How Sugar’s Role is More Than Just Sweetness

If you were to ask most people about the role that sugar plays in food production, most would say it’s a sweetener. While that’s true, sugar does so much more than sweeten. The amount of sugar in food production plays a core role in defining how a product looks and feels, as well as its taste.

For example, because sugar is hygroscopic, it draws water from its surroundings and holds on to it. That’s why when you sprinkle sugar on fresh berries, the fruit becomes more concentrated as the sugar draws off its water, and that water, thickened by the sugar, becomes a syrup.

Ever wonder why a jar of fruit jam can sit on a pantry shelf for a year without spoiling? It’s the sugar. Sugar’s ability to draw and stabilize water content helps slow the growth of bacteria and acts as a preservative. It works for baked goods, too, prolonging their shelf life by keeping them moist.

Sugar also lowers the freezing point and increases the boiling point of water. This is why your ice cream doesn’t freeze into a solid block, and why candy makers require patience, a sharp eye, and a good thermometer when making peanut brittle.

In a batter, the amount of sugar is one of the core things that define whether that batter will be a cake, a cookie or a biscuit once baked. In baking and pastry making, sugar draws water away from the proteins and starches in a batter or dough. This interferes with gluten formation and flour’s ability to create structure, so cookies bake up tender rather than like rocks.

Sugar doesn’t just affect the texture of food, it also plays a role in its volume. A towering cake and muffin with a well-rounded dome are both evidence that sugar is hard at work. The action of beating sugar into butter with a mixer creates friction that aerates the mixture and causes the sugar to start to dissolve. The pockets of air that form in the heat of the oven and push a batter skyward.

When heated to 175°F (374°C), the color of sugar shifts from white to gold to brown. Molecules break apart, generating hundreds of new flavor, color, and aroma compounds. This is caramelization, a reaction that happens when carbohydrates like sugars in food are heated. Golden shortbread, a deeply browned crust, and a caramel cooked to the edge of black owe their color to sugar.

Sugar’s role in food production is so complex that it’s not always easy to reduce the amount of it in a recipe or swap refined for another type of sweetener.

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Supplant™ sugars from fiber is a brand new blend of sugars found naturally in plant fiber