Sugars Their Roles in Food

Eighty-five years ago, homemakers baked with sugars and honey, prepared jellies and jams with sugars, and flavored homemade baked beans with molasses or sorghum molasses. Today sugars are added to food during commercial food processing, as more and more households depend on convenience foods, rather than home cooking and baking.

The sweetness of sugars is the attribute that gets attention. Yet sugars contribute far more than flavor. That's why they're added to many processed and prepared foods. From the standpoint of kitchen chemistry, sugars work as multipurpose ingredients, fulfilling functions that you may not even think about:

In yeast breads. . . sugars are "food" for yeast, allowing the dough to rise. Yeast doesn't consume all the

• Dairy desserts and milk

products (ice cream,

sweetened yogurt,

sweetened milk)


• Other grains (cinnamon toast,

honey-nut waffles)


(*Percentage is rounded.)

Source: Guthrie, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2000.

Printed in: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005.


sugar, however. The rest adds flavor and contributes to the aroma and delicate-brown color of the crust.

In cakes . . . sugars contribute to the bulk, tenderness, smooth crumb texture, and lightly browned surface. In cakes that have air whipped in, such as angel food cake and sponge cake, sugars help hold the form.

In cookies . . . as sugars and shortening are creamed together, sugars help bring air into the dough. Sugars also contribute to the light-brown color, crisp texture, and even to the "cracked" surface of sugar cookies and gingersnaps.

In canned jams, jellies, and preserves . . . sugars help inhibit the growth of molds and yeast by tying up the water that these microorganisms need to multiply. For this reason, sugars act as preservatives.

In candy. . . sugar contributes to the texture, for example, the smoothness of hard candy and the creaminess of fudge. And as it cooks, turning from white to yellow to brown, sugar develops a unique, tasty flavor.

In all kinds offood. . . sugar adds to the flavor, aroma, texture, color, and body of food. Sometimes, just a small amount of sugar is added to a recipe to bring out the flavors of other ingredients, such as in tomato-based sauce or salad dressing.

What happens if you cut back on sugar in recipes? That depends. In some recipes, there's little difference—except for taste. In others, you'll notice a difference in volume, texture, color, and aroma. And in jams, jellies, and preserves, mold will grow quickly, even if they're refrigerated.

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