Sugar, in one form or another, is added to many of our favorite foods and beverages. Most people know that sugar adds sweetness but many may not know that sugar is added for other reasons too. For example, sugars help preservation, stabilize emulsions, add flavor and improve texture – all of which help meet the expectations we have for how foods like ice cream and dressings should taste and feel.
With a few exceptions, the types of sugars we eat are nutritionally equivalent – each provide about four calories per gram and are metabolized in similar ways. But there are many different types of sugars, each with unique origins and advantageous uses. Here’s a quick rundown:
Table sugar, also known as granulated sugar, is what comes to mind when most people think of sugar. It’s made from sugar cane and sugar beets. Chemically speaking, table sugar is sucrose, a disaccharide that is a 50-50 mixture of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. Table sugar is a common ingredient in baking where it provides structure and texture. It’s also used in homemade jams and jellies for preservation, and for the sweetening of coffee and tea.
Brown sugar is the same as table sugar, but with a little something extra: molasses. Molasses gives brown sugar its distinct color and flavor. Molasses also provides moisture to brown sugar, which makes it useful in baking when soft and chewy textures are desirable.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
As its name implies, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a syrup made from corn. However, this is somewhat of a misnomer because HFCS is not all that “high” in fructose – it just happens to be higher in fructose than table sugar is. The most commonly used form of HFCS is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. HFCS is only used commercially in some packaged foods and soft drinks. It’s not sold individually in supermarkets.
Simple syrup is so simple to make that it may even be how it got its name. To make simple syrup, just add equal parts sugar and water to a saucepan. After it’s brought to a boil, the sugar will dissolve with just a few stirs. Simple syrup can be used to sweeten cold drinks because it blends better than table sugar.
Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners known to mankind. Bees are responsible for producing this popular sweetener by tirelessly collecting nectar from flowers, which they convert into honey back in the hive. Nutritionally speaking, about 50 percent of the sugar in honey is fructose and 44 percent is glucose, with a small amount of sucrose and other types of sugars. A versatile and viscous sweetener, honey is a common ingredient in cooking and baking. It also blends well in warm beverages like tea.
Agave syrup comes from the agave plant, with blue agave being a primary source. Agave syrup is higher in fructose than most other forms of sugars. Eighty-two percent of the sugar in agave syrup is fructose and 18 percent is glucose. Like simple syrup and honey, agave syrup blends well in beverages.