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What is Burnt Sugar?


Sugar being burnt to make Pelau

Burning sugar to make Trini Pelau.

Photo by Cynthia Nelson

Burnt Sugar is the caramelization of sugar to produce a very deep, rich, brown-colored sauce. Burnt Sugar is used to flavor and color many dishes in the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is often the base of many dishes.

The Trinbagonian iconic dishes of Pelau (pigeon peas, rice and meat or chicken cooked with coconut milk) and Brown Chicken Stew are both flavored and colored with Burnt Sugar. Each of these dishes start with the base of burning the sugar.

Burnt sugar gives a unique and delicious taste to food; however, it takes practice to get the burning of the sugar just right. It is always advisable to practice burning the sugar a few times and or to watch someone who is adept at doing it before attempting to make any of the dishes in which this sauce is the base.

There is a very slender margin of time at which the Burnt Sugar is at its right stage - the stage at which the meat, poultry or whatever the recipe instructs should be added. To miss this margin of time would result in the sugar being literally burnt, turning black and bitter. When this happens, it is best to dump that batch and start all over again. Failure to do so will result in the dish having a darker than desired color and notes of bitterness.

Burnt Sugar can be used in place of browning and some people even add it to their traditional Christmas/Black Cakes to make it darker.

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