The history of sugar is not a simple one. From ancient China to the colonies to Candy Land, sugar has been making its mark throughout time in myriad ways. The “white gold,” as British colonists called it, has now reached mundane staple status for much of the western world, sitting in a five-pound bag in the pantry patiently waiting to be spooned into a cup of coffee or employed in a batch of cookie dough.
But that doesn’t mean the coruscating carbohydrate can’t be put to other uses. In a bind, regular table sugar can pinch-hit for a number of other concoctions, often times taking the place of more costly or possibly toxic solutions. Whether for health or beauty, in the kitchen or in the garden, here are a number of ways you can put this versatile ingredient to work.
1. Soothe your babe
According to a study in Pediatrics, babies who were given a one-to-four sugar-water solution (directly into the mouth or administered on a pacifier) before immunizations handled the pain of the shots better than children who received only water.
2. Treat a wound
You can treat wounds with a sprinkle of sugar: Wives’ tale or wise truth? This study showed that pouring granulated sugar on bedsores, leg ulcers or amputations before dressing killed the bacteria that prevents healing and causes chronic pain.
3. Soothe a singed tongue
For too-quick-a-gulp of too-hot coffee, sizzling pizza — whatever your tongue-burner may be — sugar can ease the sting. Suck on a sprinkle of sugar or a sugar cube and the pain should quickly dissipate.
4. Ease a spicy burn
Acidic foods and dairy can lessen the pain of too much spiciness in the mouth, but a dash of sugar works well too.
5. Make a body scrub
Sugar makes a splendid exfoliating agent for body scrubs. You can make a super simple one by mixing sugar with oil (canola, almond, jojoba or olive all work well) to create a loose paste. Add some essential oil or vanilla extract if you like fragrance. Gently rub on your skin and then rinse off in the shower.
6. Make a banana sugar scrub
When bananas have reached the point of no (edible) return, they can be appointed to your beauty routine. Banana is moisturizing and works perfectly as a vehicle for sugar in a body scrub. Mash a ripe banana with 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. (Don’t over mix.) Gently rub on your skin and then rinse off in the shower.
7. Smooth your kisser
Blend a little jojoba or olive oil with caster sugar (also called superfine sugar; you can also make this by putting regular granulated sugar in the food processor for a minute) and a touch of peppermint or vanilla extract, if you like. Place some of the paste on your lips, massage and lick off.
8. Extend lipstick
Sprinkle a bit of sugar atop freshly applied lipstick, let it sit, then lick it off. This works to set the lipstick and will extend the application.
9. Clean cruddy hands
For extra mucky hands (think paint, grease, grime) add sugar to your soap lather to act as an abrasive. You can also use equal parts sugar and olive oil, which acts to soothe and moisturize over-worked hands.
10. Feed your flowers
Add three teaspoons of sugar and two tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of warm water for fresh-cut flowers. The sugar feeds the stems and the vinegar restricts the growth of bacteria.
11. Battle nematode worms in garden
Have you nematodes? If the plants in your garden have unsightly knots at the roots, they may have fallen prey to the microscopic parasites. To combat them naturally, apply 5 pounds of sugar for every 250 square feet of garden. The sugar will feed microorganisms which will increase the organic matter in the soil, making it a hostile environment for the nematodes.
12. Trap wasps
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water, fill a jar with it and set it outside to attract wasps. They will fly in and become trapped. What you do with them next is up to you.
13. Make a natural fly strip
Fly strips can be unsightly, but flies on dinner can be even more so. If you can’t scoot them out the window and you require relief, you can make all-natural fly strips by combining equal parts sugar, honey and water in a saucepan. Boil the mixture, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Let cool. Cut pieces of brown packing tape, punch a hole on the end and make a loop with string through the hole. Dip the strips in the mix, hang to let excess drips drop (with a pan beneath to catch drips) until sticky, then hang where the flies are most active.
14. Make a roach motel
Well, more like a roach last supper. Mix equal parts sugar and baking powder and sprinkle over areas of infestation. Sugar attracts the buggers, the baking powder exterminates them. Replace frequently.
15. Feed the butterflies
Matthew Tekulsky, author of “The Butterfly Garden” (Harvard Common Press, 1985), recommends this formula for feeding butterflies.
1 pound sugar
1 or 2 cans stale beer
3 mashed overripe banana
1 cup of molasses or syrup
1 cup of fruit juice
1 shot of rum
Mix all the ingredients well and paint the mixture on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps — or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang it from a tree limb.
16. Clean your grinders
Coffee bean and spice grinders can collect oils that are strong in flavor, but sugar can clean them by absorbing the offending elements. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into the grinder and run it for 2 -3 minutes. Dump out and wipe well.
17. Attack grass stains
Make a paste of warm water and sugar and apply to grass-stained clothing, let sit for an hour (or longer for tougher stains) and then wash as usual.
18. Keep cakes fresh
If you store cake in an airtight container with a few sugar cubes, it will stay fresh longer.
19. Keep cookies fresh
20. Prevent cheese from molding?
Some swear that storing cheese with sugar cubes will prevent cheese from molding.
21. Transform berries
Nothing beats fresh berries as they are, but you can also make a quick no-cook dessert topping that is as simple as it is versatile. To make “macerated berries,” stir in a teaspoon of sugar and a squeeze of lemon for every cup of sliced berries. Let sit for 30 minutes. Serve alone, with ice cream or whipped cream, on top of cakes, bread pudding, etc.
22. Vanilla your sugar
Split a vanilla bean in half and sink it in a jar full of sugar, let it sit for a week, and voilà, vanilla-perfumed sugar.
23. Sweeten iced drinks
Iced coffee season! Cocktail season! Make simple syrup for easy mixing of sugar into cold beverages. Mix one cup sugar with one cup water in a small saucepan. Bring sugar and water to a boil and simmer about 3 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Store in a clean jar in the refrigerator.
24. Make rock candy
Old-fashioned rock candy is nothing more than sugar and water, and a kick to make with kids. Stir 2.5 cups sugar into 1 cup hot water until sugar is dissolved. Pour the syrup into open containers and add a grain of sugar to each dish. Store in a cool, dry place and check after a few days for crystals. As they form, scoop them out and let dry on a paper towel. A simpler candy does not exist.
Credit: Melissa Breyer