The Magical Flavors of Muscovado Brown Sugar

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews 

The not-so-secret ingredient in so many ZCoB classics

In “A Taste of Zingerman’s Food Philosophy,” I detail the philosophical values and beliefs that underlie all our culinary work here at Zingerman’s. Muscovado sugar, though it hardly gets attention in the world at large, is actually an excellent example of our food philosophy in action. We have defined quality here in the ZCoB for over 30 years now, as:

a) Full-flavored (which we define further to mean “complexity, balance, and finish.”)
b) Traditional food

The muscovado sugar, which we buy in bulk for baking and cooking, is also available on the Deli’s and Bakeshop’s retail shelves. If you do anything at all with brown sugar, I would highly recommend making the switch from the stuff they sell in the supermarket to this old-school artisan offering. Can one kind of brown sugar really taste all that different from another? The muscovado is pretty much better in every way: it’s richer, it’s toastier, it’s tastier, and it’s also organic.

Here’s a bit of background to help make clear why the difference is so big. To make white sugar, stalks of freshly harvested sugar cane are crushed. In its natural state, the juice is quite brown, colored by what we have come to know as molasses. The fresh juice is then boiled down until it begins to form solid crystals. Traditionally, making brown sugar—which is what muscovado is—required one to merely stop the process early on, leaving some of the molasses intact. The more molasses left in, the darker and less sweet the sugar, the richer the texture, the moister the sugar. Today, commercial brown sugar is fully refined white sugar to which a small amount of caramel or molasses is added back for color but all the great natural flavor of the sugar has been lost in the process.

At the Bakehouse, the muscovado sugar makes big appearances in the Pecan Pie, in the Pecan Blondies, the Ginger Jump Up cookies, and more! And at the Roadhouse, it’s the star ingredient in butterscotch pudding and makes less obvious but nevertheless important appearances in the Red Rage BBQ sauce, the Eastern North Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce, the South Carolina Mustard BBQ sauce, and right now, the Blueberry Cobbler that’s on the dessert list. It’s also great sprinkled on that Anson Mills organic oatmeal that’s on the breakfast menu or on the Donut Sundae for dessert! Everywhere we use it, the muscovado adds enormous depth of flavor and complexity!

At your house, the muscovado could go into pretty much anything that calls for sugar. You can add it to coffee or tea. You can bake with it. A small bit in a savory sauce adds depth and complexity. Add to cakes, cookies, or sprinkle onto fruit salad. Pretty much anything goes, to be honest. If you like brown sugar and you share much of our food philosophy, you might well want to try bringing home some of the muscovado—it’s made dozens of Zingerman’s dishes drastically more flavorful and it can do the same in your kitchen as well!