Citizen Cane Transcript


[In a whisper, voice over] Sugar.

    Freshly fallen snow. Tiny little amalgams of crystallized purity.  But you know, when the veneer of popular mythology melts away what are you left with? A bucket full of acid rain laced with sulfuric compounds and, I don’t know, ozone juice. Nope. If it’s crystalline purity you seek you’re going to have to park Rosebud at the back door and head for the kitchen. Because it’s there between the flour and the tea bags in a canister labeled sugar. That’s right. Nature’s most effective sweetness delivery device is also one of the most potent and powerful of the players in the kitchen universe. I mean besides its obvious accomplishments in the arenas of sweetening, flavor enhancements, preservation, fermentation, hydrolyzation and tenderization, sugar is just a great ingredient all by itself. Add a little heat, a little water, a little chemistry, amazing things will happen.
    So join us, won’t you, as we venture deep into the heart of a little disaccharide that we like to call to call sucrose. And I don’t care what those Buster people say, sugar is a good eats.


GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    If sunlight were to take a physical form on our planet, it would be as sucrose. Now all green plants manufacture sucrose, to some degree or another, via photosynthesis, that amazingly complex transmutation of energy into matter. But only two plants, sugar beats and the giant grass we call sugar cane, manufacture sucrose in harvestable amounts.

6CO2 + 6H20 + light ->
C6H1206+ 602

    Now nobody really knows where or when man began to crystallize sugar from the juice of saccharum officinarum. But there are written records of producing "honey without bees" along the banks of the Ganges river as early as 500 BC. Now at that time the refining process was still in its infancy and nobody had really figured out how to remove the crystals from the dark, brown, gooey molasses or the cane syrup that just wouldn’t crystallize. So instead of looking like the white, light snowy stuff that we think of as sugar, sugar looked like this—big, dark, sticky loaves or cones. And to use it you just scrapped it off with either a knife or a fork into the sugar bowl.
    Now from India, the knowledge spread west to Persia but was halted there by Arab merchants that saw sugar’s true potential. So they tinkered around with the technology and finally perfected the production of sugar. And, they monopolized its commerce moving it across the northern rim of Africa and taking it with them into Spain when they took over. There they kind of let it trickle into Europe at about $500 a spoon full until the crusaders came into Spain, stole clippings, took it back to Brussels and London desperate to get their own supply going and carried it to their new colonies in the Lesser Antilles and the Caribbean where it eventually took over and spread across to Cuba and even in to Southern Florida where we are today.
    Now I’d love to tell you why there was so much fuss about this little white powder, but have I told you lately that I am not a nutritional ... she’s back there isn’t she? ...


    ... anthropologist.

AB: Okay, Deb. Why all this fuss for some white powder?
DD: You mean sugar?
AB: Sugar. What’s the big deal?
DD: Well, for one thing glucose is the main energy source of the brain, and we have big brains. They’re big energy sinks. And we learn at our mother’s breast to like sweetness because breast milk is really sweet.
AB: And that’s to get us kind of conditioned to thinking sweet good?
DD: Probably. Sweetness is goodness is protection is comfort, that kind of thing.  And then, some people even say that it’s some part of our genetic memory from ... if our ancestors were possibly fruit eaters.
AB: So either way we are conditioned to like sweet, sweet good, bitter bad.
DD: Yeah, but we’ve gone overboard.
AB: Yeah, I’ll say so. What exactly are you doing here by the way?
DD: Oh, I’m studying the bio-cultural response of twentieth century Neanderthals to solar radiation.
AB: I think she’s talking about me.
DD: [laughs]
AB: Well I’ve got to hack my way out of here, Deb. No time to talk right now.

    Truth is, she’s right. Americans consume about 80 pounds of sugar a piece a year.

The World Health Organization has concluded that sugar is not bad for you.
(Too much of a good thing, however, usually is.)

    For centuries, human engines in the form of slaves fed the mills of Barbados and Martinique day and night. Up to 25 years ago the machete was still the harvester’s tool of choice. Today, horsepower has all but eradicated man power from the fields.

Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative: Belle Glade, FL - 4:21 pm

    Immediately post harvest, the cane is fed to a 9,000 horsepower engine of destruction called a tandem which wrings smashes and chomps the great grass liberating its juice which at this point looks and smells more like Tijuana street run off than sugar. This juice is then percolated through lime and emerges as a murky syrup which is then filtered and boiled repeatedly until it becomes so concentrated that the raw sugar crystals fall out of solution. Bingo. We’ve got industrial grade sugar.

