Sugar Functions and Properties

Sugars, unlike starch, have an obvious impact on human taste—they are sweet. The classic view of taste recognizes four: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, with all other taste sensations considered mixtures of these. A more modern concept is that sweetness is not a unitary quality, and individuals "taste" different sweetness qualities for different sweeteners. Human neonates recognize and like sweetness, which is not surprising since the lactose in their major food, human milk, gives it a sweet taste. Estimates of relative sweetness of various carbohydrates by humans are usually made against the standard, sucrose (100%). On this scale, glucose (sweet with a bitter side taste) is 61 to 70, fructose (sweet, fruity) 130 to 180, maltose (sweet, syrupy) 43 to 50, and lactose 15 to 40. It is speculated that during mankind's evolution, the quest for food, hence, energy, made primitive man recognize that sweetness indicated safety and energy. Hence, sweetness became a desirable quality.

Today, sugar (especially sucrose) is used extensively in foods to give sweetness, energy, texture, and bulk and also for appearance, preservation (by raising the osmotic pressure), and fermentation (in bread, alcoholic beverages). The palatability, appearance, and shelf life of a huge variety of foods and drinks are enhanced by adding sucrose, e.g., breads, cakes, and biscuits; preserves and jellies; confectionery; dairy products; cured, dried, and preserved meats; breakfast cereals; and frozen and canned vegetables. This "hidden sugar" makes the assessment of dietary sucrose intakes difficult.

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