Sugar: What does it do to our food?

Sugar and processed food have been inextricably intertwined for decades now. Sugar or sucrose as some call it, has many technological properties that are beneficial for large scale food manufacturers. Before food processing turned industrial, sugar along with salt and fat were used primarily as preservatives. They were added to homemade condiments jams, ketchup, pickles, etc. in small amounts to ensure they remained edible for a couple of months even at varying temperatures. Today however, apart from adding the quality of sweetness, sugar makes packaged drinks more viscous, retains moisture in cold cuts, makes dough more voluminous, etc.

Long before technological advancement came about, the food we grew, harvested, preserved and ate was relatively simple. Only that which was locally grown was available and processing was restricted to what could be done by man and simples machines. Although we have always processed our food in some way, think grains, to make them more edible, the amount of processed food we consumed on an average was relatively small. This meant in our grandmother’s era, cakes were made only on birthdays and cookies eaten only along with tea. Today we have access to cake every single day and cookies and chips have replaced fruits. We consume a lot more sugar in the form of sugary drinks, candies, condiments and junk food than an average person twenty-five to thirty years ago did.

Due to its varied use, it is almost impossible to complete substitute sugar with just one other element and / or ingredient in large-scale food production. Removing or even reducing sugar in any way in a recipe has a direct effect on the taste, texture, appearance and mouthfeel of the product. Therefore, in order to replace sugar with a substitute in a recipe, the entire recipe must be recalibrated. No alternative yet has been able to provide the unique taste of sugar coupled with the same properties or mouth feel. Artificial sweeteners at best ape it but cannot replace it.

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