Sugar is not only used to sweeten foods but is used to retain the colour in ketchup. It is added to baked goods for yeast growth and to give a golden colour to the crusts. In soft drinks, it adds mass. There can be as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar in the average 12 ounce can of soda, added for mass more than anything. In chewing gum, it adds texture and pliability. Raw potatoes in restaurant’s are dipped in sugar water before frying to give them their crispness. Refined sugar is added to tobacco to enhance the flavor and burning quality. Natural juice concentrates are a form of sugar. Of the 3,000 or so chemicals intentionally added to food, 98% are sugars and flavorings.
Sugar in Foods
A new potato releases sugar fairly slowly, but a russet potato releases it more quickly than white bread, causing the hungry feeling sooner. In fact, a baked potato converts its starch to an easily digested form, increasing blood sugar and insulin levels quicker and to higher levels than an equal amount of calories from pure table sugar.
Instant oatmeal releases sugar more quickly than regular oatmeal. The more a food is cooked, the more quickly it releases its sugar, which explains why people who consume large quantities of raw foods lose weight more quickly than those who do not. The sugar molecule is able to hold water, contributing to a weight gain from water retention. Far more worrying for some, sugars contain cross-linked proteins that contribute to aging and wrinkles.
Sugar consumption by the average American in 1999 was 156 lbs. per person per year. This may seem inconceivable, but when you add up all the forms found in products consumed on a daily basis, it is not out of range. For example:
- 30 teaspoons of sugar in one 12 oz. can of Mountain Dew and an ice cream sandwich;
- 13 teaspoons in low-fat yogurt;
- 10 teaspoons in one serving of pickled beets.
Then there is the sugar that goes into coffee and added to breakfast cereals, even if they already contain an enormous amount.
Brown sugar is not to be confused with raw sugar, which is similar in color but merely unrefined sucrose. Brown sugar is made by coating crystals of sucrose with molasses. A small percentage of invert sugar may be present. Brown sugar is not usually made from sugar beet molasses because of the strong flavor.
Carmelized sugar is prepared by heating sugar without water until it turns brown. Water is added to create a syrup often used as a colouring agent.
Corn syrups are produced by breaking down corn starch with acid into mixtures of two glucose molecules and maltose into chemical chains. The starch in corn is made from long strings of glucose which can be broken down to produce a syrup mixture of various percentages of glucose and maltose. It is inexpensive and has replaced maple syrup in most commercial syrups as the main ingredient. It is also rapidly replacing sucrose as the sweetener in processed foods. Similar syrups are made from such other starchy foods as potatoes, rice, barley, and tapioca.
Granulated sugar is the final table-sugar product refined to 99.9% pure sucrose.
High fructose corn syrup is a major food additive used by manufacturers who want a sweeter syrup. They use an enzyme to convert some of the glucose in the corn syrup into fructose. High fructose corn syrup contains about 52-55% fructose, 42-43% glucose, and 3-5% of other sugars. While the use of table sugar has declined in recent years, the use of high fructose corn syrup has increased substantially.
Honey is a form of invert sugar with a 50-50 content of glucose and fructose. This varies, however, with some varieties containing more fructose and some containing a small percentage of sucrose. The colour and flavour of honey depends on the proportion of sugars and varies with nectar sources. Tupelo honey, produced in the southern US, contains more fructose and seldom granulates.
Invert sugar is comprised of two simple sugars. However, mixing them together is not the same as chemically combining them. Invert sugar is almost three times sweeter than sucrose and often used commercially in baked goods and candies to keep them from crystalizing.
Jaggary (jaggery, jagghery) is an unrefined crude brown sugar obtained from the sap of the East Indian jaggary palm. Consequently, it is also known as palm sugar. The sap of the palm is boiled and used as a sweetener in curries, especially vegetarian curries popular in India and Southeast Asia. It tastes somewhat like a slightly fermented dark brown sugar. Jaggary is usually shaped into balls or solid cakes.
Maple syrup is prepared from the sap of a specific maple tree (Acer saccharum) native to eastern North America. It contains naturally-occurring sucrose, glucose, and fructose. During the winter, starch is converted to sugar in the tree roots and then, in the spring, carried up the trunk before the buds open. At this time, the sap contains 4-10% sugar. The sap is collected from plugs inserted into the tree that allow the sap to pour into a hanging pail. The collected sap is boiled down, producing its characteristic flavour. The Canadian province of Quebec remains the major North American producer of maple syrup. Commercial maple syrup is often a blend of maple syrup and other less expensive syrups. It can also contain lead if the sap was collected in metal containers with soldered seams rather than stainless steel pails.
Powdered sugar is finely ground crystals of sucrose and is also known as confectioner’s sugar. It is usually packaged with cornstarch to prevent caking.
Raw sugar contains 96% sucrose obtained from either sugar cane or sugar beets. The remaining sugar after crystallization is called molasses, which is roughly equal parts of sucrose and invert sugar. A crude molasses can be recrystallized to remove more sugar. The remaining syrup is blackstrap molasses that contains iron and chromium. Most of the molasses produced in the US is used for animal feed, yeast production, and fermentaion. Repeated crystallizaton and decolourization of molasses results in the sucrose known as table sugar.
Turbinado sugar is partially refined sugar resembling raw sugar with large, coarse granules. It is roughly 95% pure sucrose and is no more natural than table sugar since it has gone through most of the refining steps.
This page was updated in December 2005.