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Sugar chemistry

Chemically sugars and carbohydrates are synonyms, but normally sugars refer to sweet, small, soluble carbohydrates. The word sugar is generally used as a synonym for saccharose (sucrose).

In this section we refer to sugars as sweet, small, soluble carbohydrates.

Sweetness in plants is mainly caused by three different sugars; saccharose, fructose and glucose. These sugars are either present alone or as mixtures. Honey is a solution of glucose, fructose and saccharose in water, about 80% sugars and 20% water. The actual composition depends for a large part on the plant(s) of origin. In the production of beer the starch (a large non-sweet carbohydrate) from the grains is degraded to smaller carbohydrates, one of these the slightly sweet malt sugar (maltose).

The only sugar of interest in animal products is lactose, the sugar in all animal milk. All ingested sugars are converted in the liver to glucose, hence the sugar in blood of animals (and thus in meat) is glucose. As lactose is less sweet as fructose or saccharose, milk does not taste sweet, even though the sugar content is high (4,5 % in cow's milk, 7% in human milk).

Besides these five main sugars, there are several hundred other small carbohydrates present in plants and milk, but none of these is very sweet and none are of commercial interest.




Sweetness as compared to saccharose

(glucose + fructose)






(glucose + glucose)


(galactose + glucose)



For more carbohydrate chemistry see the topic Carbohydrates (in preparation).

More information on sugar : is an initiative of Stichting Food-Info, The Netherlands

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