Sugar Talk Sugar Talk Sugar talk logo

Ragus jar of crystalline and sugar and syrup being picked up by hand in lab coat opposite suits

Thinking differently: viewing sugar as component parts

22/04/2021 By Ben Eastick in Food technology Formulations, Properties & functions

Pure sugars, syrups and treacles offer benefits far beyond sweetening. They perform vital manufacturing functions that are often overlooked, from stabilising medicines to feeding the yeast in bread. Here, we explore some of sugar’s most important functions and explain why so many of the products we rely on from day to day would be defunct without it.

lab with weighting scales testing liquid sugars and syrups

Pure sugars and syrups are essential components in the formulation of many products. 

More than just a sweetener

When many consumers hear the word ‘sugar’, the first thought that springs to mind is often ‘sweetness’. They are not wrong, adding sweetness is an important function that sugar performs. However, the point is that it is only one of sugar’s functions.

Particularly in terms of commercial manufacture, there are many more significant functions that sugar performs. Without sugar, for example, medicines would be harder to take, jams would simply be stewed fruit, bread would not rise as it does, cakes could be pale and flavourless and vaccines could become less effective.

Of course, sweetness will always be important. But it is just one part of the equation and, therefore, sugar should not be considered merely as a sweet ingredient. Instead, it should be viewed as a component ingredient. Why? Let’s explore in more detail below.

Developing colour to make products more enticing

It has long been said that we eat with our eyes as much as with our mouths. The appearance of food gives humans that all-important first impression, with sugar products being instrumental in creating the appealing colours of many products.

brown sugar, golden syrup and dark treacle being poured
Molasses provides many sauces and marinades, such as BBQ sauce, with that vital dark brown shine, while demerara and soft brown sugars are favoured for baking cakes and biscuits because they deliver the ideal golden-brown look once cooked.

Pure sugars and syrups are essential for colour development, and formulations can be tweaked to produce subtle distinctions. Watch this video to find out more about our manufacturing capabilities.

Bulking to add weight and stabilising to maintain structure

Commercially manufactured food and beverage products need to be of a certain volume or weight to be produced on a repeatable basis. Without the required bulk, the makeup of the product would be inconsistent and unreliable. Sugar naturally performs this function. It increases the weight or volume of the product to the requisite level, enabling large-scale manufacturers to reduce the content of the other expensive ingredients.

Not only that, though. Sugar also affects the texture and the make up of the product by acting as a stabiliser. This means it protects the other ingredients and maintains the structure of the end product. The end product can therefore keep its desired consistency or texture, resulting in a much more resilient and durable product.

There is no better example of this application than in the pharmaceutical industry, where sugar acts as an excipient to help drugs and treatments remain effective through storage and transportation. Naturally, sugar performs this function in the food and beverage industry too, with perhaps the most notable example being the scoopable texture of ice cream.

strawberry ice cream with raspberries, flakes and golden syrup being poured on top.

Sugar depresses the freezing point of ice cream, enabling the frozen dessert to maintain its iconic structure. 

Creating mouthfeel that consumers crave

Mouthfeel is the term used to describe the way a product feels in the mouth, from the time it touches the lips to after it is swallowed. It is one of the most important factors that consumers base their opinions on – if it does not feel right, they simply will no longer desire that product. It is a basic human instinct.

There are quite simply no better ingredients at impacting – and controlling – mouthfeel than sugar. Especially in soft drinks production, sugar helps manufacturers develop the viscosity, body and carbonated feel on the tongue. Trying to recreate this sensation with artificial alternatives is a complicated, time-consuming and often expensive process, which offers little in the way of real reward for manufacturers.

Extending shelf lives to make products commercially viable

Arguably sugar’s most important function is its ability to extend shelf lives. Sugar is a natural humectant, which means it has a long shelf life itself and, consequently, it acts as a preservative in end products. It protects the end product from spoiling quickly, and it undertakes this critical role – keeping products fresher for longer – in subtly different ways.

In shorter life products such as cakes and biscuits, for example, sugar retains moisture to prevent the product from going stale. In longer life products such as jams and preserves, sugar starves harmful bacteria of water, preventing microbial spoilage.

This function is of utmost significance in bulk food and beverage manufacture. There is an extensive supply chain that these products are stored and transported through before they reach supermarket shelves, from producer to distributor through to the retailer and then consumer.

Ragus lorry being loaded by worker in high visibility clothing and a safety hard hat

Commercial products need a long shelf life to remain safe through storage and transportation. 

By acting as a natural humectant, sugar keeps these products safe to eat throughout the entire supply chain. But also from a commercial perspective, if a product is on the shelf for longer it has a much greater chance of being sold rather than finding its way into waste.

And what about the alternatives?

It is true that a plethora of sweetener options exist for food and beverage producers to choose from, however, these are manmade products that, quite simply, do not offer an equivalent – and certainly not better – alternative. They do not have the same naturally unique properties as sugar. Rather than being grown in a field, sweeteners and sweetener syrups are made in a laboratory and yet, they cannot deliver the same functional benefits as sugar.

All the rise of artificial sweeteners has done is allow manufacturers to add ‘No sugar’ or ‘Zero sugar’ to their product labels. It has not brought about the development of healthier food and beverage products and it has not resulted in more natural food and beverage products. Especially given the rise of ethical consumerism and the focus on organic living within recent years, is this really a good thing? One would suggest not.

Sugar the gold standard sweetener, on the other hand, is not an added ingredient; it is an essential component that is required to make many food and beverage products in the first place.

Think about it like this: when a cog is missing from a machine, the machine does not work properly. Sugar is similar. When it is removed from a production process, the product does not function the same – it does not have the same colour, texture, shelf life or taste. Except using this metaphor, you cannot substitute sugar with a like-for-like replacement. Instead, you have to substitute it with several manmade alternatives to try and do the same job.

So, if you want to develop a superior and more natural end product, there is only ever one option – pure sugars and syrups.

To learn more about our products, please contact our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

View more