Ok, ok, I know most of you shy away from anything that just contains the word, but if you, like me, pickle and preserve everything on sight, then you have to know why we use sugar as a preservative.
So how exactly does it work? I did some research and found that sugar inhibits the growth of microorganisms. The high concentration of sugar makes bacteria lose water, which makes them unable to grow or divide. Thus foods with a high content of sugar have a longer shelf- life.
As I’ve mentioned, sugar is a very important ingredient in the making of preserves. In pickles, sugar is mostly used to neutralize the very tart taste of the vinegar, in which case the vinegar acts as preservative. When making chutneys on the other hand, it plays a vital role as preservative with the vinegar. It is therefore very important not to alter the given amounts in a recipe.
Brown or White?
Actually against popular belief, there really is no difference between the two. White sugar is highly refined and made from sugarcane. Brown sugar is identical to its white counterpart, the only difference between the two being the taste. Molasses is added to give it that distinct caramel taste and colour. The darker the sugar, from light brown to treacle, the more molasses has been added to it. Brown sugar is used to make darker coloured chutneys and even some jams. I like using brown when I make apricot or banana chutney. White sugar is widely used in pickles and jams where you want a clear end product.
Sugar was brought from the West Indies to Europe in the 16th century when it became a very sought-after ingredient. The demand for it grew so rapidly that the producers could not keep up, and as a result it led to colonialism and the very bitter slave trade. Then, in the 18th century they started cultivating beetroot specifically for its sugar content. There was suddenly a glut of sugar and it became cheap, after which people developed a liking for sweet preserves.
Actually a lot of the recipes that we use today are based on those that were printed in cookbooks from that era. Larders were filled with rows and rows of bottles and jars filled with chutneys, pickles and relishes, all made from summer and autumn’s bounty and then enjoyed during the long winter months. Today we do it all for various reasons including health benefits, as there are no preservatives or colouring used. And of course it’s a lot of fun!