Unique features of sugar

‘Sugar’ is the common name for several sweet-tasting carbohydrates that differ in flavour, crystal size, colour, and level of sweetness. The simplest forms of sugar are called monosaccharides – which are the building blocks for several other types of carbohydrates.  Monosaccharides can exist on their own, but are more often found in bonded pairs to form a range of sugars.

There are three common monosaccharides:

  • Glucose

Also known as dextrose, glucose forms the primary source of energy for the body.

  • Fructose

Fruit sugar, more commonly known as fructose, is the sweetest of all the monosaccharides.

  • Galactose

When combined with a glucose molecule, galactose forms the milk sugar, lactose.

Most of the sugars we commonly eat are disaccharides – a mix of two of the monosaccharides:

  • Sucrose

This is the sugar most commonly used in the home – for example, granulated sugar, caster sugar, or icing sugar.

  • Inverted sugar

Inverted sugar is more commonly called syrup and is a mix of glucose and fructose. It tends to taste sweeter than granulated sugar.

What is sugar used for in products?

Sugar is used in foods for many reasons:

  • It gives food a sweet taste and enhances the ‘mouthfeel’ of foods like chocolate, fondant, and fudge.
  • It enhances overall flavour.
  • Being water soluble, sugar plays an important role in soft drinks.
  • It stabilises the dispersion of the ingredients in medical suspensions.
  • It gives colour and shine to baked goods through the use of glazes and icings.
  • Sugar aids in getting the desired texture in cakes, crispy biscuits and pudding toppings.
  • It controls crystallisation so can prevent crystallisation in jams.
  • Sugar lowers the freezing point of frozen products like frozen cakes and ice cream ensuring a smoother texture.
  • It aids in preservation.
  • It helps in the fermentation process in breadmaking and brewing.
  • It helps keep foods moist and extends their shelf life.

Products that contain sugar

According to a survey by the University of North Carolina, roughly 60% of packaged goods contain added sugar.

These include:

    • Sweetened drinks like soft drinks / soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and juice drinks
    • Jams and preserves
    • Baked goods like cakes, cookies, pastries, doughnuts, and biscuits
    • Desserts like packaged puddings and ice cream
    • Sweetened dairy products like yoghurt, chocolate milk, and milkshake drinks
    • Candy bars, sweets and chocolates
    • Breakfast cereals and granola
    • Sauces, chutneys, marinades, and ketchup / tomato sauce
    • Most pre-packaged meals like microwave meals and pizza

Types of sugar

  • Granulated sugar is refined from cane sugar and/or sugar beets. Often just called white or table sugar.
  • Slightly darker, more expensive minimally processed cane sugar is made from sugar cane only.
  • Caster sugar is granulated white sugar that has been super-refined.
  • Icing sugar or confectioners sugar is granulated sugar that has been reduced to a fine powder.
  • Light brown sugar is white sugar that is given a delicate caramel flavour by adding molasses.
  • Amber-coloured demerara sugar is a minimally refined raw cane sugar with the flavour of molasses.
  • Medium-brown turbinado sugar has a delicate caramel flavour and is also raw minimally refined cane sugar.
  • Having larger crystals, sanding sugar is more often used for decorating only.
  • Pearl, nib or hail sugar is an opaque, harder and coarser white sugar with a higher melting point.
  • Barbados or muscovado sugar has a sandy, sticky texture. It is a dark or light unrefined cane sugar with a rich molasses flavour.