Can you swap honey for sugar in cooking?

Learn the right way to cook with nature's other sweetener.
Learn the right way to cook with nature's other sweetener. Photo: iStock

Can I substitute sugar for honey? M. Braithwaite

You can, but it doesn't come without complications. Honey is 1½ times sweeter than sugar, contains a lot more water, is more acidic and has amino acids that can give it a savoury taste. In baking, substitute one 250-millilitre cup (220 grams) of sugar for 210 millilitres of honey and reduce the amount of additional liquid, eg milk, by 45 millilitres. Honey works well with citrus peel, cinnamon and other spices. Herbs with a high note such as rosemary, cloves and vanilla will help ameliorate honey's savoury nature.

Should I worry about those white dots on my prosciutto? P. Whittaker

While we have so many problems to worry about, thankfully those white dots in your prosciutto are not one of them. Instead they are the end result of enzymes breaking down proteins in the pork into amino acids. One of them is tyrosine. It concentrates in gaps in the muscle fibre and forms into crunchy little white crystals.  Tyrosine crystals can also develop in aged cheeses and can be found alongside crystals of calcium lactate. Tyrosine crystals are harmless, and don't have intrinsic flavour but always occur in aged, preserved foods that are delicious due to the breakdown of other amino acids to produce glutamic acid.

I bought a bag of frozen prawns and they were coated in what looks like ice. I was appalled. L. Ridley

Crustacean outrage! Shame prawns, shame. You were buying IQF (individually quick frozen) prawns. In this process prawn or prawn tails are laid out on a wire conveyor belt through which super-chilled air is blasted. In a matter of minutes, the prawns are frozen stiff. The only problem with freezing water-filled foods is that moisture still migrates from inside the prawn/pea/fish fillet/chop to the cold, dry air outside. This is the cause of freezer burn. It's actually a drying process. This can be stopped by removing all the air. It can also be stopped by covering the food with a layer of ice. Once the prawns are frozen, they are sprayed with water and frozen once again to create an icy sarcophagus to protect them from freezer burn. Normally the net weight of the IQF product is based on the weight before the ice jacket is created. You're not paying for the frozen water so no need for the indignation.

Why do cooked mushrooms taste better than raw ones? M. Teh

I used to put it down to the great slabs of butter and copious quantities of thyme I cooked my mushrooms in. Then I worked out that mushrooms have about 100 milligrams per 100 grams of glutamic acid. That is the stuff that makes food naturally taste delicious. When you cook mushrooms, you are reducing the amount of water and thus increasing the proportion of glutamic acid. You're making them yummier by removing the liquid. It is important to make sure you don't leave the partially evaporated juice in the pan as this contains a lot of the glutamic acid. So, deglaze the pan before you serve the mushrooms or, if you have pan juices, reduce and serve with the mushrooms. Enoki mushrooms are even more delicious cooked because as they break down in cooking, a substance called guanylate forms. This is even more delicious than glutamic acid and doubly so when the two are combined. That's why a medley of fungus in a pot of risotto is one of the most delicious dishes around.

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