Sugar is used as an ingredient…
… in foods and drinks to add sweetness, but it also has other uses in home cooking and food manufacturing.
The flavour of acidic, sour, vinegary and bitter foods can be balanced (sweet and sour) or made more palatable (e.g. tart grapefruit) by adding sugar. Sugar enhances not only the flavour but also the smell of foods, such as baked products and sauces.
Sugar provides food for yeast, which creates air bubbles, helping baked goods to rise and expand at a faster and more consistent rate (fermentation). Beating sugar into liquid ingredients, creates tiny air bubbles which expand during baking.
Through the process of fermentation, yeast uses sugar as a food to create alcohol. As much of the sugar is used (fermented), the amount in the end product is lower than added in the recipe. The sugars used in wine, beer or kombucha may come from grapes or other fruit or be added as sugar by the winemaker/brewer.
Bulk and volume
Sugar can provide bulk and volume, which is particularly important in baking.
Some bacteria and mould need water to multiply. Sugar can slow their growth by holding on to water, thereby reducing their ‘water activity’. The right amount of sugar in a liquid product, such as jam, helps to preserve it.
Sugar lowers the freezing point of foods so they stay softer at lower temperatures. Sugar also creates a smoother texture for frozen products because it forms small ice crystals.
By attracting and binding water, sugar helps to keep foods moist and soft, slowing staleness.
Browning occurs when sugars and proteins react under the heat of cooking. Caramelisation occurs when different sugars react with each other when heated.
Sugar can give liquids more body or thickness, contributing to an appealing drinking experience.
Sugar helps create a gel-like texture when combined with pectin, a natural component of fruits. Too much or too little sugar and the sugar will crystallise or the consistency will be runny.