All You Need To Know About Sugar

When you think of all the foods you enjoy eating the most, there’s a very good chance that they all contain some forms of sugar. It could be the sugar found naturally in fresh mangoes or crunchy apples, or the sugar added to your favourite appetizers or desserts. But what exactly is this nutrient that gives food that wonderfully, delectably sweet taste?

What is Sugar?

Sugar is the generalized name for a class of chemically-related sweet-flavored substances, most of which are used as food. They are carbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are various types of sugar, deriving from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, which is also known as dextrose, fructose and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide (processed in the body and sucrose hydrolyses into fructose and glucose). Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. Chemically-different substances may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. Some are used as lower-calorie food substitutes for sugar, which is oftentimes described as artificial sweeteners.

Sugars are found in the tissues of most plants, but are only present in sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction in sugarcane and sugar beet. Sugarcane is a giant grass and has been cultivated in tropical climates in the Far East since ancient times. A great expansion in its production took place in the 18th century with the layout of sugar plantations in the West Indies and America. This was the first time that sugar became available to the common people who previously had to rely on honey to sweeten their foods. Sugar beet is a root crop and is cultivated in cooler climates. It then turned into the major source of sugar in the 19th century when methods of extracting sugar became available. Sugar production and trade have changed the course of human history in many ways: it influenced the formation of colonies, the perpetuation of slavery, the transition to indentured labour, the migration of peoples, the wars between sugar trade-controlling nations in the 19th century, and the ethnic composition and political structures of the new world.

Types Of Sugar?

  1. Monosaccharides

Glucose, fructose and galactose are all simple sugars, monosaccharides, with the general formula C6H12O6. They have five hydroxyl groups (−OH) and a carbonyl group (C=O) and are cyclic when dissolved in water. They each exist as several isomers with dextro- and laevo-rotatory forms which cause polarized light to diverge to the right or to the left.

  • Glucose, dextrose or grape sugar occur naturally in fruits and plant juices and are the primary product of photosynthesis.
  • Fructose or fruit sugar occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey and is the sweetest of all types of sugar
  • Galactose does not generally occur in free-state, but is a constituent with glucose of disaccharide lactose or milk sugar.

  1. Disaccharides

Sucrose, maltose and lactose are all compound sugars, or disaccharides, with the general formula C12H22O11. They are formed by the combination of two monosaccharide molecules with the exclusion of a molecule of water.

  • Sucrose is found in the stems of sugar cane and roots of sugar beet. It also occurs naturally alongside fructose and glucose in other plants, particularly fruits and some roots such as carrots.
  • Maltose is formed during the germination of certain grains, most notably barley which is converted into malt, the source of the sugar's name. A molecule of maltose is formed by the combination of two molecules of glucose. It is less sweeter than glucose, fructose or sucrose.
  • Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk. A molecule of lactose is formed by the combination of a molecule of galactose with a molecule of glucose. It is broken down when consumed into its constituent parts by the enzyme lactase during digestion.

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