Tandem (engine of destruction)

cane juice

lime + sediment

clarified cane juice

industrial sugar

Florida Crystals Refinery: Belle Glade, FL - 5:02 pm

GUEST: Nick Rimedio, Plant Manager

    At the refinery this sugar is changed back and forth from solid to progressively concentrated liquid phases. Each of these phase changes removes further impurities until 99.9 percent sucrose remains.  The final crystals are separated from the their mother liquid via centrifuge, just like your washer spin cycle, tumble dried, and then packed up and sent to a grateful world.

final crystals


sugar dryer

Table sugar is a disaccaride or "double sugar" made up
of two "simple" sugars, glucose and fructose.

The Kitchen

"The Candyman can." - Sammy Davis Jr.

GUEST: Shirley O. Corriher, Food Science Guru

    Candy making is basically the manipulation of sucrose by heat. Taffy, jawbreakers, fudge, divinity, butterscotch are all made possible by the fact that between 230 and 350 degrees plain old table sugar, sucrose, goes through more changes than a teenager during prom week.


230° - 350°

    Now besides simple syrup there are the traditional candy making stages which are named for how increasingly concentrated syrups react when dropped into ice water. There’s the thread stage, softball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack and hard crack. Further up the thermometer you go the harder the resulting candy will be. That is until you get to where we are going today which is the far end of the thermometer where sucrose comes apart at the seams and sweetness gives way to an ever widening complex of flavors and aromas.

Ball Stages:
soft ball
firm ball
hard ball
soft crack
hard crack

the higher the temperature, the harder the candy

    Now sure all those cooler candy stages have there uses and we’ll get to those on another show. But today, we’re taking sucrose to the extreme, caramel.

"Sugar" comes form Sanskrit "sharkara" or "grit".

    Now there are two ways to get where we’re going: dry method and a wet method. Now melting sugar by itself in a dry pan is simple, but its squirrelly to control and very easy to burn. The wet method, on the other hand, does have a twist or two in it, but in the end it’s a lot more controllable.

    Now the software is pretty darn basic just enough table sugar to come about a quarter the way up the side of the pan.  I’ve got about two cups here. Just enough clean water to make it the consistency of wet sand. Now when in doubt go with two parts of sugar by weight to one part of H20 by weight in which case weight and volume are the same thing.

2 cups Sugar (enough to come 1/4 - 1/3 up side of pan)

wet sand

2 parts sugar to 1 part H20

    Now, besides your heaviest oven proof sauce pan hardware is going to include a clean spoon which is never going to touch this again, not for awhile at least, a clean pastry brush, a clean container full of clean water. Now, why all this concentration on "clean"? Well, it’s not so much about sanitation as it is about molecular contamination. But, more on that later.  Now put this over high heat.

heavy, oven safe sauce pan
clean spoon
clean pastry brush
clean container of clean H20

Although not technically required, a candy thermometer
does take the guesswork out of sugar cooking.

    Once the sugar has dissolved acclimate the thermometer with a little hot water to prevent thermal shock then carefully clip it into the pan making the sure that the ball is submerged.

    Now go ahead and let the water boil. Why? Well, to get rid of it, of course. And, no stirring, no shaking, basically no touching this pan for about 200 degrees.

no stirring, shaking or agitating

    Why? Well, because just when the sugar is prepared to yield its greatest treasures there’s danger of failure.  It’s a small thing, really. But then of course the Chicago fire started small, too. In our case, the specter, crystallization.


    Here’s what happens.  The pot’s now hot, water is boiling out leaving the dissolved sugar behind.  That creates a super-saturated solution and it’s very volatile. If you were to just shake the pot around or stir it or have any dirt or anything grimy in there or even if you were to drop in one rogue crystal of sugar ...

AB: [to stagehand off camera] Sugar.

... and the entire pot would go kaput. [drops a little bit of sugar in] Doooo’h.

AB: [to stagehand off camera] Clamp.

Rendering nothing but a big blob of crystals. Now, they don’t get this big that fast. This took about, oh, 5 weeks for me to grow in my kitchen. But you get the point.

super-saturated solution

big blob of crystals

    Now, the culprit, as is usually the case, is molecules.  Molecules are ... [sigh]. Now I’m not a geologist, I’m not a molecular chemist and I’m not a food scientist, but this, somebody needs to explain this.

AB: Shirley, explain yourself.

SHIRLEY CORRIHER: When you’ve got something very pure like table sugar, it’s 99.9 percent pure sucrose, and you’ve evaporated off a lot of the water and those molecules are packed in there tight against each other and then they will hop into place to form a crystal.

table sugar: 99.9% sucrose


AB: How do we prevent this from happening?

SC: Well, you can be very careful and rinse down the sides and all of that. But, the easy way out is chemical: add a sugar that is similar but slightly different.

non-sucrose sugar

AB: Ahh.
SC: It’s molecule tries to hop in and it’s the wrong one and the crystal says, "No, no, no." It won’t form.
AB: So if that one corner can’t form the whole crystal is kaput.
SC: The crystals won’t form. An impurity, another sugar that’s similar but different is going to be perfect.
AB: What kind of thing are we talking about here?

