Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
Pure sugars making Wakefield Rhubarb Festival sweet
Rhubarb is a much-loved food in the UK and across the world, but did you know that it had its own celebratory festival? Read on to find out about the annual Wakefield festival and to learn why sugar plays such an important role in complementing this sour crop.
Rhubarb – though often mistaken for fruit – is actually a cold-weather vegetable. Its long stalks, which can grow up to five feet, range in colour from red to pink to pale green and have a consistency similar to celery. Rhubarb may be known now as an ingredient in pies and jams, but before it became a weird and wacky culinary marvel, it was most recognised for its roots which were believed to aid digestion and cure various stomach ailments. And with everyday consumption from people all over the world, annual festivals are held to celebrate this versatile vegetable.
From Friday 25th until Sunday 27th February, Wakefield in Yorkshire will turn pink in celebration of its famous rhubarb heritage. In 2010, twelve farmers applied to have the name “Yorkshire forced rhubarb” added to the list of foods and drinks that have their names legally protected by the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme. And In 2005 Wakefield council erected a sculpture depicting a rhubarb plant in Holmfield Park Wakefield.
This year’s Wakefield Festival expects to see great tasting food and drink, colourful stalls selling delicious Yorkshire produce, fun activities for young children and families, lively street entertainment and live cookery demonstrations, featuring some of the most talented chefs working in the country today. The festival will also see the launch of the Rhubarb Food & Drink Trail around the city, showcasing restaurants and bars offering rhubarb themed food and drink throughout the weekend.
The science in rhubarb
Rhubarb, which is renowned for its tart, tangy and sour taste, is usually cooked in a variety of sugars, depending on the required outcome. From candied to stewed to roasted, it can be combined with other ingredients to create a range of diverse foods. But what exactly is needed to create a taste suitable for our palettes, and what process is needed for an enjoyable taste?
When we eat rhubarb, different subtypes of cells within the taste buds are each responsive to a particular taste quality, be it sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. The subtypes produce receptor proteins corresponding to their taste qualities, which sense the chemical makeup of foods as they pass by in the mouth.
The high concentration of malic acid in rhubarb means it relies on sugar to complement its flavours. Malic acid is one of the most abundant acids found in natural produce and contributes to the sour taste of the plant. This acid delivers a smooth tartness, and in candied rhubarb, malic acid boosts the intensity of its sourness and enhances its natural flavours.
Sugar used to complement rhubarb
Bakers and chefs often use an invert sugar syrup to balance flavours in rhubarb sorbet or candy, due to its smooth texture and high sweetness value. Demerara sugar is traditionally used in the baking of pies and crumbles as its coarse grain creates crunchy toppings. Other popular applications of the product include shortbreads and flapjacks. This mellow sugar perfectly complements any bitter taste, while its coarse texture makes it ideal for sprinkling over the warm rhubarb.
Soft brown light sugar is a great choice for dunking to sweeten raw or roasted rhubarb. This application achieves a fine texture and adds volume. As well as this, soft brown light sugar adds a golden colour and easily dissolves, giving a mellow aroma to the sour rhubarb.
The production of rhubarb flavoured alcohol has also grown increasingly popular recently, with fruit wines, ciders, gins and beers just some of the beverages that have been adapted to include this sour vegetable. Ragus manufacturers brewing sugar for the production of beers. A custom formulation made up of cane molasses, invert sugar and dextrose, this product adds a mellow flavouring to complement the sour taste of the rhubarb.
It is important to remember that pure sugars and syrups are component ingredients, so adjustments are often made to suit a manufacturer’s specific application or production process.
Bringing people together
A warming childhood classic, rhubarb pies and crumbles transport many of us back to memories of family time spent around the kitchen table. While the sour flavour is a staple property of this vegetable, many of the applications rely on sugar to balance it out. Sugar not only complements the flavour of this food, but it also affects the texture and colour of many of the rhubarb-based dishes, from desserts to sweets and even drinks, emphasising the varying uses of pure sugar products.
Wakefield Festival will be opening its doors to celebrate the rhubarb vegetable from 10am tomorrow.