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Sweetness is, together with salt, one of the most widely appreciated tastes. Sweetness is mainly caused by sugars, a class of small, soluble carbohydrates present in fruits, plants and other natural products. Common sugars are fructose (levulose, fruit sugar), maltose (malt sugar), lactose (milk sugar), glucose (dextrose) and especially saccharose (sucrose, table sugar). In processed foods mainly saccharose is used. It can either be obtained from sugarcane or from sugar beets.

Sugar is not only used in foods for its sweetness, but also for its reaction products upon heating; caramel and Maillard products. Caramel is obtained by heating sugar directly without other ingredients or water. It has a brown to black colour and a pleasant taste. Maillard products are formed upon heating of sugars and proteins. This is a very complex reaction, resulting in many pleasant flavours, such as the flavour of bread, cookies, popcorn, fried meat etc.

Sugars can bind water efficiently. Adding sugar to a product therefore has a preserving effect; the water is no longer available for spoilage organisms. Preserving fruits or other products in sugar (jellies, marmelade) or honey has been practised for over 2000 years.

Finally sugar is an important structural element in many processed foods. Candies without sugar would loose 60% of their volume, many cakes would loose 15-30%.

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

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