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The Sound of Science - 'Sugar'

Hollie: Good afternoon, WNIJ listeners. Welcome to The Sound of Science. I’m Hollie.

Ann: And I’m Ann and we’re with NIU STEAM.

Hollie: Today we’re answering a question from our listener Beth G. Beth wants to know what other sugars exist besides table sugar?

Ann: This is a perfect question for the season and one I’m especially equipped to answer. I went to the store last night and had to buy, like eight different types of sugar for my holiday baking. I needed powder sugar for jelly-filled doughnuts, brown sugar for sweet potato pie, table sugar for sugar cookies, corn syrup for-

Hollie: Okay, I think people get the idea. There are a lot of sugars, but what’s the science behind them? Where do they come from? Are they all derived from table sugar?

Ann: I’m glad you asked. First, we’ve got to look at how we define sugar. At the most basic level, sugar is just a categorical name for sweet-tasting and soluble carbohydrates.

Hollie: Carbohydrates? Aren’t those bad for you?

Ann: Everything in moderation, Hollie.

Hollie: But back to sugar.

Ann: Right. Simple sugars are found in fruits, vegetables and legumes.  They are simple because they cannot be broken down into a smaller form.  Therefore, they are easy to absorb.  If two simple sugars are combined, they can form other sugars like lactose, maltose and sucrose. 

Hollie: Wait, sucrose? Isn’t that what table sugar is made out of?

Ann: Correct. Sucrose is a combination of the two simple sugars, fructose and glucose. Sucrose is extracted from either sugar cane or sugar beet and then refined. There are a lot of variables you can change during the refining process to create different kinds of sugar. For example, brown sugar is just table sugar with molasses added into the refining process. Powdered sugar is just table sugar ground to a dust-like consistency and mixed with cornstarch. You can create all kinds of sugar by tweaking the refining process.

Hollie: Well listeners, we hope this helped inform your holiday baking. If YOU have a question you’d like answered you can submit it by emailing us at niusteam@niu.edu.

Ann: Until next time listeners. This was the Sound of Science on WNIJ.

Hollie: Where you learn something new every day.

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