How to make Belgian Candi Sugar

2010/11/27 at 7:02 pm 33 comments

I have used Belgian Candi Sugar in several brews thus far and have found it to be one of my favorite adjuncts to use throughout the brewing process. Its use in the production of a beer can raise the alcohol content for use in styles such as Belgian dubbels and trippels without unnecessarily stressing the yeast or introducing undesired body characteristics to the beer.

Typically fermentation occurs when a desired strain of yeast is introduced to a solution or compound where sugars (specifically disaccarides or monosaccharides) are present. If compatible disaccharides such as sucrose are present the yeast must first break down this sugar into its fermentable monosaccharides of glucose and fructose by producing the enzyme such as invertase. However, the yeast must perform extra work in order to produce this enzyme instead of its more desirable job of fermentation. So, rather than forcing the yeast to perform this extra step during the fermentation stage it may be more desirable for the brewer to provide the sugars in their component simple sugar compounds. Thus enter the wonderful adjunct known as belgian candi sugar.


Belgian candi sugar is nothing more than a crystalized inverted sugar syrup existing as a mixture of glucose and fructose. Once created we can add it to our brews in order to promote fermentation by the yeast without the need to unnecessarily stress the complex biological and chemical processes. However, unlike using equal parts of the glucose and fructose monosaccharides belgian candi sugar is typically used in a solidified or syrup form which has been further treated to impart additional flavors and colors ranging from the lightest blondes to the darkest ambers. So then how does one go about acquiring belgian candi sugar for their own beer recipe?

If you have a local homebrew supply shop you may be able to purchase belgian candi sugar for somewhere in the range of $5.00 USD per pound. However, based on the supplier’s stock you may be limited by the amounts and colors available. Also, if you’re looking to venture into making a big brew utilizing large amounts of the adjunct your total cost may quickly rise to undesirable levels. So what’s left for a homebrewer with a pot and some time on their hands to do? Make your own of course!

The ingredients and tools required for making belgian candi sugar are relatively minimal. Pictured above is the breakout of the tools required for the process which entails the following:

  • Table Sugar (Cane or sugar beet-derived is fine)
  • Water
  • A food grade acid (Cream of tartar is great for this)
  • A pot big enough to hold the sugar and water
  • A candy or fryer thermometer (Classic Polder Thermometer/Timer pictured)

For this tutorial we will be making 2 pounds of amber-colored belgian candi sugar. If you desire to make more or less feel free to adjust the amounts of ingredients specified, but as a general rule of thumb use an amount of sugar equal to the desired amount of candi sugar you intend to produce.

Step #1 – Dissolve the sugar into a syrup

Add the sugar to the cooking pot and place over medium heat.

Add just enough water to dissolve the sugar into a syrup. The amount of water used is not that important as it will be cooked off in its entirety, but since it takes time to cook off the water it makes sense to start with the least amount possible. For this example we will dissolve two (2) pounds of sugar mixed with one (1) cup of water.

Don’t be surprised if the mixture is thick. Once the mixture is heated up you may be surprised just how much sugar can be dissolved into a relatively small amount of water.

 
As the temperature of the mixture slowly rises make sure to stir periodically. Try not to let the syrup get too far up the sides of your cooking pot as those spots may results in undesired raw sugar crystals making their way into the finished product.

Once the sugar has completely dissolved we have made what is known in mixology as simple syrup. If desired you can stop here and mix 2 parts tequila, 1 part tripple sec, 1/2 part lime juice, and a splash of the simple syrup for a tasty knock-you-on-your-ass margarita. However, since our goal is much loftier we keep the heat applied and proceed with the next step: inverting the sugar syrup.

Step #2 – Introduce the acid and raise the temperature to 260°F

By heating this mixture along with an acid the sugar molecules will undergo a hydrolysis reaction which will break down the sugar’s sucrose molecules into the desired mixture of glucose and fructose molecules. For this example we will be using cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate), a food grade acid that likely otherwise sits unloved in your pantry until such time as it it is required to make the yearly Christmas treats.

While the typical ratio for this process is about one gram of cream of tartar per kilogram of sugar I find the idea of measuring mere grams of an ingredient to be unnecessary. Therefore we will add 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar to the mixture. (Note, this was shown in the third picture above. This can addition can be safely done at any point up ’till now)

With the acid now added to the mixture we now adjust the heat on mixture to achieve a slow boil just above 260°F. Make sure the temperature of the mixture does not rise above 275°F.