SC: Plain old corn syrup. Glucose.

corn syrup = glucose

AB: Corn syrup. Just like that.
SC: Yes. Yes. Just like that. All you need is about a tablespoon and that ...
AB: In that whole pot.
SC: ... then that will prevent the whole pot from crystallizing.
AB: So what we’ve got is a situation where purity is backfiring on us and the only way to fix it is with an impurity.
SC: Exactly.
AB: And a tablespoon will take care of my whole pot.
SC: That’s right.
AB: Thanks, Shirley. I love it.

    Now, if you find yourself victimized by crystallization do not despair. You don’t have to through out the whole pot. But, you will have to add the water back into the pot and dissolve the sugar again which is going to take a little bit of time.

add water
to pot and
redissolve over high heat

    But take out a little insurance this time with a couple of teaspoons or a tablespoon of corn syrup.

add water + 1 Tbls Corn Syrup to pot and redissolve over high heat

Acids like lemon juice vinegar or cream of
tartar can also prevent sugar crystallization.


    As the water cooks out of our pot of sugar it’s a good time to prepare for phase two: extra hardware. Two baking sheets turned upside down or any other level heat-proof platform and two pieces of parchment paper. Pretty mysterious, huh.

2 inverted baking sheets
2 pieces parchment

    Now, as we near the 300 degree line prepare to leave the world of sucrose behind. See, at 320 with all the water cooked away, the sucrose melts molecularly forming smaller sugars. One hundred and twenty eight of them to be correct.

at 320° the dissolved sucrose begins to melt

how many?

    Now just under 340 the substance that was sucrose has changed enough that the color actually turns from crystal clear to light gold. Then it moves on to amber then mahogany, beyond that lay black, which is definitely over caramelized.

340°: New sugars form new color

    Even without a thermometer you’ll know the big ‘c’ is coming. Take a look at this. Bubbles have slowed down and they’re stacking up on each other. That is a sure sign that the water is almost gone and the sugar is molten.

bubbles slow and stack

    Now without sugar around to provide a medium, crystallization is no longer a danger so stirring or at least gentle agitation is okay. In fact, as the sugar darkens in the pan it’s down right critical. See without some movement pockets of sugar will over heat and burn before others even start to brown. So, gently rotate the pan to even out the heat. Carefully, please. Pastry chefs don’t call this stuff "napalm" for nothing.
    Now of course at this point you could stir in a couple of handfuls of toasted almonds and spread it out on to a well greased cookie sheet, about a quarter inch thick, let it set and you’d have almond brittle.

    Now once the sugar hits a true amber color around 340 degrees, remove it from the heat and let it cool down slowly. Just move your spoon back and forth through this lava flow. If you stir quickly you’ll work in air which will cloud the candy so go slow.

amber = 340°

fast stirring = cloudy candy

    And every few strokes stop and lift the spoon. Just let some of the sugar fall off. Now if it fall in drops the sugar is too hot to work with. Keep stirring and checking until it falls in a solid stream.

too hot

    There, you see that continuous string. It’s like a solid piece of sugar all the way down into the pot.

just right

    That’s what tells you that, uh, it’s Doodad time.

Doodad Time!

    Now what is a Doodad exactly? Well, let’s just say it’s a free form spirograph of candy. Now the idea is to create a string of sugar and kind of pile it up on the paper using quick, tight wrist movements. Now this is going to take a little playing with but playing with food is fun. Heh, cost of a pound or two of sugar is a cheap price to pay for impressing the heck out of the neighbors.
    I usually go with tight, atomic circles or back-and-forth cross-hatching. Just remember, the further you hold the spoon off the paper the wider the pattern will be. Now see how that string stays together? It’s exactly what we are looking for. And thinner is better.
    Now once you’re done playing Jackson Pollock, let these set for 10 or 15 minutes then just peel the paper off the Doodad. As far as short term storage goes, just stack these between sheets of wax paper and seal them in air tight container of your choice. But, if it’s a humid day outside these candies are going to go gummy within 24 hours, so don’t make more than you need. And the other thing is that, well, we need the rest of this sugar for something else.

    Now, this sugar is due yet for more abuse, so back on the heat—medium high, that is. Now we’re headed to the one dessert sauce that can truly capture all the deep, dark complex flavors of nature on the edge of annihilation: caramel.

medium high heat

    And it’s going to happen pretty quick. So, make sure that you’ve got a container of cold cream that equals in volume the amount of sugar you have. If you started with 2 cups of sugar and didn’t make Doodads then you’d have two cups of cream. Just kind of eyeball it. If you’ve got, you think, about a cup in there then a cup of cream. If you’ve got a little bit more sugar than cream that’s okay.

equal portions of heavy cream and melted sugar

    Now pushing sugar to the limit doesn’t take much skill. But nerves of steel are a plus, because basically you’re playing chicken with the sugar. You see, you want it dark, really dark cause that’s where the roasty, toasty flavors are. But things are moving so fast now that if you answer the phone, yell at the dog, see who’s at the door, stop to take a picture of that UFO or brush that tarantula from your shoulder you could end up with a pan load of carbon.

