What sucrose is used for?

Sucrose, also known as table sugar, is a common disaccharide used in many foods, beverages, and other products. Sucrose is composed of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule bonded together. It is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets and refined to produce the white, granulated sugar that is commonly used. Sucrose has many uses and applications across various industries due to its sweet taste, solubility, and chemical properties.

Uses of Sucrose

Here are some of the main uses of sucrose:

  • Sweetening agent – Sucrose is most commonly used as a sweetener in foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals, and other products. It enhances flavor and palatability.
  • Preservative – The high sugar content created by adding sucrose can act as a preservative by binding water molecules. This helps prevent spoilage and bacterial growth.
  • Texture and bulk agent – Sucrose alters texture, adds bulk, and affects mouthfeel in many foods. It can help improve the overall enjoyment of a product.
  • Fermentation substrate – Yeasts use sucrose as an energy source during fermentation processes involved in making alcohol, bread, etc.
  • Formula thickener – Sucrose increases the osmolarity and viscosity of infant formula to make it similar to breastmilk.
  • Curing agent – Sucrose is sometimes used as part of curing processes to preserve meats like ham or bacon.
  • Anti-caking agent – Granulated sucrose can be dusted on surfaces to prevent powdered ingredients from clumping.
  • Stabilizer and emulsifier – Sucrose interacts with proteins and fats to help stabilize and emulsify food products.

These are some of the major ways that sucrose is utilized across food, beverage, pharmaceutical, and other manufacturing. Its sweetness, solubility, and textural effects make it a very versatile ingredient.

Sucrose in Foods

Sucrose is very commonly added to a wide variety of foods to sweeten them or alter their overall quality. Some examples of foods that contain added sucrose include:

  • Baked goods – cakes, cookies, pies, pastries
  • Candy and chocolate
  • Ice cream and sorbets
  • Jams, jellies, and fruit spreads
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Snack foods like granola bars
  • Beverages like fruit juices, soda, and sweet tea
  • Canned fruits packed in syrup
  • Condiments like ketchup, barbeque sauce, salad dressings
  • Frozen desserts and novelties
  • Yogurt
  • Some bread products

Sucrose imparts a sweet flavor, helps maintain moisture, and changes texture in many processed and pre-packaged food items. The amount added depends on the specific product. Some foods rely heavily on sucrose as a major ingredient, while in others it may be present in smaller amounts to fine tune sweetness and texture.

Baked Goods

Sucrose is a fundamental ingredient in most baked goods. It performs several important functions:

  • Sweetens the product, which is necessary for enjoyment of items like cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Helps impart tenderness, softness, and moistness
  • Enhances color and accelerates browning through Maillard reactions
  • Provides bulk and structure when creamed with solid fats like butter or shortening
  • Helps retain moisture, which gives a soft texture and delays staling
  • Provides food for yeast, which produces carbon dioxide to leaven baked goods

The quantity of sucrose added to baked goods depends on the specific item. Breads may have 1-5% by weight, while high-sugar products like cookies can have over 25% sucrose content. It is a core component of nearly all baked items.


Sucrose is also widely used in both hot and cold beverages to provide sweetness:

  • Sodas – 10-12% sucrose is typical in cola and other soft drinks
  • Fruit juices – sucrose balances natural tartness
  • Sweetened iced teas – sucrose enhances flavor
  • Coffee and tea – sucrose balances bitterness when added by consumers
  • Alcoholic drinks like cocktails – sucrose sweetens and rounds out flavors
  • Powdered drink mixes – sucrose is added for sweetening upon reconstitution

The precise quantities used depend on the type of beverage and desired sweetness level. But sucrose often makes up a significant portion of a beverage’s overall solids.

Dairy Products

Sucrose has applications in dairy products as well:

  • Ice cream – 8-12% sucrose is standard in ice cream. It lowers freezing point for smoother texture and enhances sweetness.
  • Yogurt – sucrose balances tartness of lactic acid and complements fruit flavors added to yogurt.
  • Sweetened condensed milk – sucrose content increased to 45% makes condensed milk thick, viscous, and shelf-stable.
  • Custard and pudding – sucrose gives these desserts body and sweet flavor.

Sucrose makes dairy foods tastier while also altering their properties in important ways. It is added both by manufacturers and consumers in products like sweetened milk or coffee creamers.


Sucrose is the defining ingredient in many types of candies and chocolates. Typical usage levels include:

  • Jelly candies – 67-80% sucrose
  • Hard candies – 80-90% sucrose
  • Fondants and fudge – 55-64% sucrose
  • Chocolates – around 50% sucrose
  • Candied fruit – coated with concentrated sucrose syrup

The ultra-high sucrose concentrations lead to the smooth, glassy textures of hard candies and chocolate. It also prevents crystallization in fondants and fudge. Sucrose is a candy-making staple.

