A guide to sugars for bartenders | Giovanni Ceccarelli

A guide to sugars for bartenders

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It all started with sugar: without this ingredient the bartender’s work probably wouldn’t exist.

The most important ingredient for any drink is definitely ice, but the most important ingredients for the entire bartending sector are definitely sugars. In fact, without sugars, there would be no alcohol because they’re needed for alcoholic fermentation! Without fermentation there would be no wine, beer and all the distillates and liqueurs. Basically, we’d all be out of a job and without the possibility of drowning our sorrows in alcohol (who says sugar is bad for you, eh!).

In this article, however, I will not talk about fermentation. In this article I’ll be discussing the sugars we use every day.


First of all, the term sugar indicates a family of organic chemical compounds also called glucides. The term comes from the Greek word glucos which means sweet. The simplest sugars are called monosaccharides. Two monosaccharides can unite to form a disaccharide. The most commonly known monosaccharides are glucose and fructose, while the most famous disaccharides are sucrose, lactose and maltose.

Fructose is the sweetest sugar, although once dissolved in a liquid, especially if it is hot, it tends to lose its sweetness. I already mentioned this in BarTales. If you’d like to find out why, click here and read the article on page 46 (italian).

Sucrose is the union between glucose and fructose, and in common language it is called sugar. Sucrose is extracted from two raw materials: sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris subsp vulgaris). Sucrose extracted in Italy is obtained exclusively from beets.

Although there is no official classification, 3 types of sugar can be obtained from the sugar cane: whole, raw and white sugar.

Rapadura Sugar

Whole sugar is unrefined sugar and has the greatest amount of molasses. However, there is no official guideline that regulates the production and labeling of these products: the % of sucrose is probably around 90-95% although it may vary according to the product and the manufacturer. They’re obtained (theoretically) by boiling the cane juice so as to evaporate the water, concentrate the molasses and then dry it. The whole sugars found on the market are: muscovado, panela, rapadura and dulcita. They are slightly moist and have a flavour that resembles honey, caramel and licorice. Some commercial muscovados can be “partially refined” and therefore be considered raw.

Sugar from the Waves of Sugar selection.

Raw cane sugar is a “partially refined” sugar. The percentage of sucrose is around 97-99%. The color is slightly golden and this is due to the small percentage of molasses present. It is obtained by adding molasses to pure sucrose. Since there is no official guideline and a defined nomenclature, it is easier to divide the raw sugars according to the production area: Waves of Sugar and Bronsugar are two selections of raw (and whole) sugars from various origins. Demerara raw sugar is the most famous and is mainly produced in the Mauritius Islands.

White cane sugar, which is nothing more than pure sucrose, is obtained from complete refining.

From beets, however, only white sugar is obtained because the molasses’ don’t have a pleasant taste and are discarded. Here too, the white sugar is pure sucrose (purity exceeding 99.7%).

White cane sugar and white beet sugar are the same thing: sucrose. They have the same chemical and physical properties, flavor and sweetening power.

Now that you have a better idea regarding the various families, let’s have a look at the use of sugar when mixing.

Sugar’s purpose is to sweeten and exalt flavors. As I always say, a sugar-free Mojito, would not only be too acidic but also flat and without a body. The same thing applies to a Daiquiri or any drink where sugar is required.

White sugar is simply sweet (it does not have an aroma) while raw sugar has a slight aroma (sometimes not perceptible when mixing) and color. Whole sugar is the most tasty. Between white beet sugar and white cane sugar, I recommend using white beet sugar because it is identical but cheaper.

Finally, it is worth specifying that sugar is soluble in water (about 2,000 grams per liter at room temperature) and poorly soluble in alcohol: it is necessary to dissolve it in a drink’s non-alcoholic components. This is why a bit of soda is added to an Old Fashioned or in a Daiquiri the sugar is dissolved in lime juice. In this way you will avoid sugar from depositing at the bottom of the glass or cup. If you don’t have time on your hands, it is advisable to use sugar syrup (find out more about sugar syrup).

One last thing, I’d like to point out an article on sugar written by Dario Bressanini, university professor and scientific popularizer. In this article, he explains in detail the production processes and debunks many myths about this ingredient (italian language). Click here to read the article.

Happy mixing,

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