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How is sugar used in sauces?
Sauces, such as savoury condiments and sweet dessert toppings, rely on pure sugars and syrups for flavour and mouth feel. But sugar also serves an important functional role; prolonging shelf life and aiding pourability for bottling and serving.
With sales to both food industry brands and consumer businesses reaching a 5 year high of £434 million last year, the UK sauce market is considerable, and one that consumers depend upon due to the variety of flavours available. Below, we examine how and why a range of pure sugar products are used in both sweet and savoury sauces.
Sugar’s use in sweet sauces
Caramel, chocolate and fruit sauces that are used to drizzle on puddings and ice creams are characterised by their thick, sticky texture, high sweetness value and smooth mouth feel. Their low viscosity enables them to be used to line milkshake glasses or avoid sliding off ice cream cones, with this coming from the use of invert sugar syrup or glucose syrup. These dissolve easily into sauce formulations and prevent crystallisation which would increase viscosity to the point that the sauce would be grainy, unpourable and undesirable to consumers.
Flavour-enhancing sauces for hot and cold drinks have become increasingly popular in recent years, with Europe’s flavoured syrups market expected to reach a value of $13.72 billion by 2024. These flavoured syrups are used to flavour hot chocolates, coffees, iced coffees and even flavoured teas, such as chai lattes. The ability to have a perfect flavour that dissipates evenly throughout the drink is due to the presence of liquid sugar. This delivers the same sweetness value as a crystalline sugar but is already dissolved in liquid form, meaning the desired flavour can dissolve throughout the drink no matter the temperature. The liquidity also gives the syrups a texture that allows it to be poured or squirted in measures.
Both the above sugars have the added benefit of acting as a natural preservative, meaning the sweet sauces they are used in are more resistant to microbial spoilage and therefore have an extended shelf life. For seasonal products, such as ice cream sauces in the summer, or gingerbread flavoured hot chocolate sauces at Christmas time, this is ideal as the product can be bought in bulk without fear of waste.
Sugar’s role in table sauces
Sugar is also used in a multitude of savoury sauces, from ketchups to marinades, adding to the flavour while serving to enhance the mouth feel and consistency. In 2017, mayonnaise overtook ketchup as the UK’s most popular condiment. Both use invert sugar syrup, which adds a distinct sweet flavour while also easily dissolving and enhancing pourability. Condiments with a richer flavour, such as BBQ and Worcestershire sauce, require additional sugars, in this case molasses, which adds to the sauces’ trademark dark colour and enriches the smoky flavour.
In terms of marinades, the main ingredients are typically spices and seasonings, but almost all also contain sugar, usually dark soft brown sugar. This not only provides a sweet flavour but naturally caramelises during cooking, giving the chosen meat or vegetable a crisp coating.
In recent years the popularity of hot sauce as a condiment or table sauce has grown, largely due to restaurants that offer it alongside more well-known table sauces, such as brown sauce or ketchup. Alongside piri piri, one of the recent sauces experiencing a surge in sales is sriracha, with varieties now available from a huge number of brands. Typically made of around 60% chilli, sriracha also contains salt, garlic salt and sugar. As the processed chillies already form a naturally pourable paste, brown sugar is utilised for its natural molasses content which, as a hygroscopic, ensures moisture is retained while adding sweetness.
Dipping sauces can be used with everything from spring rolls to tortilla chips with the list of available options expanding year on year, including sweet chilli dip, salsa, honey and mustard and caramelized onion hummus. Pourable sauces tend to contain liquid sugar that dissolves and combines easily with other ingredients and flavours, while scoopable sauces are more likely to contain a thicker sugar, such as molasses, which deepens flavour and colour, or crystalline sugar that may be used in preparation of other ingredients, such as demerara sugar used in the caramelisation of the onions.
Sugar: a vital ingredient in a huge range of sauces
As UK sauce sales continue to rise, there appears to be no limit to the reach and popularity of these versatile sweet and savoury flavourings. As the world becomes more interconnected over time, we see this reflected in the food available and the broadening of palates, with sriracha going from a tough-to-source speciality to an everyday table sauce.
Sugar is a crucial ingredient in sauces, developing flavour and extending the shelf life of products. Typically, this takes the form of invert sugar syrup or liquid sugar, as their functional properties are ideally suited to large scale manufacture. For more distinct flavours and colours, sugars such as molasses or demerara are used, demonstrating the versatility of pure sugars and syrups in this hugely popular application.