Black Sugar Is the Coffee Trend You Should Know About
Discover what makes black sugar unique. Plus, learn how to make black sugar syrup and ways it's used.
Sugar comes in so many forms that it's hard to keep track of all the ways you can make your food sweeter. There's white sugar, brown sugar, caster sugar, powdered sugar, sanding sugar—enough to make your head spin. But in Asian countries, there's one more to add to the list: black sugar.
What Is Black Sugar?
If you've enjoyed the caramel-smoky flavor of this confection, you might be disappointed to learn that black sugar is unrefined cane sugar—much like raw sugars like muscovado or turbinado, which are unrefined brown sugar. It's basically white sugar that hasn't had the molasses stripped out of it. (For clarification, brown sugar that we use in baking is typically refined brown sugar. That means the molasses has been stripped out of the sugar and then added back in.)
Okinawa, a Japanese island about halfway between mainland Japan and Taiwan, is known for its black sugar (kokuto). The process for making it is similar to that for raw sugar and unrefined brown sugar. (In fact, there's no real difference between unrefined brown sugar and black sugar, and translating "black sugar" into Japanese or Korean returns "brown sugar.") The sugar cane is squeezed until all the liquid is removed. The liquid is then boiled down to a paste. The paste is set aside to harden into chunks. It's then packaged or crushed into a powder.
In Okinawa, they take their sugar very seriously: the extra-special black sugar is seasonal and is considered best from December to March. Producers say when you put it in your mouth it's soft and fluffy and immediately melts.
Black Sugar Syrup
Over the past year, Korean culture has been going crazy for black sugar syrup. It's used in coffee (even whipped coffee), boba tea and milk tea. (It's even made its way to the United States in a San Francisco boba shop called Black Sugar where they feature black sugar-soaked boba.) But it's expanding beyond drinks—more and more bakeshops are using it in pastries like buns filled with black sugar syrup. Making it is easy: You boil equal parts black sugar and water until it forms a syrup (the same process for making regular simple syrup).
In Asian cultures, black sugar is eaten like candy, but it's also appreciated for its nutrients. Because the molasses is not removed, black sugar has more minerals and nutritional value than regular white sugar. Nutrition data is not readily available for black sugar, but to give you some perspective on its possible nutritional value, molasses by itself is considerably more nutritious than plain white sugar. For 1 teaspoon of white sugar, you get 4 grams carbohydrates and 4 grams sugars. While 1 teaspoon of molasses contains 5 grams sugar and 5 grams carbs, it also delivers some magnesium, iron, potassium, selenium and calcium. Because of the minerals in black sugar, it's thought to have some health benefits. It's sometimes used by Japanese women to ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Where to Buy Black Sugar
Okinawa black sugar can be found in most Asian markets. However, if there is not an Asian market near you, you can buy it online. There are specialty retailers that ship it all over the world. You may also find it in Latin American markets–in South America, it's called chancaca, panela or piloncillo.