What is sugar?

Chemistry Page
3 min readAug 14, 2023


What is basic understanding about sugar and sweeteners?

For millennia, sugar has stood as one of the most frequently utilized components in culinary recipes. Historical records even document its consumption by the aristocracy in Spain during the Middle Ages.

This piece aims to explore the realms of sugar and sucrose, delve into various sugar variants, and draw insightful parallels with alternate sweetening agents.

What is sugar?

At present, white or table sugar finds its primary role in imparting sweetness to beverages and edibles. While it’s commonly derived from sources like sugar cane or beets, sugar also occurs naturally in nearly all food items.

This is particularly true for intrinsic sugar, a form of sugar nestled within foods, in contrast to free sugar or added sugars, which blend into food compositions. Intrinsic sugars thrive in fruits, vegetables, and unadulterated milk, thus their consumption lacks the necessity for stringent restriction.

Conversely, the presence of free sugars in juices, condiments, and desserts should be moderated, given their intimate link to concerns such as excess weight, cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, and dental deterioration.

Sugar in Chemistry

Chemically, sugar is known as sucrose and is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose.

Structure and formula of sucrose

The chemical structure of sucrose is C12H22O11. This implies that each sugar molecule is made up of twelve carbon atoms, twenty-two hydrogen atoms, and eleven oxygen atoms.

sugar structure

Characteristics of sucrose

Sucrose presents some characteristics that make it a distinguished substance:

White sugar, the classic sweetener, is 99.5% sucrose and brown sugar is 85% sucrose, so there is no significant difference between the two.

Sugars are carbohydrates, since they are composed mainly of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms.

What is sugar good for?

Although around sugar there are thousands of negative connotations, if consumed in the recommended amounts, this ingredient provides certain functional properties. For example, sugar is good for food preservation through a process of osmosis. In other words, it absorbs moisture from food and stops the growth of bacteria. In addition, sugar is capable of improving the flavor of a wide variety of foods, making them more appetizing.

On the other hand, one of the components of sugar, glucose, is a compound that is easily absorbed by the body, which is why it is a quick source of energy for the brain, muscles, and nervous system.

So why do they say sugar is bad? As we have mentioned above, its excessive consumption can trigger health problems such as cavities and even more serious diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems. For this reason, it is important to know how to find a balance in the consumption of sugar.

The origin of sugar

Despite the fact that sugar has already been consumed in India for two millennia, the first texts that record the origin of sugar date back to 1099, in which they describe sugar canes as “honey canes”. These crops were already common in Asia and had reached North Africa.

When it was decided to import it to Europe, sugar became an expensive product and was used mainly as a seasoning to counteract acid or bitter flavors from meats preserved without refrigeration.

For this reason, honey continued to be used as a natural sweetener. It was not until the 16th century, when there was a drop in the production of honey together with a progressive reduction in sugar, that sugar was used to sweeten hors d’oeuvres, desserts and drinks such as coffee or tea.



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