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What’s the Difference?


What’s the difference between superfine, powdered and granulated sugar?

Superfine sugar is granulated sugar that has been finely ground.  It dissolves more easily and is preferred for sweetening cold liquids and meringues.  Powdered, or confectioners’ sugar is granulated sugar ground to a powder and dissolves even faster.  It is used for candies, icings and topping desserts.

What’s the difference between a yam and a sweet potato?

Sweet potatoes are not potatoes but a root belonging to the morning-glory family. They are indigenous to Peru and Ecuador.  Yams, although similar, are a tuber from the Dioscoreaceae family and originated in Africa.  The confusion began many years ago when Louisiana farmers wished to differentiate their sweet potatoes from others by calling them Louisiana yams.

What’s the difference between cake, all purpose and bread flour?

Protein.  Cake flour is 7.5 to 8.5% protein, all purpose ranges from 9.5 to 12% and bread flour is 11.5 to 12.5 %.  When you mix flour and water, proteins in the flour called glutenin and gliadin combine with the water to create gluten.  Gluten imparts the dough with structure and traps the gas bubbles given off by the yeast or chemical leaveners.  Thus, it allows the dough to rise without deflating.  The higher the protein content, the more gluten produced, and the firmer the dough.  Some baked goods require a softer texture such as cake, and some a firmer one, like pizza.  Therefore, the product you are creating will determine which flour to use. 

What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

Baking soda and baking powder are chemical leaveners.  A leavener is a rising agent; a substance that enables dough to rise by expelling carbon dioxide gas.  Yeast, (a living microorganism) produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct of its consumption of sugar. 


Baking soda, being alkaline, expels carbon dioxide when combined with an acid.  For example, buttermilk, which is acidic, is combined with baking soda in biscuit recipes.  Baking powder is baking soda that already contains an acid, (usually cream of tartar), and only requires liquid to become activated.  Double acting baking powder emits carbon dioxide when the liquid in the batter is first added and then again when the product is heated during cooking.  Self rising flour by the way, is flour to which baking powder has been added.

What’s the difference between table salt, kosher salt and sea salt?

Table salt is a fine grained salt to which chemicals are added to keep it free flowing.  Kosher salt is a coarse grain, additive free salt.  Kosher salt tastes cleaner and chefs like it because the coarser texture allows it to be held and controlled easier by the fingers.  Sea salt is made from evaporated sea water.  Sea salts contain various minerals and the types and amounts of them vary depending on where the salt originated.  These mineral combinations impart each sea salt with distinctive taste properties.  Many people feel sea salts taste best. 

What’s the difference between cooking wine and regular wine?

Cooking wine is extremely low quality wine that has been imbibed with excessive salt and other unnecessary flavoring agents.  It tastes gross.  It can’t hold a candle to table wine.  Never use it.  End of story.

What’s the difference between white and brown rice?  What about short, medium and long grain rice?  And what’s the deal with wild rice?

White rice has had its hull, (the outer covering), and bran removed.  Brown rice has only had its hull removed.  Rice has two main starches: amylose and amylopectin.  Long grain rice is highest in amylose.  Medium grain rice has more amylopectin than long grain rice and short grain rice even more than medium grain.  These starches react differently when cooked.  Long grain rice is best for fluffy pilafs, medium grain rice for rice pudding and risotto, and short grain rice, the most sticky, is best for sushi.  Wild rice is not a rice at all; it’s a grass.

What’s the difference between light olive oil, olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil?

When the olives are first pressed to extract the oil, the initial pressing produces the richest tasting oil, a.k.a., extra virgin olive oil.  Extra virgin is best for salad dressings and drizzling on food just before service.  Regular olive oil has been refined and filtered.  It is not as intensely flavored.  Light olive oil is NOT lower in calories.  All olive oils have the same caloric content.  Light olive oil has been refined and filtered even further.  It has the least amount of taste but because of the additional refining, it has a higher smoke point.  Use it in recipes where you desire the health benefits of olives oil’s monosaturated fat but not the olive flavor, such as certain baked goods.   

What’s the difference between semisweet and bittersweet chocolate?

Sugar content.  To begin there’s unsweetened or baking chocolate to which no sugar has been added.  Then, going up the ladder of sweetness, is bittersweet, semisweet and sweet chocolate.  These will also vary on their chocolate content as well.  Milk chocolate is sweetened chocolate to which dry milk has been added.  And just for the record, white chocolate is not chocolate but the natural vegetable fat found in the cocoa bean.  Sugar, milk solids, and vanilla are added to flavor and sweeten it.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - February 1, 2006
Mark R. Vogel - [email protected]  -  Archive of other articles by Mark Vogel


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