December 1, 2012

What’s Up with Sugar?

Aside from our preference for sweetened foods, why has sugar dominated the food market to such an extent? It is conveniently cheap and effective. There are three important aspects of the convenience of sugar usage, whether it is as sucrose, corn syrup, or dextrose (obtained from corn), which have helped to establish its inexorable presence in today’s food supply.

1. Refined syrups and sugars can be stored for long periods and they are not subject to spoilage. In fact, they can help to retard growth of some microorganisms. A can of soda can stay on a shelf for months without the loss of taste. A sweetened fruit beverage can be kept in a refrigerator for weeks without a change in quality. Can you say the same thing about milk? How about fresh orange juice? Refined sugars and syrups can be frozen, heated, and mixed at room temperatures without a change of properties. Therefore, sugar can be added to any processed food, even from a sugar bowl, without harming the taste of any food. A frozen dinner when cooked will not lose its content of sugar. A bottled sauce poured over a baking roast will not lose its flavor. A packet of sugar added to iced tea or hot coffee would still be sweet. Catsup, mayonnaise, salad dressing, peanut butter, pickles, ice cream and bread will still hold their sweetness. Long-term storage is not a deterrent to sugar consumption.

2. Sugar is cheap. Any food product containing lots of sugar or corn syrup is of relatively low cost by weight and by calories compared to other flavoring products. Everyone wants to eat well, but most times food selections are based on price or taste. Usually the lower the price, the higher the sugar content. Unfortunately, this leads to improper food purchases that are not based on nutrient or caloric value. It also has led to purchase choices of sweetened food products over natural foods.

3. Sugar gives foods texture. It helps to impart bulk to baking products. It creates a smoothness to foods and beverages without any negative aftertaste. Sugar helps to brown microwaveable foods and make them more colorful. Sugar can also disguise the presence of fats in food. Ever try eating a really plain donut without any sugar glaze? Which feels smoother? Ever eat a plain bagel? It’s smoother than a very plain donut, right? Well, a bagel has lots more sugar in it. A lot of tomatoes go into a jar of tomato sauce. What keeps the sauce from tasting too acidic after long storage? Yes, it’s sugar to the rescue. What keeps canned foods so palatable? That’s right. It’s added sugar.

These three reasons have given the boost to an industry-wide acceptance of sugar. This is why it can be found in practically every processed food.

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