar and traditionally dipped in hot chocolate sauce.
The first place to start, of course, is with churros. Much like tapas and olive oil, churros are synonymous with Spanish cuisine, though there is no definitive answer about whether churros even originated in Spain.
As many are aware, churros are long ropes of dough fried in hot oil. They are then rolled in cinnamon and granulated white sugar. Of course, the exciting indulgent part happens when the churros are dipped in hot chocolate sauce.
Artisans that serve churros as popular street food throughout Spain are likely to make their own chocolate dipping sauce by simply melting chocolate. For consumers making homemade churros, they may be more likely to buy chocolate sauce from supermarkets and then heat it at home. The ingredients in these commercially manufactured sauces are invert sugar syrup and cocoa powder, with the former used for its high sweetness value and ability to prevent crystallisation. When produced with cocoa powder, this means the texture of the sauce remains smooth and rich – ideal for dipping churros in.
Spanish almond cake / Tarta de Santiago
Tarta de Santiago originates from pilgrimages in Northern Spain and is still used today to symbolise the nation’s traditional Catholic heritage.
Spanish almond cake is a traditional Spanish tart made from almonds, sugar, citrus zest, eggs, cinnamon and powdered sugar. Though it is a traditional dessert, beyond its attractive texture and flavour it remains popular today because it is gluten-free and can be easily adapted using ground flax rather than eggs so that it becomes suitable for vegans.
It can also be modified and enhanced by using different pure sugar products. For example, many traditional recipes may only use granulated white sugar, but we recommend using cane molasses as well to build a deeper flavour while developing a denser texture.
Furthermore, another variation of Spanish almond cake is Tarta de Santiago, which translates as the cake of St James. It is a tradition believed to date from sixteenth-century Spain when, it is said, a pilgrim brought it to Galicia where it was consumed by those making the journey to the cathedral. Today, it still plays an important role in the nation’s traditional Catholic heritage and is sold in many of the shops that can be found on the pilgrimage route.
One of the differences between a Tarta de Santiago and other variations of Spanish almond cake is the former’s topping. Powdered white sugar is added on top of Tarta de Santiago so that a cross can be marked on the top using a stencil, therefore symbolising the religious tradition.
Granizados are made using the flavoured syrups pictured behind, which depend on invert sugar syrup for flavour and texture.
Granizados, which translates as shaved ice, is one of Spain’s popular thirst-quenching drinks during the nation’s famous hot summers. These are made primarily by food services such as bars, restaurants and markets – usually located by the beach too.
As such, making them is a rather straightforward concept – all you need to do is combine crushed ice with flavoured syrups or fruit juices. Of course, this would not be possible without pure sugars, which play an integral role in the manufacture of these flavoured syrups. Invert sugar syrup is again the base of these syrups with both natural and sometimes artificial flavourings then added.
As invert sugar syrup is sucrose that has been broken down into glucose and fructose – and fructose is a natural flavour attractant – the syrup therefore acts as a flavour attractant and enhances the fruit flavour. Combined with the syrup’s structural properties, this also protects the Granizados flavour from being significantly diluted even while the ice melts.
So, while brown sugars may not be as widely used in Spain, pure sugar products still play an important role in Spanish cuisine, though sometimes in more subtle ways than we appreciate.
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