A walk through the world of sweeteners.
With “asúcarrr” begins the famous song by Celia Cruz Laugh and cry. A complete declaration of intent that connects us with the warmth, flavor and joy that we usually associate with this product.
Sugar is the common name given to sucrose, the most common sweetener and standard of basic sweet taste. Sweetener would be the common word to refer to products that confer a sweet taste. In kitchens and the food industry, on the other hand, they talk about sweetener. And when a doctor tells a diabetic that he “has sugar” in his blood and therefore should not take sugar in his diet, he uses the same term in two different senses. In the first case it refers to glucose; in the second, to sucrose. For the chemist, a sugar is a carbohydrate with a short chain or few carbon atoms. The best known are glucose, with 6 carbon atoms (C6), called dextrose in gastronomy; fructose (C6), lactose (C12) and the aforementioned sucrose (C12).
Antoni Riera Melis, a professor at the University of Barcelona and an expert in the social and cultural history of food, explains that sugar was initially obtained from sugar cane, which is native to Southeast Asia, Indonesia and India, and that during the first millennium before Christ it spread to China. In the 8th century, the Muslims introduced it to the Maghreb and Al-Andalus, and later to Sicily. Its use was initially pharmaceutical and later culinary, although restricted to the upper classes. In the 13th century it spread among the popular classes thanks to the increase in its production and the reduction in price. It then replaced honey in Muslim cooking and pastry.
Currently, cane or beet sugar is the world’s main sweetener from agriculture. It comes in multiple variants: white, brown, muscovado, panela, demerara or molasses. They all correspond to more or less purified sucrose and have an energy value of about 4 kcal per gram.
However, the word sweetener is popularly associated with other products outside the field of carbohydrates and which are classified into two radically different types: polyols, which provide energy but less than sugar, and intensive ones, which are practically non-caloric .
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