SUGAR IS VERSATILE
In addition to its sweetening properties, sugar also has a range of food enhancing characteristics.
• Sugar has an exceptionally pure sweetness that is completely free of secondary flavours and aftertastes.
• The primary functions of sugar in food products are to provide sweetness and energy
• Sugar enhances the flavour of many foods by masking bitter tastes and generally makes foods more palatable.
• Unlike other sweeteners, there is no aftertaste with sugar.
• A small amount of added sugar can enhance the taste of cooked vegetables and meat without making them sweet. In other words, we can use sugar as a flavouring in such low concentrations that it falls below the sweet taste threshold value, i.e. below approx. 1% sugar.
• Sugar increases the volume of bakery products.
• Its ability to bind water keeps bakery products fresh longer.
• It also gives it a porous structure with a soft interior.
• Sugar increases the volume of bread because the yeast breaks down all or part of the sugar and transforms it into various components, including carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide increases the volume of the bread and makes it more porous.
• Sugar binds well with water which makes baked goods last longer.
• Sugar is ideal for preserving fruits in all kinds of jams, marmalades and jellies and frozen foods, while conserving both colour and aroma.
LOWERING FREEZING POINT
• Sugar affects the freezing point of foods.
• The higher a products' sugar content, the lower its freezing point, which is important in the production of ice-cream and frozen desserts to prevent the formation of large ice crystals.
• Small ice crystals have a positive effect on the sensation in the mouth, and hence on the taste.
• Sugar can give many food products an appetising colour.
• This may be through caramelisation, the Maillard reaction, or because sugar is able to preserve colour. The Maillard reaction (a reaction between sugar and amino acids) gives rise to browning and flavouring in products such as bread, coffee, heated desserts and cakes.
• Because sugar binds water, reactions that need water are delayed if sugar is present. The shelf life of bread is extended because sugar causes water to be retained for longer in the bread.
TYPES OF SUGAR:
Sugar (sucrose or ordinary sugar) is a natural form of sugar containing fructose and dextrose. All fruits, berries and vegetables contain a mixture of ordinary sugar, fructose and dextrose in varying proportions. Sugar beet and sugar cane have a particularly high content of ordinary sugar, making these plants ideal for sugar production. From a purely chemical point of view, the sugar in a sugar beet is identical to the sugar in, for instance, a banana.
Dextrose, also known as glucose, is the main component of starch. Dextrose is the sugar type that the body absorbs the fastest.
Fructose is the sweetest of all natural sugar types. It is particularly effective at enhancing the flavour of fruit and berries.
CANE VERSUS BEET
Although sugar arrived in Europe around 1100, it was not widely used until the 16th century. Until then it was reserved for rich people, who used it both to sweeten food and as a medicine. Sugar was extremely expensive, and was known as 'white gold'. Wealthy people actually stored sugar as a form of savings.
• The first plant from which sugar was extracted was the sugar cane.
• Sugar cane is a member of the grass family. It can grow up to 15 feet tall, with leaves at the top and a hollow stalk filled with sweet juice from which sugar can be extracted.
• A perennial tropical plant, it grows best in very warm climates. Because sugar cane requires plenty of water and heat, it can only grow in the southern regions of Europe, for instance in Spain, Madeira and Portugal. The world's largest producers of cane sugar are Brazil, Cuba, India, the Philippines and Mexico.
• The other main source of sugar, sugar beet, was not used as a commercial source of sugar until the second half of the eighteenth century.
• Sugar beet is a relatively demanding crop: the soil and the climatic conditions are crucial factors.