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Two pieces of savoury or sweet bread sitting on a plate, each with a catering stick in it with the Swiss flag

Sugar in the foods and drinks of Switzerland

13/06/2024 By Theresa Pereira in Recipes

As we continue our around the world with sugar tour, we arrive in the other Alpine nation of Switzerland. In a country where sugar beet is grown, the sugar consumed domestically generally derives from beet.

In fact, sugar beet is one of the few agricultural crops to flourish in Switzerland’s otherwise challenging soil and climate conditions. More than 6,000 beet growers cultivate an area of around 20,000 hectares before the beets are transferred to sugar refineries at Aarberg and Frauenfeld for processing.

Sugar beet in a beet field prior to processing.

Due to bad weather and sugar beet disease, Switzerland has struggled with poor sugar beet harvests in recent years. However, the country aims to reduce reliance on imports of sugar.

Sugar beet production for Switzerland amounted to 1.35 million tonnes in 2022, but the country’s beet growers grappled with a poor harvest the following year due to heavy rainfall and pest infestation, and only produced 250,000 tonnes of beet sugar in 2023/24. The sugar beet disease syndrome ‘basses richesses’ posed a problem, while the weevil was also discovered for the first time.

As a result, Switzerland imports cane sugar and many of the contemporary twists on traditional dishes increasingly use cane sugar. However, Switzerland aims to improve sugar self-sufficiency and reduce its reliance on imports. The country’s chefs and cooks, professional and domestic, have developed many of the nation’s traditional food and drink to include new and different kinds of crystalline sugars and syrups.

Swiss culture and cuisine

Swiss cuisine, so often associated with kalbsbratwurst and cervelat (sausages) with rösti (potato cake), cheese fondue and chocolate, borrows from the varied culinary traditions of Austria, Germany, Italy and France, alongside it’s uniquely Swiss traditions, and each region has its own specialties. Cheese and potatoes, and apples and oats are a staple of many of Switzerland’s national dishes, but sugar is an important flavour carrier.

Below, we highlight how sugar’s many functional properties are used to enhance the country’s savoury dishes, desserts and drinks.

Breakfasts, lunches, savoury foods

Birchermüesli is typically consumed at breakfast or eaten as a light lunch or evening meal. Developed at the turn of the 20th Century by the physician and wholefoods advocate Maximilian Bircher-Benner, this dish is made from raw rolled oats, dried fruit, grains, seeds and nuts and mixed with yoghurt, milk or juice. Golden syrup or black treacle may be added to enhance volume and flavour, and to provide additional sweetness alongside the fruit. If evaporated milk or cream is used, black treacle adds depth of colour as well as flavour.

A nut-based cereal or muesli in a bowl with a white spoon, apple sitting on the table in the background

Swiss dishes, such as Birchermüesli, can be eaten at breakfast or as a light meal or snack. Golden syrup or black treacle can be used to add depth of flavour and to sweeten.

As we know, sugar has an important role to play in harmonising flavours in savoury dishes. This is true of suure mocke, Switzerland’s answer to the German sauerbraten. It is a braised beef dish, with a bittersweet sauce flavoured with red wine, vinegar, root vegetables and sugar. Some Swiss households will use regular white table sugar here, but dark cane muscovado sugar or a tablespoon of cane molasses intensifies the desired bittersweet taste, darken the colour, deepen the flavour and enhance mouthfeel.

Bread is woven into the fabric of Swiss life. In the dinner dish vogelheu, meaning ‘bird hay’, pieces of bread are mixed with melted butter in a frying pan and scented with sugar and cinnamon. When demerara sugar is used, the dish benefits from this crystalline’s characteristic crunch and contrasts perfectly with the soft-textured, tart fruit compote it is often served with.

Sticking with bread, magenbrot or ‘stomach bread’ is enjoyed as a treat, with breakfast or tea, or as a dessert. These are sweet, spiced, glazed biscuits that are not dissimilar to gingerbread. Cane molasses can be used when making a yeast or sourdough version in place of baking powder to feed the yeast and improve rise and texture, and also enhance colour and flavour.

A selection of dark-brown, dense biscuits, one piled on top of the other

Swiss ‘stomach bread’ may be eaten with breakfast or tea, or as a dessert. It can be made with cane molasses to improve rise and add colour and flavour.

Baking and desserts

Perhaps Switzerland’s most famous, or at least tasty, export is chocolate, and this beloved ingredient forms the backbone of many of the country’s favourite desserts. For example, the coupe dänemark is scoops of vanilla ice cream served with a warm chocolate sauce. Dark soft brown sugar is ideal for making the chocolate sauce as it enhances volume, intensifies the flavour and provides a rich colour that a lighter sugar will fail to do.

Chocolate sauce being poured over scoops of vanilla ice cream in a white bowl

Coupe dänemark, a popular dessert in Switzerland, comprises scoops of ice cream with warm chocolate sauce.

Eating a chocolate fondue is an occasion in itself. Many modern twists exist, and these may use different types of sugar. However, golden syrup is ideal to add body and depth of flavour to this sweet treat.

We can then look beyond chocolate to brönnti creme, a classic Swiss caramel-custard dessert. A sugar like soft brown light sugar is ideal for the caramelisation as it dissolves easily, while its molasses content imparts a deeper colour and mild bittersweet flavour that enhances both the dessert’s appearance and the eating experience.

The Bündner Nusstorte from Graubünden is a sugar-caramelised, nut-filled pastry cake. Often eaten with a cup of tea or coffee, its pastry casing is filled with cream, caramelised sugar and chopped walnuts. A sugar like demerara sugar is ideal for effective caramelisation and to improve colour.

A sweet or savoury pie with slices cut out of it, sitting on a wooden board, alongside whole walnuts

The Bündner Nusstorte is a nutty pastry cake that can be sweetened with a sugar like demerara to aid caramelisation and enhance colour.


Switzerland’s national beverage is a soft drink called Rivella, which largely comprises milk whey, water and sugar, and contains no artificial sweeteners. Like most soft drinks, liquid sugar is an important sweetening agent. Liquid sugar is also to be found in Sinalco drinks, a German brand. These non-alcoholic drinks are popular in Switzerland and consumed across the country.

A bottle of Rivella next to a glass with straw (left), Sinalco brand drinks stacked on shelves in a store (right).

Switzerland’s national beverage is a soft drink called Rivella (left), while the Sinalco range of drinks are also popular (right).

Switzerland’s rich tapestry of dishes, desserts and drinks often use sugar to do more than just sweeten. This important functional ingredient is used to flavour everything from beef braises to cakes and refreshing non-alcoholic drinks.

Ragus manufactures functional pure sugar ingredients for industrial food and drinks applications, enhancing flavour, texture and mouthfeel. To learn more, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn.

Theresa Pereira

Theresa ensures that our customers’ orders are managed efficiently and works closely with our Sales Office Manager to deliver all orders on time in full.

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