We're a sugar company, so naturally we're partial to sweets! But we also like to tickle our palates with flavors that complement sweetness. Pairing sugar with contrasting tastes—salty, sour, fiery, or aromatic—creates new worlds of sensation… and new ways to enjoy sugar's versatility.
In search of exciting sugar-plus combinations, we dove into our recipe database and asked some prominent food writers about their own favorites. Follow us to see how the flavors add up!
Sugar Plus Salt
Salt is turning up in some unexpected places nowadays: atop chocolate caramels, for example. But that's not really so strange, says California-based flavor expert Tim Hanni, whose many ventures include a seasoning company. "One of salt's primary roles is suppressing bitterness," he observes. "During my pastry apprenticeship I learned that a modicum of salt is added to virtually everything, from sweet doughs to chocolate mousse."
"Salt has an incredible ability to enhance other flavors," says San Francisco recipe developer and food blogger Amy Sherman, author of New Flavors for Appetizers. Amy adds: "We have a limited capacity for how much sugar we can eat, and salt provides balance." Case in point: Amy's Potato Chip Cookies, an update of a retro classic that combines sweetness, saltiness, and pleasing crunch. "And they're a great way to use up the crushed chips at the bottom of the bag," Amy points out.
Peanuts often turn up in sweet-and-salty recipes. Salted Peanut Chews, a crunchy-creamy bar cookie, took top honors at a C&H-sponsored contest at the Western Idaho State Fair, and Peanut Butter Sand Dollars—topped with salty chopped peanuts—placed third.
Sweet and Sour
The tartness of citrus and berries begs to be tamed by a bit of sweetness. And sugar serves other purposes, says Minneapolis baker and writer Zoë François: "Without sugar, a citrus sorbet would freeze rock hard." The co-author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Zoë attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and worked as a pastry chef before becoming a teacher, consultant, and blogger. For her sweet-tart creations, Zoë likes combining citrus flavors and isn't shy about making substitutions. "If a recipe calls for lemon zest, I may use lime or tangerine zest instead," she says. Her Poppyseed Angel Food Cake with Berry "Soup" is a symphony of complementary flavors: lemon juice and orange zest, tangy açai berries (a rising food trend, high in antioxidants), and blueberries or rasperries. Zoë insists on C&H Pure Cane Superfine Sugar in the meringue—"the best sugar I've ever used, and it won't weigh down your egg whites."
Of course, sweet and sour shows up in many classic recipes, too—try our Sweet-and-Sour Spareribs, flavorful Sweet-and-Sour Coleslaw, and tangy Lemon Granita to experience the full spectrum of sweet-and-sour combinations.
Sweet Plus Fiery
You may not have sampled jalapeño chili fudge—yet. But that combination of sweet and peppery is increasingly finding its way onto grocery shelves and into recipe files. (Our Jalapeño Pepper Jelly has been a gourmet favorite for years!) While some people enjoy food's comforting qualities, others "seek out excitement and exploration" when they eat, says Tim Hanni. Different peppers bring different qualities to the adventure. Brown Sugar Peppered Almonds, with their mingled flavors of ginger and chili, have a subtle kick that's perfect for snacks or appetizers—they're not too sweet to dull appetites. Ariela Pelaia, who bakes and blogs from her Connecticut home, loves the Mexican accent that chipotle chili gives her Chocolate Chipotle Brownies, which also have a full tablespoon of cinnamon. "Chipotle has a smoky depth—when you bite into one of these brownies you'll taste the chocolate on the tip of your tongue and then feel the heat of the chili in the back of your throat." She experimented "three or four times" with the amount of chili, and suggests you try the recipe with the minimum amount at first. And be sure to use milk chocolate chips: "Bittersweet or semisweet will give the chipotle a bitter edge."
Many herbs are unpleasantly bitter or pungent when tasted raw, but wonderfully delectable when combined with sugar. Mint is a classic example: It's the perfect foil for chocolate in these green-frosted Choco-Mint Brownies. Lavender's edible flowers are also well suited to baked goods. This Lavender Shortbread has both a lovely fragrance and a pretty flecked appearance. And Lavender Pound Cake complements the herbal flavor with a tangy lemon glaze.
What's your favorite flavor pairing? Do you have a new twist on "sugar-plus"—or a revival of a traditional favorite—that deliciously pushes the flavor envelope? Share it with us: we may publish it and credit you!