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What’s the Difference: Part II


What’s the difference between white, light brown and dark brown sugar?

Brown sugar is simply regular white sugar combined with molasses.  To make sugar, the juice from the sugar cane is boiled and the sugar crystals are then extracted.  The remaining syrup is molasses.  Dark brown sugar has a higher concentration of molasses and hence, a stronger flavor than the light brown.

What’s the difference between light and dark corn syrup?

Corn syrup is made by processing cornstarch with acids and/or enzymes.  Cornstarch is the starch harvested from the endosperm of corn kernels.  Light corn syrup has been refined to increase its clarity and remove any color.  Dark corn syrup has had caramel coloring added and has a stronger flavor.

What’s the difference between cream cheese and Neufchatel cream cheese?

That depends on where you live.  Real Neufchatel cream cheese hails from the town of Neufchatel France in the Normandy region.  It is a soft, unripened, somewhat salty, yet mild cheese with a fat content of 20 to 45 percent.  In America, where we have a tenacious proclivity for bastardizing quality food products, Neufchatel cream cheese has a fat content of 23 percent.  Needless to say it is not as rich or tasty as its Norman counterpart.  Regular American cream cheese is at least 33 percent fat.

What’s the difference between cocoa powder and Dutch cocoa powder?

Cocoa beans are fermented and roasted and then ground to remove most of the cocoa butter, (the natural vegetable fat in the cocoa bean).  What remains is a paste called chocolate liquor.  This is dried again and ground to produce cocoa powder.  Dutch cocoa powder has been treated with an alkali which neutralizes the powder’s natural acidity.  Depending on the recipe, you cannot substitute regular cocoa powder for Dutch cocoa powder or vice versa. 


The leavening effect of many baked goods requires a delicate balance of acid and alkaline ingredients.  Regular cocoa powder is acidic while the Dutch variety is neutral. 

What’s the difference between regular bread and sour dough bread?

Sourdough bread is made from a yeast starter as opposed to just straightforward yeast.  Yeast starter is made by combining yeast, water, sugar, and flour and allowing the mixture to ferment.  As it does so, bacteria produce lactic acid as a byproduct which in turn creates the characteristic sour and tangy flavor.

What’s the difference between regular coffee and espresso?

The term espresso refers to the method of making the coffee, not the beans or how they are roasted.  Nevertheless, espresso normally employs beans that are roasted more than regular coffee beans and then finely ground.  The espresso part of the equation is injecting very hot, pressurized water through the grind to produce a dark, rich cup of coffee in a fraction of the time of regular coffee.  A cup of espresso has about the same amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee BUT a “cup” of espresso is approximately 2 oz. as compared to a 6 oz. cup of regular coffee.  Thus, ounce for ounce, espresso has notably more caffeine. 

What’s the difference between light and dark soy sauce?

Soy sauce is made from fermenting soy beans and roasted wheat or barley.  Differences in processing produce the light and dark varieties.  The light soy sauce is thinner, lighter in color and flavor, but saltier than the dark soy sauce.  Dark soy sauce’s color may be augmented with the addition of caramel.  Caramel is cooked sugar which takes on a dark color from prolonged exposure to heat. 

What’s the difference between ground black pepper and freshly cracked black peppercorns in a grinder?

A lot.  Ground pepper, like any ground spice will lose its flavor rapidly.  Within no time it will have little taste although it might retain its kick.  It is absolutely worth buying fresh peppercorns and grinding them as needed on your dishes.  You will add greater dimensions of flavor as well as a bite to your food. 

What’s the difference between flat-leaf or Italian parsley and the curly variety?

Intensity of flavor.  The flat leaf has a stronger flavor.  If you can only get the curly just use a little extra. 

What’s the difference between a T-bone and porterhouse steak?

At first glance the two cuts look very similar:  a T-shaped bone with a larger piece of meat on one side and a smaller one on the other.  But there is a significant difference.  Both cuts come from the short loin, the tender section of muscle between the rib and the sirloin.  The short loin is composed of the top loin and the ultra tender tenderloin, (better known as fillet mignon when cut into steaks).  The large side of the T-bone and porterhouse is the top loin and the smaller side is the tenderloin.  But because the T-bone is cut from the center of the short loin, as opposed to the porterhouse which is cut from the larger end, the T-bone will have a smaller piece of the tenderloin than the porterhouse.  Therefore, if they are priced the same, you will get more of the tenderloin for your money with the porterhouse.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - May 3, 2006
Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Archive of other articles by Mark Vogel


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