Food Labeling and the Many Names of Sugar

Times Staff Writer

Question: I recently found out that I am diabetic, so now I read all the ingredient labels on foods to see if they contain sugar.

Some names are obvious, like sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, etc. But there are more that are harder to figure out. I wondered if you could print a list of the various names and forms of sugar that we would find in food.

Answer: The following information is excerpted from a scientific status summary by the Institute of Food Technologists Expert Panel on Food Safety and Nutrition and a fact sheet from the Sugar Assn.:

Any sweetener that provides calories is considered a nutritive sweetener. Sugars, syrups, molasses, sugar alcohols and honey are therefore all classified as nutritive sweeteners.

All carbohydrates, whether sugar, starch or fiber, must be broken down into molecules of simple sugar before they can be utilized in the body. The two most common simple sugars are glucose and fructose.

GLUCOSE is also known as dextrose. It is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables.

FRUCTOSE, also called levulose or fruit sugar, is the sweetest of all the sugars and is generally found in foods such as fruits and honey.

SUCROSE, the common sugar for household and industrial use, is composed of the previous two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, chemically bound together. Granulated sugar is about 99.9% pure sucrose.

RAW SUGAR is an intermediate product of sucrose production. Raw sugar crystals are covered with a film of syrup containing impurities.

TURBINADO SUGAR is raw sugar that has been further refined to remove the impurities.

MOLASSES is the dark-colored liquid produced in the refining of sugar. Molasses syrup contains 50% to 75% sucrose. Blackstrap molasses is a byproduct of the final molasses crystallization step.

BROWN SUGAR consists of sucrose crystals covered with a film of molasses syrup that gives the characteristic color and flavor. The sucrose content varies from 91% to 96%.

POWDERED OR CONFECTIONER'S SUGAR is another form of sucrose made by grinding the sugar crystals. It is usually mixed with about 3% starch to prevent clumping.

LACTOSE, or milk sugar, is composed of the simple sugars glucose and galactose. It is contained in mammalian milk. Compared to sucrose sugar, it is only slightly sweet and markedly less soluble in water.

MALTOSE, or malt sugar, is a product of the fermentation of starches by enzymes or yeast. Maltose is also formed by yeast during bread making.

HONEY is a natural syrup made from plants by honeybees. It may vary in composition and flavor depending on the plant source from which the nectar was collected, the amount of processing and the length of storage. The principal sugars contained in honey are fructose and glucose.

MAPLE SYRUP is derived from the spring flow of the sap of mature sugar maples. It is composed almost entirely of sucrose.

CORN SYRUP is derived from corn starch. It is composed of molecules of different glucose chain lengths. It is less sweet than sucrose.

HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (HFCS) is made by a process that converts glucose, derived from corn starch, to fructose. It may be made with a composition of from 40% to 100% fructose. Since fructose has a higher perceived sweetness than sucrose, HFCS in food products allows a reduction in the quantity of sweetener used and allows for a lower-calorie product.

SUGAR ALCOHOLS are sweetener substitutes that, except for xylitol, occur naturally in fruits. Sorbitol, mannitol and maltitol are considered less sweet than sucrose. Xylitol has the same sweetness as sucrose and is obtained from xylan found in wood pulp, chips, nutshells, cane sugar bagasse, straw or corncobs.

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