Step #3 – Cook the mixture between 260°F and 275°F for 20 minutes

If you’re familiar with the candy making process you’ll know that we are cooking the mixture in between the hard ball and soft crack stage. At the same time the acid present in the mixture is beginning the process of inverting the sugar into the glucose and fructose molecules.

During this time water slowly cooks off which raises the temperature of the mixture, therefore as the temperature approaches 275°F add a few tablespoons of water to lower the temperature to not less than 260°F.

After 20 minutes of cooking the sugar solution will be almost completely inverted. At this point if you desire a clear belgian candi sugar skip ahead to step #5.

Step #4 – Continue to cook the mixture until desired color is achieved

If you’ve been following the steps up to this point you have a batch of inverted sugar syrup cooking away in the pot. All of the water previously added to the recipe has effectively cooked off leaving behind the expected mixture of fructose and glucose which, if let to cool, would form a near solid substance similar in consistency to nougat. However, what else can we do with this mixture to make it even more remarkable?

If we now continue to cook the mixture between the 260°F and 275°F range we will begin the process of caramelization on the remaining complex and simple sugars (mostly the fructose as its caramelization temperature begins at 230°F). The result will be a substance with even more depth of color and flavor. If this is desired simply continue to cook the mixture between the temperatures of 260°F and 275°F making sure to add a bit of water when the mixture gets too high.

As an example I am shooting for an amber color for my candi sugar. Below are the progress shots showing how the color changes as the process continues. The camera didn’t pick up the color variation very well, but if you look closely you can see the subtle change over time. Also, the color change will be much more evident in the final product.

 
Step #5 – Raise the temperature of the mixture to 300°F

Now that the target color of the candi sugar has been achieved it’s time to put the “candy” in the belgian candi sugar. In order to solidify the candi sugar we simply raise the temperature of the mixture to the “hard crack” temperature and pour it off into a vessel to harden.

To accomplish this task make sure you have a target vessel ready beforehand. Once ready go ahead and let the temperature of the mixture rise above 300°F and immediately remove the mixture from the heat.

Step #6 – Pour off the mixture and let harden

Now quickly pour the contents of the cooking pot into the cooling vessel and let sit until hardened. For this example I am simply using a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. However, if you’re flush with money or materials you may instead wish to line the vessel with parchment paper which will peel from the back of the solidified block a bit more easily.

With the belgian candi sugar now poured the color of the substance is now very evident and the clarity should be nearly clear. If you look you will notice a few white spots in the slab. This is due to some of the syrup getting on the upper parts of the cooking vessel and not getting fully incorporated as warned in the first step.

The mixture may take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to fully harden depending on your local temperature and humidity. However, once completed you will now be the proud owner of your very own belgian candi sugar.

Step #7 – Tag it and bag it

Properly stored this stuff will keep until the end of days. Realistically you may only want to store it in an airtight container for no more than about a year. To do this simply break up the belgian candi sugar into appropriate sized pieces and store them in your desired container.

For my purposes I simply used blunt force with a kitchen mallet and store the pieces in a zip-top plastic bag as I intend to use the belgian candi sugar within a few days.

Note that in this state the belgian candi sugar is still pretty sticky stuff. If you’re not looking to use the entire batch in a brew you might want to lubricate the pieces so that you don’t have to bash the hell out mass to detach the desired amount. To do this I simply add a bit of powdered sugar to the bag and shake while separating the pieces by hand.

And with that we now have 2 pounds of amber colored belgian candi sugar ready for use as we so desire.

The beautiful thing about making belgian candi sugar is that the process scales relatively easily. You can make as much or as little as you want in the same amount of time and is only limited by the size of your cooking vessel and available materials.

In a future post I will go over the simple process by which this belgian candi sugar can be further processed into an equally long lasting belgian candi syrup which lessens the time needed to dissolve the adjunct into your brews. So what are you waiting for? Now that you know how easy it is to make get thee to the kitchen and whip up your very own batch of belgian candi sugar. Your beer will thank you.

