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 derived from different sources.
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 described as artificial sweeteners.
Types of sugar
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 the left.
Glucose, dextrose or grape sugar occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices and is the primary product of photosynthesis. Most ingested carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion and it is the form of sugar that is transported around the bodies of animals in the bloodstream. It can be manufactured from starch by the addition of enzymes or in the presence of acids. Glucose syrup is a liquid form of glucose that is widely used in the manufacture of foodstuffs. It can be manufactured from starch byenzymatic hydrolysis
Fructose or fruit sugar occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey and is the sweetest of the sugars. It is one of the components of sucrose or table sugar. It is used as a high fructose syrup which is manufactured from hydrolized corn starch which has been processed to yield corn syrup, with enzymes then added to convert part of the glucose into fructose.
Galactose does not generally occur in the free state but is a constituent with glucose of the disaccharide lactose or milk sugar. It is less sweet than glucose. It is a component of the antigens found on the surface of red blood cells that determine blood groups.
Sucrose, maltose and lactose are all compound sugars, 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. The different proportions of sugars found in these foods determines the range of sweetness experienced when eating them. A molecule of sucrose is formed by the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of fructose. After being eaten, sucrose is split into its constituent parts during digestion by a number of enzymes known as sucrases.
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 sweet than glucose, fructose or sucrose. It is formed in the body during the digestion of starch by the enzyme amylase and is itself broken down during digestion by the enzyme maltase.
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. Children have this enzyme but some adults no longer form it and they are unable to digest lactose.
Most of the sugar in the world comes from two sources: Sugar Cane and Sugar beets, as it is easily extracted from both and both contain large quantities of sucrose.
From Sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) is an annual plant in the Family Amaranthaceae, the tuberous root of which contains a high proportion of sucrose. It is cultivated in temperate regions with adequate rainfall and requires a fertile soil. The crop is harvested mechanically in the autumn and the crown of leaves and excess soil removed. The roots do not deteriorate rapidly and may be left in a clamp in the field for some weeks before being transported to the processing plant. Here the crop is washed and sliced and the sugar extracted by diffusion. Milk of lime is added to the raw juice and carbonatated in a number of stages in order to purify it. Water is evaporated by boiling the syrup under a vacuum. The syrup is then cooled and seeded with sugar crystals. The white sugar which crystallizes out can be separated in a centrifuge and dried. It requires no further refining.
Sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) is a perennial grass in the family Poaceae. It is cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical regions for the sucrose that is found in its stems. It requires a frost-free climate with sufficient rainfall during the growing season to make full use of the plant’s great growth potential. The crop is harvested mechanically or by hand, chopped into lengths and conveyed rapidly to the processing plant. Here it is either milled and the juice extracted with water or the sugar is extracted by diffusion. The juice is then clarified with lime and heated to kill enzymes. The resulting thin syrup is concentrated in a series of evaporators after which further water is removed by evaporation in vacuum containers. The resulting supersaturated solution is seeded with sugar crystals and the sugar crystallizes out, is separated from the fluid and dried. Molasses is a by-product of the process and the fiber from the stems, known as bagasse, is burned to provide energy for the sugar extraction process. The crystals of raw sugar have a sticky brown coating and can either be used as they are or can be bleached by sulphur dioxide or treated in a carbonatation process to produce a whiter product.
Sugars; clockwise from top left: White refined, unrefined, brown, unprocessed cane