Reader Staci asks: is it anything like marinating? In fact it is almost exactly like marinating, though instead of imparting flavor to the thing that’s being soaked or steeped, the idea is to soften it. That’s what the Latin word maceratus means: “to soften.” Though meats and vegetables can be macerated, the technique is most commonly applied to fruit. The macerating agent: sugar.
But then how does sugar soften fruit? An excellent question. If you imagine a piece of fruit as a collection of thousands upon thousands of tiny, water-filled bags (cells), the magic of sugar is its ability to draw out some of that moisture, which partially deflates those bags. The cell walls begin to collapse and the fruit goes from firm to pliable and ultimately, depending on how long the process is allowed to continue, to mushy.