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An assortment of cakes and pastries on display in a bakery shop or cafe

Sugar in traditional Austrian food and drink

09/05/2024 By Theresa Pereira in Recipes Europe

Elaborately decorated, sugar-sweetened pastries, cakes and desserts tend to come to mind when we are asked to consider what Austrian cuisine is like. Of course, some of the country’s drinks also use, and are enhanced by, sugar.

In this latest blog in our round the world series, we stop in Austria to learn about sugar production and consumption in the country, and how sugar is used in dishes and drinks.

Sugar production and consumption in Austria

Austria cultivates sugar beet. In 2023, the country’s approximately 6,000 sugar beet farmers harvested just under 3 million tonnes of sugar beet, producing 440,000 tonnes of sugar. The land area given to sugar beet is estimated to rise by around 24% in 2024, averaging over 44,000 hectares, the largest area since 2015-16. If this area is harvested at a five-year average beet yield, this could mean Austria produces 3.4 million tonnes of sugar beet, a rise on the previous year and to levels not seen since 2016-17.

However, Austrian beet farmers currently face stiff competition from Ukrainian cheaper beet sugar imports. This has pushed prices down and encouraged some beet farmers to turn away from growing beet.

Sugar beet being farmed in a field

Sugar beet is cultivated in Austria and processed in factories within the country for use in products like chocolate.

Weather permitting, the crop is usually planted towards the end of March and harvested between October and January. It is then processed in factories in places like Leopoldsdorf and Tulln in the state of Lower Austria. Most of this sugar undergoes further processing for use in products such as jam and chocolate. The byproducts from beet production are generally used to make animal feed pellets, the fertiliser carbolime, and beet molasses.

For centuries, weevils have endangered the growing of sugar beet in Austria. With the recent EU ban on the dressing of beets with neonicotinoids and the warmer and drier springs, weevil infestation has destroyed thousands of hectares of sugar beet.  Work is ongoing to cultivate new sugar beet varieties to help improve sugar yields, which includes using AI to automate the quality control process.

Sugar in Austrian baking and desserts

Austrian coffee shops and bakeries, or ‘bäckerei’, typically serve an assortment of sweet treats, including the classic Viennese dessert, apfelstrudel. Enjoyed in some form since as far back as 1697, apfelstrudel consists of nuts, apple and raisins encased in puff pastry and dusted with powdered sugar.

Apple strudel slices dusted with sugar

Apfelstrudel is a classic Viennese dessert. It comprises pastry, apples, nuts and dried fruit dusted with sugar.

One of the country’s most famous specialities is the Sachertorte. Invented in the Sacher Hotel in Vienna in 1832 by confectioner Franz Sacher, Sachertorte is a chocolate sponge cake or torte with a thin layer of apricot jam in the centre and a chocolate ganache icing-glaze on the top and sides. As the cake does not featuredried fruit, sugar is the main sweetener, and this is present in the cake itself, in the jam in its centre and in the icing-glaze.

A slice of chocolate cake with cream on a white plate with coffee cups behind in a cafe setting

Sachertorte, a chocolate cake, was first invented in the Sacher Hotel in Vienna in 1832 by confectioner Franz Sacher.

The Linzer torte is another classic. Taking its name from the Austrian city of Linz, this traditional pastry dessert is generally eaten at Christmas or during the holiday season. It is made from nuts, flour, butter, eggs and fruit preserves, and features a lattice design made from pastry and a dusting of icing sugar on the top.

A Bohemian delicacy, powidltascherl or plum jam turnovers is a dough dessert made from eggs, milk, flour and butter, and filled with plum jam. Different sugars can be used in the making of this dish, from vanilla-flavoured sugar to soft brown light sugar to make the jam or preserve. However, usually not much added sugar is used, as powidl – the jam – is made with late-in-the-season overripe plums that have their own natural sugars to provide sweetness.

Sweet dumplings on a plate (left), a dough dessert dusted with sugar and poppy seeds (right).

Left: Powidltascherl is a dough dessert made from eggs, milk, flour and butter, and filled with plum jam.
Right: Knödel are dusted with sugar and ground poppy seeds.

Austrian Knödel are sweet dumplings that contain yeast, flour, salt and sugar along with milk and eggs, dusted with a sprinkling of icing sugar and ground poppy seeds. A similar delicacy is the fluffy scrambled pancake called kaiserschmarrn. It is made with raisins soaked in rum which, in turn, is made from sugarcane molasses. The pancake is torn up and caramelised with a sugar like demerara.

A bread or dough dessert with raisins on a plate, dusted with sugar

Kaiserschmarrn is an Austrian pancake made with raisins and rum, the latter of which is made from sugarcane molasses.

Austrian drinks and snacks

Enjoyed since 1957, Almdudler is a sweet, carbonated drink that blends beet sugar and alpine herbs. Known as Austria’s national drink, it is also used as a mixer. Red Bull, a well-known energy drink, was in fact founded in Austria in 1987. The sugar, a key ingredient in any energy drink, in Red Bull is produced from beet sugar.  

Mulled wine is a popular drink at Christmas, and its popularity extends to Austria. Here, Glühwein is a hot, spiced wine drink sweetened with sugar. This sugar could be demerara or a soft brown light sugar.  

Left: Stroh 40 is rum made in Austria from sugarcane molasses.
Right: Almdudler is Austria’s national drink. It is a sweet, carbonated drink that blends beet sugar and alpine herbs.

Image source: Marco Sanchez /Apfelstrudel mit Almdudler /03/10/2010. Accessed via https://www.flickr.com/photos/mpsfender182/5046997042
Licensing: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Stroh 40 is a rum that is distilled and produced in Austria. It is made from sugarcane molasses and vanilla extracts. Sipped in ski lodges and cafes alike, it is either drunk neat or mixed with tea, or used in desserts, cakes and cocktails.

Sugar features in a broad range of Austrian baked goods and cakes, as well as drinks, defining the iconic baking culture for which Austria generally, and Vienna specifically, is so well known.

Ragus manufactures functional pure sugar ingredients for industrial food and beverage applications in all the world’s cuisines, enhancing flavour, texture and appearance. To learn more about our pure sugars, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, keep browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn.

Theresa Pereira

Theresa ensures that our customers’ orders are managed efficiently and works closely with our Sales Office Manager to deliver all orders on time in full.

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