Functions of sugar

Functions of sugar

Question 1

What are the different functions of sugar in foods?

Answer

The food industry adds sugar to foods for several reasons. Often, to make foods sweeter, but sugar has more functions. The most important ones you will find below:

  • Sweetness and taste enhancer
  • Colorant and tastant
  • Volume and texture
  • Fermentation
  • Longer shelf life/preservation
Question 2

What are ‘hidden sugars’?

Answer

‘Hidden sugars’ is a popular and unofficial term. In general it is used to describe the added sugars in -often non-sweet foods, which most consumers do not understand or expect. Examples of foods with these so called ‘hidden sugars’ are ketchup, sauces, broth, meat and bread. Even though sugars often serve as a sweetener, they are also a functional ingredient. For example, they balance sour flavours (in ketchup) or serve as a carrier for herbs and spices. Less than 10% of added sugars intake in the Netherlands is considered to be ‘hidden sugars’. The majority comes from foods in which we expect added sugars, like cakes, cookies, sodas and candies. 

Question 3

Why do bakers add sugar to bread?

Answer

Bakers add about 1 gram of sugar to yeast dough per 100 grams of flour or meal. This is important for the dough to rise. Yeast converts the sugar into alcohol (that evaporates as a result of the heat) and carbon dioxide. Furthermore, in the process a small part of the grain starch is broken down into sugars. This can be seen in the nutrition analyses: on average 100 grams of bread (about 3 slices) contain 1 to 2 grams of sugars. This is the equivalent of 0.7 grams of sugars per slice (35 grams). 

Question 4

Why is sugar added to some meat products?

Answer

In meat products like salami or saveloy sausage sugar is added as a nutrient for fermentation. During fermentation lactic acid bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid. This causes a decrease in pH which preserves the meat and gives it a better consistency and firmness. To standardize this pH drop, an inoculum culture of carbohydrates (often glucose) and lactic acid bacteria is added in an industrial setting. Sugars are also added to meat for other reasons: to decrease the water activity (which means longer shelf-life) and to prolong the natural aromas present in meat. 

Question 5

Why is there sugar in ketchup?

Answer

The base of tomato sauce, barbecue sauce and chutney is concentrated vegetables or fruits added with herbs, vinegar and sugars. They are not oil-based sauces, such as pesto, tapenade and mayonnaise. Sugar (together with the vinegar) is added for taste and preservation purposes. Sugar is known to retain moist and make water less available for micro-organisms. Finally, sugar weakens the acidic taste of vinegar and tomatoes and binds the sauce. 

Question 6

Why are there different names for sugars on food labels?

Answer

The different names for sugars on food labels are often mandatory. Food manufacturers are obliged to use the legal name (not the customary name) of different kinds of sugars. It is not allowed to list the different sugars as sugar in the ingredient list. Glucose syrup or lactose for instance are not the same sugars as sucrose and therefore cannot be listed as sugar. It is only allowed for the different types of sucrose (e.g. cane sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar) to be named sugar in the ingredient list. The total amount of sugars can be read from the Nutrition Facts under ‘Sugars’.