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HIGH SPIRITS AT THE OLD ORD RIVER SUGAR MILL...
Located in the Ord River Valley near Kununurra, Western
Australia’s only sugar mill closed in 2007 when world sugar prices
slumped. Today, less than 5km from the carcass of the old mill,
entrepreneur Spike Dessert is the owner of The Hoochery. Spike
produces the State’s only rum using molasses leftover from the
old mill. Recently Spike took himself to Columbia “where they’re
still growing sugar pretty much like they did 200 years ago”. While
he was there, he bought himself a small sugar mill and plans to
process his own sugar cane. “I’m in transition at the moment,
finishing off the leftover molasses and moving onto using my own
sugar cane juice. It’s pretty exciting.” Once extracted, the juice
will be fermented, distilled, placed in a barrel and, two years later,
sold as Ord River Rum. Spike could’ve imported cane juice from
Queensland, but he didn’t see the point. “After all, that wouldn’t
be Ord River Rum any more, would it?” Visit hoochery.com.au .
FOOD + WINE tutorial
“Like most food staples that we muck
around with, there’s a lot of hype around
refined sugar and whether it’s good for
you. Some folk consider it a drug”
In some countries, incinerated animal bones are used in the
de-colourisation process, making sugar an unlikely no-g o zone for
vegans and vegetarians. However, be assured that none of the sug ar
made in Australia is whitened using this method. For raw, demerera
and coffee sug ars, the de-colourising part of the process is eliminated.
The sucrose crystals also get spun and washed less vigorously, leaving
behind a layer of molasses syrup.
Back in the old days of sugar making, g olden syrup was what was
left after the first crystallisation, treacle came next, then molasses.
These days, most golden syrup is made at the refinery by mixing the
uncrystallised sucrose syrup with an enzyme that converts it into an
invert sugar. (An invert sug ar is created when the sucrose molecules
have been broken down into fructose and glucose. Once this
breakdown occurs, the syrup can’t re-crystallise, so you end up with a
thick, sweet syrup with long-term keeping qualities.)
And here’s an interesting thing. The three soft brown sugars sold
by CSR are made from white castor sugar sprayed with molasses and
sugar syrup to create the various shades of brown. Compare this to
the processing of soft brown’s nearest cousin, an artisan sugar called
muscovado. One of the best known and most delicious of these, made
by British company Billington’s, is available locally through Re Store.
Like our own soft brown sugars, muscovado is made from very fine
sucrose crystals, resulting in a sugar that melts rapidly on the tongue. The
big difference is that muscovado is made from raw sugar crystals, which are
neither de-colourised nor separated as vigorously from the molasses syrup at
the crystallisation and spinning stag e. Hence, what one ends up with is a light-
brown sugar crystal coated thickly with a molasses-like sug ar syrup of varying
levels of cookedness, ranging from light brown to darkly sticky.
This is how brown sugar used to be made at Sug ar Australia until issues
of “inconsistency and clumping” led to the current brown-on-white process.
One might argue that there’s little difference between leaving the molasses
on your crystal in the first place, and taking it out then putting it back in
strictly controlled amounts. But my taste tests of Australian brown sugar and
imported muscovado tell a very different story, the latter delivering a more
complex, rounded chocolatey sweetness.
Like most food staples that we muck around with, there’s a lot of hype
around refined sug ar and whether it’s g ood for you. Some folk consider it a
drug (see our story on Dee McCaffrey, p211), while others believe controlled
industrial processing is required for guaranteeing consistency of quality.
In an ideal world, organic and unrefined sugar would be produced right
here in Australia. Currently, that isn’t the case. All of the rapadura and its
unrefined cane juice cousins are sourced from overseas, while CSR
brand organic sug ar is imported from Brazil.
When it comes to selecting which type of sugar to use in your cooking, the
general rule is the darker the sug ar, the less sucrose and the more molasses
flavour you’ll end up with. If you like, you could even play around with
creating your own brown sug ar equivalent by augmenting the white sug ar in a
recipe with a little molasses or treacle – the ‘little sister’ of molasses.
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