To most people sugar is a white powdery substance that is used to sweeten our food. However, sugar, known as sucrose, is more than this simple definition. In fact, sugar is a molecule made up of 12 atoms of carbon, 22 atoms of hydrogen and 11 atoms of oxygen (C12H22O11). Similar to all compounds composed of these three elements, sugar is also a carbohydrate. It is naturally present in most plants, but especially comes from two plant sources – sugarcane and sugar beets, from which the substance derives its name.
Precisely speaking, sucrose is made of two simpler forms of sugar – fructose and glucose that are bonded together. When a little amount of acid, such as lemon juice or cream of tartar, is added to any recipe containing sugar, it will disintegrate into its basic components – fructose and glucose.
Dry sugar comes in crystalline form and this is evident when you closely observe dry sugar, you will find that they are shaped as cubes. Sugar crystals are basically an arrangement of sucrose molecules in a methodical or orderly manner.
For most people, the very mention of the word ‘sugar’ conjures a picture of the familiar sweetener in a sugar bowl. It is true that sugar is actually sucrose that is the most common type of sugar used for domestic purposes or by home bakers. However, there are various forms of sugar that scientists have categorized depending on their chemical organization. Although sugars are found naturally in an assortment of fruits, vegetables and dairy products, they can also be produced on a commercial scale and put in foods with a view to enhance their sweetness as well as for the different technical functions they carry out, such as adding to the structure and texture of foods, enhance sweetness and flavor, influencing the crystallization, presenting a means for the development of yeast in baked items as well as averting spoilage. The aptitude of sugar to enhance the sweetness of a food product may encourage the eating of foods rich in nutrients which people might not consume otherwise. For instance, when sugar is sprinkled on oatmeal or added to cranberries during the juice-making procedure, it not only makes these foods sweeter to taste, but also promotes their consumption.
It may be noted here that sugar is available in different forms and most of them enclose around four calories in every gram. Simple sugars are known as monosaccharides and are composed of a solitary sugar molecule, such as fructose, glucose and galactose. When two such simple sugars are bound together by means of a chemical binding they are known as disaccharides. The most familiar forms of disaccharides include table sugar or sucrose. In fact, the table sugar or sucrose is composed of equivalent amount of the simple sugars (monosaccharides) fructose and glucose that are coupled together by a chemical bond. On the other hand, fibers and starches are composed of several simple sugars combined together by means of chemical bonds. Any carbohydrate that is composed of more than two types of simple sugars (monosaccharides) is known as a polysaccharide. Below is a brief discussion on some of the familiar sugars present in our food.
- Occasionally mentioned as dextrose, glucose comprises the primary source of energy for our body. When our body digests and metabolizes carbohydrates, the end product is glucose. In fact, starch encloses long chains of glucose. As discussed earlier, half of the sucrose content is glucose, while it also comprises approximately 50 per cent of the sugar in high fructose corn syrup.
- Fructose is another simple sugar (monosaccharide) naturally present in fruits, root vegetables as well as honey. Among its various uses, fructose is utilized as a calorie sweetener, added to foodstuffs and beverages in the variety of crystalline fructose prepared from cornstarch and it also comprises nearly half the sugar in sucrose of high fructose corn syrup. It is important to note that fructose does not bring forth a glycemic reaction and, hence, it has occasionally been used as a substance to add sweetness to food products meant for people enduring diabetic conditions. However, the American Diabetic Association does not recommend the use of fructose as a sweetening agent in foodstuff and beverages intended for people with diabetes owing to apprehensions regarding the impact of extreme use on blood lipids.
- Sucrose is generally known as table sugar and is made up of one part of glucose and one part of fructose joined together by means of a chemical binding.
- This is a simple sugar (monosaccharide) present in milk products.
- The sugar naturally present in milk is known as lactose and is also called milk sugar at times. Lactose is composed of one part of galactose and one part of glucose.
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup is prepared with corn and glucose.
- Maltose is a disaccharide comprising two units of glucose. Maltose is naturally present in molasses and mainly used in fermentation processes.
- High fructose corn syrup
- This is a combination of glucose and fructose and prepared from corn. The most regular type of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) comprises 55 per cent of fructose and 45 per cent of glucose.
It is interesting to note that a sugar alcohol is neither sugar, nor alcohol. In reality, sugar alcohols are carbohydrates having a chemical structure that party bears resemblance to sugar and, at the same time, are also similar to the chemical structure of alcohol to some extent. Sugar alcohols are also known as polyols. Sugar alcohols belong to a class of caloric sweeteners that are partially absorbed and metabolized by the body, thereby, adding very less calories compared to the sugars. The most commonly used sugar alcohols or polyols in the United States include sorbitol, maltitol syrup, mannitol, lactitol, xylitol, isomalt, erythritol and hydrogenated starch hydrolystates. While each gram of sugar provides four calories, the calorie content of the sugar alcohols merely range between 0.02 and 3 calories per gram. In addition, most of the sugar alcohols are taste less sweet compared to the sugars and only maltitol and xylitol provides sweetness that is somewhat comparable to sucrose.
Owing to the partial assimilation of alcohol sugars or polyols, these sweetening agents result in a lesser glycemic reaction in comparison to glucose or sucrose and, hence, they may prove to be beneficial for people enduring diabetic conditions. In addition, foodstuffs and beverages sweetened with sugar alcohols or polyols have fewer calorie content compared to food products sweetened with sucrose or corn syrup. As a result, they may also prove to be useful for obese people keen to reduce their body weight.