I bought some demerara sugar a while ago in my local Spar. They only had one brand: Silver Spoon. I was sceptical at the time, but I didn't have my glasses, and I wanted to tick every item off my list, so I bought it.
This morning I put on my glasses and read the whole packet; the recipe for crunchy gingerbread men and all. Nowhere does it say 'produce of'. I thought every food product had to state where it originated from? I looked twice but it still didn't. My fears were pretty much confirmed.
In short, this is not (what I would consider) genuine demerara; i.e. raw cane sugar, but coloured and flavoured white sugar. I know this because Silver Spoon proudly proclaim on their website that theirs is 'the only sugar grown in Britain'. And that means it's not cane, because sugar cane doesn't grow in cold soggy Britain, but beet sugar, and it also means that it's heavily refined, whatever it may look like, because otherwise it would taste of beet.
Now, I know that no sugar is actually good for you, and to me that means that if I am going to use it, I want it to be worth it. I want the best stuff, with real flavour, not an artificial substitute. And then I started reading about the sugar refining process, and I was even more certain.
While genuine unrefined cane sugar has undergone very little processing, white sugar emerges from a process involving phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide (yes I know there's phosphoric acid in Coke, that's why it dissolves your teeth and kills germs). The process requires a lot of heat too. It then has to have molasses or even just caramel colouring added back to make brown or 'demerara' sugar.
I have a slightly more than passing interest in this subject, because my late Uncle Woodie worked on a sugar plantation in Jamaica; I think his family owned it. He only talked to us about it once, but it was fascinating. He told us how the cane was cut with a machete; the thick hard stem was cut at an angle and you had to know what you were doing. One worker stood in the wrong place and the cut section slid down and its edge sliced his foot off (I/he may be exaggerating slightly with the 'off' but who knows).
And of course there is a tenuous waterways connection. One of the last four remeining sugar refineries in Britain, producing beet sugar to be sold as Silver Spoon, is located in my favourite waterways town, and locals often wonder at my choice, citing the smell that emerges from it. I can only say that so far, I haven't been at the right time of year, or with the wind in the right direction to experience it.
Expand your knowledge today with interesting Wikipedia articles on sugar cane and sugar refining.
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