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Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout How to make Belgian Candi Syrup

33 Comments Add your own

  • [...] a previous post I have discussed the benefits of Belgian Candi Sugar and have walked through the simple process of making your own. Using the adjunct in your brews [...]

    Reply
  • 2. Tripel Brew in Albuquerque, NM « darnedideas  |  2011/01/31 at 11:19 am

    [...] those in the future. Also, I may not have let the sugar cool down enough. brew.cook.pair.joy and an engineer and his carboy have [...]

    Reply
  • [...] the initial steps in How to make Belgian Candi Sugar I measured out 1/4lb of sugar then mixed in a pinch of cream or tartar and enough water to make a [...]

    Reply
  • 5. wegillis  |  2011/11/22 at 7:51 am

    Nicely and clearly written with a sense of humor, and most importantly, it works!

    Reply
  • 6. Beerventures « Sun Touch Skin  |  2011/11/28 at 2:03 am

    [...] we mashed a few recipes together, including this one on Josh the Brewmaster‘s blog and came up with [...]

    Reply
  • 7. chris p.  |  2012/10/03 at 10:03 am

    Why after 24 hours will my candi sugar not completely harden. What can be done?

    Reply
    • 8. Josh  |  2012/10/03 at 10:15 am

      Very good question. Does the candi sugar remain in a phase not completely unlike nougat or salt water taffy? If so you may have not heated up the sugar to a high enough temperature to obtain the “hard crack” phase. If this is the case you may need to either ditch the batch completely and start over or redissolve the candi in water and sufficiently bring the heat up to the hard crack temperature (or higher if your thermometer is broken or otherwise unreliable).

      Reply
      • 9. Chris  |  2012/10/03 at 4:16 pm

        What about freezing it, then breaking it out of the mold, then using it, or, can it not be used in beer because of its state.

      • 10. Josh  |  2012/10/03 at 8:23 pm

        That shouldn’t really be necessary. Really the whole point of bringing everything to the hard crack stage is to enable an ungodly long storage time for the candi sugar. In reality if you’ve followed the directions with the proper ingredients and cooked everything for the proper times then the goal of creating the inverted sugar suspension has already been obtained. Some some brewers go straight from the inverted stage to the brew pot without mucking about with the caramelization or candy making methods. What it all comes down to is that the inverted sugars (as well as some secondary culinary creations) are the target adjunct you are creating.

        As long as the desired color has been reached feel free to store this in an airtight container (for maybe a few weeks at most) and use it by weight like you would otherwise use candi sugar or syrup.

        Have fun and tell us how it turned out!

      • 11. chris p.  |  2012/10/05 at 8:48 am

        Well, I went ahead and froze the tray of “nearly” hardened candi sugar. I took it out a day and a half later, sprinkled powdered sugar over it, and it broke up nicely, however, I did need to work fast cause I could el it starting to thaw out , then I put it back into the freezer. When I need it for my Triple today, I will take it from the freezer and use as I need. At least I was able to rescue it from the plastic tray it was on. ;)

      • 12. Josh  |  2012/10/05 at 10:09 am

        Glad things still look to be looking better for your candi sugar. Do you have a link to the recipe in which you will be using it?

  • [...] hops, and White Labs 350 yeast.  Instead of paying a ton for the candi sugar syrup, I found a recipe online and it worked out pretty well.  It took longer than I expected to boil off the water and get the [...]

    Reply
  • 14. Homemade Belgian Candi Sugar | Das Ale Haus  |  2013/05/28 at 8:09 pm

    […] that I wanted to make my own candi sugar for the brew. After some quick Googling, I came across this awesome tutorial from An Engineer and His Carboy that made the process look really easy, so I decided to give it a […]

    Reply
  • 15. RP  |  2013/09/01 at 4:58 pm

    Followed directions for clear candi sugar but ended up with dark. I think the thermometer I was using might be off somehow. If it was cooked at too high a temperature, would that cause caramelization and would it render the end product unusable?

    Reply
  • […] sugar, water, and lemon juice (which is what we use) or cream of tarter as suggested in this blog post which which goes into a ton of detail - more than makes sense […]

    Reply
  • 17. PH  |  2013/12/15 at 10:39 am

    This is the perfect guide. Thanks for making it available. I followed your guide exactly and the Candi turned out perfectly. I’ve used it in a Duvel clone and the kids had a kick eating the left overs. I may be inspired to make some Jolly Ranchers very soon using this process.

