February has long been a month associated with romance. As legend has it, Valentine was a priest during third century Rome. Emperor Claudius had decided that single men made better soldiers than those who were married and had children, so for a period of time, he outlawed marriage. Valentine broke the decree and married people anyway. This eventually caused him to receive a death sentence from the emperor. While he was in prison he purportedly fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and wrote her a farewell letter that ended with “from your Valentine.” Touching, but not sweet.
So how did the giving of sweets become associated with Valentine’s Day and love in general? One theory suggests that when we fall in love our brains secrete a chemical called phenylethylamine. This is an amphetamine-like substance that is responsible for producing that “rush” that we feel. A pheromone called androstenol is also produced that heightens our sexual awareness. These two chemicals may actually leave a sweet taste in our mouths. Then we start calling each other things like sweetheart, honey, sugar, sweet, muffin, or cupcake. Chocolate also contains the chemical and may have some aphrodisiac properties. We give chocolate to stir up some, albeit temporary, feelings of love.
If you’re thinking about getting something sweet for your (pick any of the terms above) this February, you might consider baking something up from scratch for him or her. Choosing the right sugar for the job can turn an otherwise dreary desert into something unique and exciting.
Most of the brown sugar that you get at the grocery store is just refined white sugar that has been flavored with molasses. Real Dark Brown Molasses Sugar may be a little harder to find, but its smoky, caramel flavor will really spice up a spice cake, or try making a toffee sauce by adding cream and bringing it to a boil.
This sugar is popular in Asia. It is a coarse, unrefined sugar made from sugar cane juice. It is then dried into cake form. This sugar and recipes for it can be found in Indian grocery stores.
Crystal sugar is simply granulated white sugar cut into large crystals. This is a good toppings sugar for desserts. It adds a little crunchy sweetness.
Caster sugar is the superfine sugar that a lot of chefs prefer. It is a lighter sugar that doesn’t weigh down the desserts and dissolves easily. You can save a little money by making your own, just throw it in the food processor and hit the button a few times.
Fructose is fruit sugar. It is a good choice for diabetics, as it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as high as regular sugar. Fruit sugar doesn’t crystallize so it stays dissolved and keeps the desert moist.
Liquid Invert Sugar
This is a custom made sugar that can give your desserts a smooth, silky texture. It’s made by combining liquid sugar with cream of tarter or lemon juice and heating.
This is an unrefined brown sugar that comes from Mexico. It comes in sugar cube form and is used to sweeten drinks south of the border. You can find it Latin grocery stores.
This sugar is made from the first pressing of the sugar cane and also is called raw sugar. It has a nice gold color and crunch, perfect if you’re trying to make a crÃ?Â¨me brulee.
You can find this sugar in German specialty stores. Around the holidays it is a German tradition to pour rum over the cones and set them on fire. Then the melted sugar is used to sweeten the holiday drinks.
Considering that Nutrasweet was originally developed as an ulcer drug and Saccharin was a coal-tar derivative, maybe a little sugar every once in awhile isn’t so bad after all. One thing is for sure; it could certainly lead to a little extra “sweetness” in your life around Valentine’s Day.