    Now it’s getting darker. Darker. But wait. Wait. Don’t look at the UFO. Wait. Then the instance you see wisps of smoke coming from the surface of the pot you go to action. Removing it from the heat and at arms length dumping in your cream. Whew. What a rush.

really, really hot!

    Now, put this back over medium-high heat and just let it boilas if it has a choicefor about three minutes, stirring occasionally. In the end, you’re going to be rewarded with a bitter sweet sauce that, well, if given time would last for weeks. But, you know what? Odds are it won’t last that long. There you go. Just let it cook. Just like that. Now for those of you who are big brűlé fans here’s a way to even quicker sugar destruction.

return to medium high heat

boil for 3 more minutes to stabilize sauce

    Come to think of it, it’s not too easy on bananas either. [AB places the exposed quartered banana on top of of sugar to coat, then peels the skin, he lays it down sugar-side up on a cooling rack] I picked this little one up during metal shop in high school. It’s like medieval Bananas Foster, with a twist.

banana sugar

safety glasses

    Just move the torch flame back and forth across the sugar. You don’t want to stay in one place too long or you’ll burn straight through the banana and into the foil that you’ve hopefully placed underneath your rack.


    As soon as the sugar browns and bubbles it’s time to move on. Now for the true test. [taps the bananas] Excellent. Of course it wouldn’t be right to make Bananas Brűlé without making Bananas Brűlé Splits.
    Now, Banana Split construction is serious business not to be undertaken without a good foundation. Luckily we just made one, our caramel sauce. Of course it’s been cooled down a little bit. Now, just smear it right out on the plate. Now only will it create great sop-age for later on but it will also provide a nice foundation for the bananas which are the next step. Now, anybody who’s played with Lincoln Logs has already got this down. Just lay them together two by two. And the sauce is going to hold those together.

    Now the next step is a good scoop of ice cream. Now we like the peach laced vanilla ice cream that we made in our show "Churn Baby Churn." You can get the recipe at But any ice cream that you really like you can use. All you really need is one scoop right here in the middle. Perfect. Now, time for Le Doodad. The piece d’ resistance, a little filigree of gossamer love there. And I just usually lay it over, kind of like a little hat. Chapeau.

    Now, granted, this doesn’t look a whole lot like the Banana Split of your youth. So, since you’re feeling nostalgic, we’ll go just one of these [a cherry]. But you’ll have to figure out where to put it. There you go.

The U.S. is the world's 4th largest sugar producer after Brazil, India & China.


GUEST: Dr. Emil Skarituth, Dental Disciplinarian

    Ah. In a world rife with imitation desserts, this is a beacon of defiance, a towering tribute to the culinary power of sugar.

AB: Dr. Skarituth!
EMIL SKARITUTH: Now where have you been?. Now since you wouldn’t come to me, I must come to thee.
AB: Well, you know I really did mean to make it by the office but with my schedule ...
ES: Listen you piehole{?}.. Now tell me, is it safe?
AB: To do what?
ES: I’m going to ask you one more time. Open. Is it safe? [places dentist suction tube in AB's mouth]
AB: Tu duu whaa?
ES: To eat that dessert, you dope. Is it safe for your teeth?
AB: Well, ah dunnuuo.
ES: You didn’t think about your teeth, did ya?
AB: No, whaa rawag?

ES: That’s an excellent question. Now, ya see, the bacteria in plaque loves sugar. And the wee bugs can melt the sugar into acid. And the acid eats your teeth. Then you get cavities and have to do things like this. [in quick succession he shows AB a dentist's pick, locking pliers, a monkey wrench]

not real tooth

ES: Lucky for you, the amount of damage depends on how long the sugar stays on the teeth, not how much is consumed. That sugar bomb you’ve got there will do less damage than cookie containing starch because the starch holds sugar to the teeth like glue.
AB: Great news. Thanks for the info, doc.

    Well, besides setting the cause of modern dentistry back about, oh I don’t know, 300 hundred years, I hope that we’ve inspired you to re-ponder our favorite dessert Citizen Cane sugar. Ha, ha. That’s a ... Hurmgh. All you really need is a little sugar, a little heat and a little time to play.

AB: Can I go now?
ES: No. You’re not leaving until we floss. [winds a course thick rope around his hands] Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
AB: Uuuuugh.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010