Ibrahim Belo Written by Ibrahim Belo

Why food manufacturers rely on sugar analysis and testing

Sugar analysis by testing polarisation of sugar

Sugar analysis and product testing are integral to operations at Ragus and the wider food production industry. In this blog, we explain what these practices entail and why we implement them, along with the benefits they provide our customers.

What is sugar analysis and testing?

Analysing the Brix of sugar syrup using refractometer

Sugar analysis and testing is the process of determining and measuring the properties of a sugar product. At Ragus, we conduct these traceability tests for all incoming primary production materials and every batch of product manufactured at our industry-leading production facility in Berkshire, UK.

The methods that constitute sugar analysis and testing are wide-ranging and depend on the product being manufactured. This is of course because each sugar product has distinct properties, which can also be modified, so need to meet different criteria.

Think about it in rudimentary terms: crystallines are solids but syrups are liquids. These contrasting structures mean they are naturally going to have different properties and, as a result, they require different forms of testing. For example, crystallines are not tested for pH or Brix because they are not liquids.

And, even when crystallines and syrups are both tested for the same properties – such as sucrose levels – the method used to test them is still different. Crystallines are tested analytically, whereas syrups are tested using high-performance liquid clarification (HPLC) methods.

Why are these tests important?

While sugar analysis and testing is a truly fascinating practice, it is not done solely for interest. Instead, it is a legal requirement and vital food safety procedure. At Ragus, for instance, we conduct tests on all products manufactured to determine their properties, then we provide each product with a batch code, and finally, we keep samples of each batch for a period of eighteen months. So, in addition to maintaining a paper – or digital – trail of records that detail the product’s essential information, we also keep the actual product on-site.

These practices enable us to establish and uphold traceability throughout the supply chain, giving us and our customers security and peace of mind. This means if there was any inconsistency with one of our customers’ finished products, we would be able to use the batch code to find the corresponding sample and then could conduct further tests to verify that the sugar product was manufactured exactly to specification.

Testing the pH of sugar syrup in our sugar analysis laboratory

Testing the pH in our state-of-the-art laboratory. 

More than just a box-ticking exercise: developing better food and beverage products

Sugar analysis and testing is not just carried out for food safety protocols, though. It is also a key requirement for food and beverage manufacturers when creating a new product or reformulating an existing product.

Often, this is undertaken to produce bespoke pure sugar and syrup solutions that better suit the customer’s unique product specification or production process. The reasons for doing so vary too. Some customers may be looking to find a more cost-effective solution, whereas others may be looking to create a healthier product or aiming to develop a deeper product flavour.

Assessing the composition of sugar via sieving

Assessing the composition of our crystallines via sieving. 

As highlighted in a recent blog, sugar is a component ingredient that protects the other ingredients in the application and, as different pure sugars and syrups perform such a wide range of crucial functions, the slightest of alterations to the formulation has a significant impact. That’s why it is crucial that the food scientists and technologists tasked with product development get it right – because if they do not, it can have far-reaching implications.

Explaining the importance of developing the right formulation

These requirements for reliability and consistency are heightened for commercial manufacturers because the consequences of their mistakes are greater. And not necessarily in terms of food safety.

Take the reformulation of an internationally recognised biscuit brand as an example. If the product formulation is altered and this change adversely impacts the structure and the flavour of the biscuit, consumers will likely be able to tell the difference. If the new formulation is judged to be inferior, this will have a knock-on effect on consumer confidence and trust, which usually results in reduced revenue on that product line. And as that product has been manufactured at scale, the margins associated with that sales reduction is much greater.

Analysing sugar samples in a laboratory

Pure sugar product samples. 

It is little wonder that our customers depend on rigorous sugar analysis and testing procedures to ensure we recommend the right formulation for their application and production process, and so that we can deliver reliable and consistently repeatable results.

So, which pure sugar products are we analysing and testing the most at the moment?

Most consumers may well be thinking about the start of summer and the products associated with warm weather, however, commercial brands and businesses are actually busy creating new formulations for the Christmas season.

So, instead of spending much of our time testing molasses for BBQ sauce, we are in fact testing molasses formulations for Christmas puddings. By the same token, we are not testing full invert sugar syrup for ice creams, we are testing it for frozen traybakes. Ragus and the food and beverage industries are always looking ahead and working in the future!

Ragus has over 90 years’ experience manufacturing specialist sugars, enabling it to consult its customers on the right formulation for their application. To find out how you can benefit from this expertise, contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 575353 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.