I've got a few Asian recipes (e.g. Mongolian lamb and Singapore duck) that request only ⅛ teaspoon of sugar for a meal fit for 2 or 3 people. That feels too little to affect sweetness.

Are there particular ingredients common in Asian cuisine that require de-acidifying with sugar, or is the sugar used for another purpose?

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    I'm guessing that's for adding the sweet to the sour. – BaffledCook Feb 2 '12 at 7:08

First, there are plenty of sour ingredients in Asian cooking, that are de-acidified by a little sugar. Tomato paste, peppers and soy are examples that come to mind.

Second, and this is the Zen-style answer, is that the sugar is to sweeten the dish a little. One teaspoon of sugar in a sauce is plenty sweet enough, especially if you're not used to having 6tsp of sugar in a can of Coke daily. Sweetness, like saltiness and spicyness, is something we get used to easily.

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    +1 for the second paragraph! To the OP: you can demonstrate that to yourself by making something where it can easily be mixed in late (e.g. a sauce), and just trying it with and without the sugar. I think you'll find that a little bit of sweetness is a nice part of the flavor. (And the first teaspoon does a lot more than the 10th teaspoon.) – Cascabel Feb 2 '12 at 16:59
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    @jefromi I would have agreed with that for a whole teaspoon, but the OP talks about one eighth of a teaspoon, which is half a gram. There is probably more salt in this dish than sugar. – rumtscho Feb 2 '12 at 18:07
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    @rumtscho: Oops, I'm bad at reading! It might still be possible to taste the difference, though, and perhaps identify it as a difference in sweetness, even if the sweeter version doesn't taste sweet on its own. – Cascabel Feb 2 '12 at 18:34
  • rumtscho is correct, just one eighth of a teaspoon for meals which have 12-16 ounces of meat plus vegetables. There are no tomatoes or peppers but soy sauce is common. Yet many other Asian recipes with soy don't have sweetness added. – jontyc Feb 2 '12 at 23:17

I can certainly taste the difference, that little bit of sugar is rather useful! Especially as I fry the food briefly on high heat which I guess might tend to caramelize that sugar. More sugar might make it too caramelized for some people. That said, normally I would use about half a tablespoon of sugar, but Singaporean duck and Mongolian lamb are already very sweet (due to their fat, and the marinate, I wouldn't want to make it significantly sweeter.)

Then again, I rarely have sugar. I don't have sugar in my coffee, my oats for breakfast have only half a teaspoon of honey, etcetera.


since i don not use MSG, I add a pinch of sugar to add flavor to my recipe. aside from that, in our country we celebrate fiestas. we prepare foods in great quantity. like estofado(pork with banana, potato and pineapple) it is really a sweet menu becuase we add generous amount of mascovado sugar to achieve its ideal flavor. this food is still edible after two days with out keeping inside the fridge. i am convinced that sugar contributes to the preservation of food.


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