    Reply
  • 19. Eric Williams  |  2014/04/04 at 11:36 am

    Thank you so much for posting this! I made 4# of dark candy sugar which I intend to use to make some piraat clone. I would add that I used an induction hot plate and a heavy bottom dutch oven and the whole process of heating and carmelizing took about 2 hours. The time would be much faster if you were making less that 2 quarts of this stuff! :) I started with 4# of regular sugar and instead of tartar I used citric acid which was more readily available at my local kroger. Can’t say thanks enough for your post!

    Reply
  • 20. Darren  |  2014/05/17 at 3:35 am

    Your instructions worked perfectly. I now have a batch ready for the Belgian Trappist ale I have been wanting to make for ages. I live in South Korea and you can’t buy Belgian Candi sugar in any of the limited number of brew supply stores so making my own was the only option.

    Reply
  • 21. Belgian Candi Sugar | GONZO Brew Club  |  2014/05/27 at 8:51 pm

    […] How to make Belgian Candi Sugar […]

    Reply
  • 22. Demianc  |  2014/06/05 at 8:15 pm

    As a fellow scientist, I thank you for this. Brilliant instructions, Sir! Made some dark candy sugar this evening for my pending Rochefort 8 clone.

    Reply
    • 23. Josh  |  2014/06/05 at 8:32 pm

      Hope it works out well for you.

      Would love to get the recipe for the Rochefort 8 if the result is close. I’ve been looking for a good clone for that beer for a while.

      Reply
  • […] 4.5 lbs. homemade ‘Belgian’ candy sugar […]

    Reply
  • […] a crystalized invert sugar (look it up here, and an explanation of how to make it and its uses here). Needless to say, whether its a why-isn’t-this-beer-everywhere beer such as […]

    Reply
  • […] a crystalized invert sugar (look it up here, and an explanation of how to make it and its uses here). Needless to say, whether its a why-isn’t-this-beer-everywhere beer such as […]

    Reply
  • 27. Dave  |  2014/09/19 at 2:38 pm

    OUTSTANDING!!! Works great. I use it on a 1:1 for corn sugar in bottle conditioning.

    Reply
  • 28. Robert Baron  |  2014/10/16 at 2:30 pm

    You have made a caramelized invert sugar. Is that the same as Belgian candi sugar? I don’t know, and I cannot find a definitive answer.

    Does the sugar really need to be inverted, or just caramelized (like “burnt sugar syrup”.) I have also a couple of recipes and one video where a strong base like sodium hydroxide was added after inversion, and it was claimed that was a crucial step. The color change when the lye-water was added was dramatic in the video.

    I’ve also seen plenty of references to adding diammonium phosphate — but no Belgian references to DAP.

    Many of the recipes I see for making it call for ridiculous amounts of water that serves no purpose except to increase the boil time.

    I’m confused. Invert sugar, caramel (pyrolyzed sugar), and candi sugar are not necessarily the same thing, although they are related and probably overlap.

    Reply
    • 29. Josh  |  2014/10/17 at 11:13 am

      If you want me to be completely honest I’m not all that sure about the minutia which differentiates invert sugar from Belgian candi sugar/syrup. To this end there appears to be a lot of speculation amongst homebrewers since the answer to this seems to be a closely held secret of the Belgian candi makers. However, let me take a stab at things…

      Sugar Inversion

      Since I’m personally more interested in creating tasty food for the yeast to munch on during the fermentation process the only real issue that concerns me is the inversion of the sugars into the constituent glucose and fructose monosacharides. To this end the only thing necessary it to heat up the sugar/water mixture to the necessary temperature range of 260°F and 275°F for about 20 minutes.

      The cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) acts as a very low grade acid to quicken the inversion process, but you could even disregard this addition and cook the sugar/water mixture for an additional 10 minutes or so. Similarly you can use lemon/lime juice to the same end. I personally use cream of tartar as a matter of personal preference.

      Water, Water, Everywhere

      The ridiculous amounts of water that are required by most recipes have two simple purposes: to initially dissolve the sugars and to act as a regulator throughout the cooking process to ensure the cooking temperature stays between the target 260°F to 275°F range. When done correctly the final product should contain absolutely no water.

