Ibrahim Belo Written by Ibrahim Belo

How does sugar bind ingredients together?

Binding agents are ingredients added to products that form its materials into a whole and provide structural stability to the final product. This could include combining ingredients so they don’t separate, improving texture by thickening, or affecting how mixed ingredients react with one another. Did you know that sugar is one of the most important natural binding agents employed by manufacturers? This blog explains how.

Binding together for a better finished food product 

When we first think of sugar as a binding agent, we tend to picture an array of sticky syrups. Syrups are employed in the baking industry to bind together dry ingredients. In flapjacks, golden syrup can be used to coat the oats, sticking them together to form a soft, chewy final bake. Equally, treacle can be used as an alternative to golden syrup, delivering the same functional properties but with a more rounded flavour profile.

Invert sugar syrup or golden syrup can also be used to combine the ingredients in the mass production of granola and cereal bars, which usually include rolled oats and nuts alongside other additions such as freeze-dried fruit or chocolate chips. The syrup acts as a binding agent to create clusters while adding a mellow flavour.

assorted flapjacks with raisin filling and white chocolate topping lined up

The baking industry has many uses for sugar as a binding agent.

But sugar isn’t only used to combine the ingredients of sweet foods.

One of the functional characteristics that contributes to sugar’s facilitating properties is that it is a humectant, meaning it binds water molecules easily. This makes it a crucial ingredient for manufacturers looking to preserve moisture in their products. Invert syrups in particular are a sugar product popularly employed by manufacturers due to their high affinity for water. They could be used, for example, to retain the moisture of plant-based meat-alternatives, preventing the product from drying out. This not only ensures that the juicy texture of meat is replicated, but it also prevents the product from disintegrating during transportation. Sugar helps bind the ingredients to create a sturdier food product.

selection of plant-based meat products, including meatballs, sausages, burgers and steak

Invert syrups are ideal for preserving moisture in products.

Improving the texture of preserves 

Sugar’s role as stabiliser in food products also makes it a key ingredient in the production of preserves. This application of sugar makes it what we call a bulking agent. It adds volume and weight to the product without affecting the taste or function, resulting in a more durable end product.

During the production of jam, pure sugars help bind the fruit preserve into its jelly-like texture. Without sugar, preserves would be watery substances. As the mixture is heated, the pectin from the fruit attracts water molecules and the sugar binds them together.

Granulated sugar is recommended for this process as it adds a coarse mouthfeel to jam. When manufactured on an industrial scale, invert syrup is often used to achieve the same effect while also preventing crystallisation, particularly in preserves containing low-acid fruits.

various jars of fruit jam displayed on a table

Sugar acts as a bulking agent in the production of preserves.

Stabilising ingredients used in the pharmaceutical industry 

Sugar isn’t just used to bind ingredients in food production, it’s also a staple ingredient in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products, from over-the-counter remedies to mass-deployed vaccines.

In medicated confectionary such as lozenges, glucose syrup is used to bind the liquid mixture together into a solidified final product that will then slowly release minerals and medicine as it is consumed.

Sugar is also used as an excipient in many medicines, meaning it itself is an inactive substance but it acts as a dosage vehicle for an active drug. It works to bind the active ingredients to one another and stabilise their reactivity, ensuring that they perform their roles properly. This could include affecting the structure of a tablet to make it suitable for consumption or slowing the release time of an active ingredient.

selection of medicated lozenges in different colours

Sugar is used as an excipient in many medicines.

As vaccines are biological preparations, they can be unstable once made, which could threaten to reduce the efficiency of the vaccine’s performance. Pharma grade sugar products can help bind the ingredients together, so the molecules don’t lose their shape throughout manufacturing, storage, distribution, and administration. You can read more about this, and sugar’s role in recent COVID-19 vaccines, in our blog Sugar in vaccines: stabilising and preserving effectiveness.

Ragus manufactures pure sugars for industry. To find out more about the versatile applications of sugar, visit our products page and contact a member of our customer services team (0)1753 215424 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.