Use of the word ‘natural’ has changed over time in different contexts.
Sugar is natural because it comes from a plant grown in the rich coastal soils of Queensland and northern New South Wales.
Sugar is natural in comparison to an artificial sweetener like aspartame.
‘Natural’ can therefore refer to the way something is grown or produced compared to things that are ‘artificial.’
‘Natural’ can also refer to whether something is automatically found in something as opposed to something that needs to be added.
Sugars can be found naturally in some foods like fruit and cow’s milk whereas some of the food and drink products we buy contain additional ‘added sugar.’
Cane sugar is natural
Yes, cane sugar is natural, but the word natural can be confusing depending on the context.
Sugar can be listed as an ‘added sugar’ on food product labels. This is make it clear that some sugar may already be present as a ‘natural’ part of the food. For example, yoghurt made from cow’s milk ‘naturally’ contains lactose or milk sugar.
Cane sugar may be ‘added’ to complement the ‘natural’ lactose already in the yoghurt.
Sugarcane plants ‘naturally’ contain sugar. To produce the sweet crystals we use in cooking, the sweet juice has to be squeezed from the plant and processed into solid crystals.
In Australia, most sugar used in products and at home comes from the sugarcane plant.
The stalk of the plant (the cane) is crushed in sugar mills to extract juice which becomes table sugar.
The liquid is then purified and concentrated by boiling. The resulting syrup is cooled, seeded with sugar crystals and spun through a centrifuge to create more raw sugar crystals.
The sugar mill sends the raw sugar (which is not yet ready to eat) to a sugar refinery where it is melted, purified and recrystalised.
The familiar products we buy at the supermarket – from brown, raw, demerara, castor, icing or white sugar – have been further processed ready for your enjoyment.
Cane sugar’s chemical name is sucrose. It consists of two molecules – a glucose bound to a fructose molecule in a 1:1 ratio.