Many a new year resolution is scripted to avoid one and one single ingredient: sugar. We all love it even when we loathe it, and every time we try to avoid it, we can’t seem to get enough of it. The paradox of paramour that man and sugar share is truly unique, equalled perhaps only by carbs, which is nothing but the larger set comprising sugar as one of its nymphettes.
So what is one to do, especially when all things doused in sugar taste so darned good? Well, for one, we need to learn to cultivate a taste for things not so sweet, for like chillies, once we start masking things with sugar, we soon lose the ability to appreciate flavours in their natural state and gradually our tactile profile gradually narrows.
Here’s a simple example, as a generation we eat lesser bitter gourd than others have before. We are, in general, losing the ability to relish bitterness, something that was not only natural a few centuries ago but even aided in our survival. Sugar, back in the day, was a rare commodity, its extraction was unknown and thus to use it lavishly in all sorts of preparations was not possible. So, maybe the lack of this option was a good one for us.
Today, when sugar costs lesser than many other ingredients, it is easy to disguise everything under the veil of sweetness. And when a mixologist messes up the balance, it is easy to be generous with the simple (sugar) syrup, smoothening out the inconsistencies even if it means drowning out the delicate flavours that the recipe may have tried to present. And the troubling bit is that most people don’t notice; they will happily drink a sweetened Mojito or Margarita without realising that it isn’t what the drink is supposed to be. This nondescript nature also makes it easier for bartenders to substitute good spirit with cheaper ones as, nobody will know any better.
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Mind you, not all sweetness is bad. In measured quantities, it provides texture and mouthfeel, giving ample weight and structure to the tactile aspect of a product.
Think of the dry Rieslings from the high reaches of the Mosel valley and you will realise that if it weren’t for the residual sugar, the bracing acidity would be too much for our palates to bear with. Similarly, a tinge of sweetness in a stiff sour drink (whisky or Pisco sour come to mind) is what helps bring about a sense of wholesomeness to an otherwise monolithic concoction. Add a tinge of sugar to cocoa and it becomes chocolate. A tinge of sweetness is the perfect Yin to the bitter Yang of a good gin and tonic.
So this year, don’t resolve to give up sugar; we all know how long that will last. Instead, try and see if you can find a way to appreciate beverages with reduced amount of it. From teas and coffees to cocktails and beyond, just add that much lesser, or add that little to begin with. As for aerated beverages, if you have more than 60 ml, consider that your cheat day.
Beyond that, try other sources of sugar which aren’t as refined. Jaggery is one. Coconut sugar is another. Similarly, try and find alternatives which, while still packing the same amount of calories, may deliver a little more than just sweetness.
That sugar is bad would be a strong statement to make. Let’s just go with, “A little sweetness is all it takes”. And with that, you may now rephrase your resolutions.
The writer is a sommelier