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Understanding the role of sugar in pizza dough

Do you know why some pizza dough recipes call for sugar?


I don’t, I think it’s totally useless.





Joking aside, in my opinion there are three main reasons why you could want to use some sugar into your pizza dough and I will highlight them together with the reason why I don’t use sugar at all - the spoiler is served.


Please check out the video version of this article: I made two dough balls, one with suger and one without, and showed the differences.

What do you mean by "sugar"?


I will refer to simple table sugar. I won’t consider all the different commercial names for simplicity. Although there are quite a few different products, it doesn't matter in this context because all of them are none other than sucrose. Maybe in a slightly different shape, but still...


The most common opinion is that adding sugar to pizza dough (or any dough for that matter) speeds up the rising process. Many people say that.


They are right ✔️


However, there are some other people who say that adding sugar slows down the rising process. I think that they are frowned upon, somehow…but guess what?


They are right ✔️


Wait, what? Is it a typo or you're kidding us?


Well, the reason why both these two groups of people can be right is because the amount of sugar really makes the difference. The problem is that not many mention it or figured it out. In general I see that there is not too much information about it.


Let me try to fill this gap.


Just a little bit of science


Sugar is yeast’s favourite food.


Enzymes break down sucrose to its basic components, glucose and fructose so it can start eating and do its yeasty thing: produce all that carbon dioxide that helps our dough become nice and puffy.


It’s easy to see here why those people say that we should add sugar. The logic behind it is simple, we just want to feed the yeast.


The problem is that sugar is hygroscopic, it has a great affinity with water and looks for it everywhere. If you consider that yeast contains water inside its cells,

you understand that this relationship between sugar and yeast has some drawbacks.


I’m quite sure that you heard this before, only that it was about salt, not sugar.


By the way, I have already debunked the myth that mixing salt and yeast together always blocks the dough rise, read about it in this article.

Why add sugar then? Reason#1


Let’s say that our threshold is around five per cent. You know that when I give percentages you do the calculation based on the amount of flour.


Please do not consider this number strict, it’s a reference, and although fairly reliable it comes from my experience. Different sources I have found mention slightly different percentages.


So if you add UP to five percent sugar, your dough will rise and ferment increasingly faster, while above this level, everything starts to slow down because sugar is hygroscopic.


The image here below shows the experiment I've made, as you can see the doughball with sugar rose less than the one without. If speeding things up is what you’re looking for, then you must stay within the five percent level.





Reason#2


🤤 The taste of the baked pizza.


For some reason there are people who like to perceive a sweet note in their pizza crust, don't ask me why 🤷🏻‍♂️


Of course this is personal, each of us has a different perception. I need at least six percent sugar to taste clearly some sweetness, I don't know about you.


I recommend doing a couple of experiments to find your sweet spot (pun not completeley unintended) and again, remember to factor in the slowing down of the rise and add more yeast.


Reason#3


🟤 The colour of your crust.


Sugar will increase the “browning” so you can expect a darker colour. This is because of the way sugars react to heat: together with proteins they make happen the famous Maillard reaction - that’s the same process that happens to your steak when you grill it.


When the baking temperature continues to go up, then caramelisation happens.


So the more sugars in the dough at the time of baking, the darker the colour of your crust.


 

A quick mention of an alternative to sugar, that is honey. I was asked quite a few times about it and some people attribute to honey I don’t know what miracle feature. To be honest, I think that it's not reasonable.


Honey is 80% glucose and fructose in different proportions, and remember what I said, they are the basic components of sucrose.


Another 17% is water.


By the look of it, it seems that honey is just water and sugar and I doubt that the remaining 3% would contain anything so influential for the dough.


I obviously appreciate that maybe it can add something to the flavour profile but, again, it's a question of amounts.


Why I don’t use sugar


Do you remember what happens when yeast wants to eat sugar? Do you remember that breaking down process?


Well, yeast can do it with sugars more complex than sucrose.


Guess what complex sugar we have in great abundance in our pizza dough?


Starch, that is the basic component of flour.


Do you think that we really need to add sugar to…erm…sugar?




I hope you liked this article, if you have found some value in it and you feel like supporting me, keep scrolling down and you will see several ways to pat my back!

Ciao, see you next time 🍕





 

Here's how you can support me!


🌾 You can simply buy me a bag of flour



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The article contains affiliate links, that means if you buy the suggested items, I COULD get a commission at no extra cost for you. However, I never received any money from Amazon'so far, their conditions are...erm...vague at the very least.


Photos by me and GIF by Giphy

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