      Coloring via Chemistry

      The main sticking point in the creation of candi sugar is how the final color of the candi sugar is created. The method outlined in the post achieves its color via caramelization (pyrolysis). Alternately coloring can be achieved through the forced interaction of amino acids with reducing sugars (Maillard reaction). Both methods are related in that they are both nonenzymatic browning processes, but both take very different chemical pathways to achieve the final effects of colorization.

      In the described process the sugar is initially inverted and the monosacharides (fructose and glucose) undergo controlled pyrolysis which generates water soluble carmel resulting in colorization of the candi sugar. However, the limiting factor in this method is that you can only go so far before the fructose monosacharides are all converted into higher molecular weight compounds through isomerization and polymerization (fructose caramelizes as 230°F whereas glucose caramelizes at 320°F). Further pyrolysis results in the generation of abundant charring compounds which, although providing dark colors, creates an acrid or bitter taste that overwhelms any and all flavor characteristics of the resultant candi sugar. Therefore you can’t use this methodology to create very dark candi sugars- this is where the a process utilizing the Maillard reaction can be used.

      The most important factor which guides the chemical process of the Maillard reaction is the presence of amino acids to generate melanoidins. By makeup a pure sugar/water mixture is completely absent or contains merely negligible amounts of amino acids. Even after the inversion there is no chemical pathway without that allows the generation of amino acids. Therefore the only solution is to add some source of amino acids to the process which allows for the execution of the Maillard reaction. This is the reason some people choose to use DAP (diammonium phosphate) or more appropriately yeast nutrient as these compounds will generate a more alkali solution (pH 7.5-8.0) thus slightly retarding the inversion process while providing the required amino acids and preferred pH environment for the Maillard reaction. The result of the Maillard reaction is the generation of melanoidins which can darken the candi sugar significantly without creating astringent or burnt flavors of over-caramelized sugar.

      So in short the large makeup of the candi sugar is going to be the inverted sugars for the fermentation process. The coloring properties of the candi sugar can be introduced subtly through light colored (0°L – 10°L) candi sugar created via the caramelization method or more pronounced through darker candi sugars (20°L – 180°L) by created via the Maillard reaction method.

      I’m still no food scientist or chemist so take my notes with a healthy dose of salt. I can say it’s been a very exciting and enlightening experience collating the information to make this reply. Either way, be sure to let me know how your experiences turns out. Hope this helps, and happy brewing!

      Reply
      • 30. Robert Baron  |  2014/10/21 at 7:32 pm

        I did an experiment Saturday, and it was both a success and a failure. ;) I tried making a dark amber (red) candi syrup using 1 lb of white sugar, 1 tsp of high-protein wheat flour, and 1/2 cup of water. Then when the temperature reached 275° I was going to add a few ml of 2N sodium hydroxide solution to brown the proteins and amino acids from the flour.

        I think it would have worked, except the starch (which I thought would convert into either glucose or dextrin) caused the syrup to foam and continuously try to boil over. Eventually i got it to about 265°, then I had to stir down a near-boilover and it all flash crystallized (was impressive to see.) It was kind of ivory colored at this point and smelled like marshmallows. I added a little water and managed to get most of it dissolved, then added the NaOH solution and it turned a nice light brown. A little darker than clover honey. i added another 3/4 C of water and put the lid on, then after letting it sit a while, I simmered it to dissolve the sugar, and poured it into a canning jar. I will use it in a Belgian dubbel that I’m brewing next weekend.

        Maybe a pinch of dried egg white or milk powder would have worked better for a protein source… I also don’t think I used enough NaOH; I only added about 2 ml.

      • 31. Josh  |  2014/11/01 at 9:37 am

        Good to know moving forward with some future experiments. Glad it turned out somewhat okay for you (if not a little more exciting than desired). Got any pics of the final product?

  • 32. Joel  |  2014/10/21 at 6:28 pm

    Followed the directions and ended up with a perfect result. Thank you. Where can I send my gift of a perfect bottle of Belgium blonde?

    Reply
    • 33. Josh  |  2014/10/21 at 6:52 pm

      Glad it turned out well for you.

      While appreciated Please feel free to donate your intended gift to a local Bud Light consumer. Together we can help end the scourge of American light lagers.

      Reply

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