When you’re making a Belgian beer, many recipes list Belgian candi sugar as an ingredient. Belgian candi looks like rock candy and for most purposes it is rock candy. Belgian candi is a common additive for Belgian Tripels and Dubbels. The Belgian candi comes in light (which looks like rock candi), red (which looks blood red), and dark (which looks like brown candy).
The sugar in the Belgian candi boosts the fermentables in a beer without increasing the body. As many of my unknowing neighbors found out, this can make a “Budweiser-like” (colored yellow) beer significantly stronger in alcohol content. Usually you use light candi in light colored beers such as a Tripel , and the darker colored candi in darker beers like a Dubbel.
Unfortunately Belgian candi can be quite expensive. I’ve seen it for as much as $7 USD a pound. With current hops and grain pricing, this can make for a very expensive beer. When you see the price for Belgian candi, your first thought will be “what’s the difference between the candi and regular sugar?”
In short, not much difference at all.
Cane sugar vs. Beet sugar
The first real difference between candi and table sugar is the source of the sugar. Different countries will have different sources of sugar depending on which sugar plant is closest to where you live. You can get sugar from cane, beet, date palm, sorghum, or maple. Belgians get their sugar from beet, while here in the USA (and most of the world) we get our sugar from cane. All of these sugar plants yield sucrose.
If you can taste the difference between sugar from cane and sugar from beet, your palate is god-like. The manufacturing process for both types of sugar is almost identical and in both cases they produce 100% sucrose. Sucrose is just a sugar disaccharide made of two monosaccharides called fructose and glucose. To distinguish the two sugar sources in Europe, they add 1-3% molasses to give the cane sugar a brownish tinge. If you taste a difference between the sugars in Europe, it’s most likely the molasses you taste.
- Most sugar is made from beet or cane
- The production process for both produce 100% sucrose sugar
- Europe adds molasses to table sugar
Belgian Candi vs. Sugar
Belgian candi is sugar. There is a slight difference though. Belgian candi is fructose and glucose. Table sugar is sucrose. The reason for the difference is Belgian candi has been inverted. Inverted sugar is produced by splitting sucrose into fructose and glucose. Yeast has a field day with fructose and glucose, but struggles a bit with sucrose. To break down sucrose, the yeast must first produce an invertase enzyme. It’s an extra step for the yeast, but the yeast (and most organisms) can do it.
Some people report the enzyme produced by the yeast can give the beer an off flavor. Just to be safe, it would be better if you can first break your table sugar down into the monosaccharides. To break down the sucrose, you can use an enzyme (from the yeast in your wort), or you can use acid and heat.
- Belgian candi is inverted sugar
- Sucrose is a disaccharide made of fructose and glucose
- Inverted sugar is sucrose broken down into fructose and glucose
How to invert table sugar
The simplest method to invert sugar is to use a weak acid and high heat. Your wort is acidic (should be), and you’re going to boil it. That sounds like a match. In fact, many brewers just pour the sugar into the wort and let the boil take care of it.
I prefer to invert the sugar first. To do this, I heat the required amount of sugar with a little water and a bit of lemon juice. The lemon juice is a great source of citric acid. You don’t need much juice, because the citric acid acts as an enzyme. It is not used in the chemical reaction.
First mix your sugar, lemon juice, and enough water to make a thick syrup. Boil the sugar water. Once your temperature is over 275 F, you will start to see changes in your sugar. It will change from clear, to (piss) yellow, to red and then to brown. Add water as needed to keep the syrup fluid. If you want light Belgian candi, stop when it is yellow. Keep boiling until you reach the color you desire. Once you have the color you want, stop adding water. Boil the sugar until it reaches 300 F. Once you hit this temperature, remove the heat and toss it into a pan with wax paper.
Ta-da! You’re done. Your table sugar is now inverted sugar just like Belgian candi. The heated sugar will harden into rock candi. You can break it into pieces for easier storage in plastic bags.
- Table sugar needs heat and acid to be inverted
- The process takes about 30 minutes to over an hour depending on the color you want to produce
So there you have it. Next time someone tries to sell you Belgian candi at $7 a pound, go to your grocery store and pick up some sugar.
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