Processed and Cured Meats

Sucrose and sucrose syrups have minor uses in certain processed and cured meats:

  • Ham and bacon – small amounts of sucrose added to curing process
  • Sausages – sucrose provides some flavor and texture
  • Canned meats – sucrose helps stabilize color and texture

It is not a major component but sucrose can contribute to the overall quality of some processed meats. It balances salty flavors and provides subtle sweetness.

Sucrose in Non-Food Products

Besides its predominant use in foods, sucrose has some applications in non-edible products as well:

  • Pharmaceutical tablets – sucrose provides quick-dissolving, pleasant-tasting coatings
  • Toothpaste – sucrose gives a smooth texture and sweetness to promote regular brushing
  • Cosmetics – an emollient and skin conditioning agent
  • Tobacco products – enhances flavor
  • Paper production – invertase used to break down sucrose provides food for bacteria in paper wastewater treatment
  • Lab cultures – sucrose supplies nutrition for growth of bacteria, yeasts, and cell cultures
  • Explosives manufacture – source of carbon for making smokeless gunpowder

Even outside of food, sucrose offers properties that are useful in formulating various products and materials. The presence of sucrose improves the enjoyment and performance of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other everyday items.

Sucrose Production

The vast majority of sucrose is produced from either sugarcane or sugar beets. Here is an overview of sucrose production from these two plant sources:


  • Sugarcane varieties are cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions, needing lots of sun and water to grow.
  • The sugarcane plant accumulates high concentrations of sucrose in its stalks.
  • Harvested cane goes to a mill where rollers crush and extract the juice.
  • Lime or other chemicals clarify the juice by precipitating out impurities.
  • Evaporators concentrate the juice into syrup, which crystallizes upon further boiling and evaporation.
  • Centrifuges spin the mass to separate raw sugar crystals from molasses.
  • The crystals are refined through repeated melting, clarification and recrystallization to produce pure sucrose.

Sugarcane accounts for about 80% of global sucrose production. Brazil, India, Thailand, and other warm locales are major sugarcane producers.

Sugar Beets

  • Sugar beet varieties high in sucrose are grown as an annual crop in more temperate regions.
  • Mature beet roots are harvested and transported to factories for processing.
  • Beets are washed, sliced, and leached in hot water to extract sucrose juice.
  • The raw juice is purified via liming, carbonation, and filtration.
  • Evaporation and crystallization steps are similar to cane sugar refining.
  • Crystals are separated from molasses and dried down to finished sucrose.

Sugar beet processing accounts for 20% of global sucrose production. Major growing regions include the U.S., Russia, and European nations.

Crop Major Producers Processing
Sugarcane Brazil, India, Thailand, China Crush cane, extract juice, evaporate, crystallize, refine
Sugar Beets U.S., France, Germany, Russia Leach sucrose from sliced beets, evaporate juice, crystallize

The table above shows the major production differences between sugarcane and sugar beets as sucrose sources. Regardless of the starting plant, manufacturing ultimately relies on evaporation and crystallization to isolate pure sucrose.

Sucrose as an Ingredient

Sucrose offers many useful properties as an ingredient:

  • Sweetness – The primary role of sucrose is contributing a sweet taste. It has a relative sweetness value of 1.0 compared to other sugars and sweeteners.
  • Solubility – Sucrose readily dissolves in water up to 2 kg per liter at room temperature. This aids quick delivery of sweetness.
  • Mouthfeel – Sucrose enhances texture, viscosity, and smoothness on the tongue.
  • Preservation – The high osmotic pressure created by sucrose inhibits microbial growth and water activity.
  • Fermentability – Yeasts can readily metabolize sucrose during fermentation processes.
  • Color enhancement – Caramelization and Maillard reactions promoted by sucrose lead to enhanced browning.
  • Crystallization prevention – Sucrose helps inhibit grainy texture and crystallization in products like candy and chocolate.

These characteristics make sucrose an extremely useful and versatile ingredient across many applications. Both professional and home bakers, cooks, and confectioners rely extensively on sucrose to make quality products.

Sucrose Consumption Trends

Global sucrose consumption has steadily increased for decades but is facing some recent declines:

  • 1970s – Global sucrose intake around 15 kg per person annually
  • 1980s – Growth to over 20 kg per person annually, especially in developed countries
  • 2000s – Further growth, peaking around 35 kg per person annually in some nations
  • 2010s – Possible declines to under 30 kg per person annually, driven by health trends

Developing countries are increasing consumption as incomes rise and processed foods become more available. But health concerns over obesity and diabetes are driving reduction efforts in some developed countries.

Trends Driving Increased Sucrose Consumption

  • Urbanization and rising incomes in developing countries
  • Greater availability and affordability of processed foods
  • Marketing campaigns by food and beverage companies
  • Taste preferences for sweet flavors

Trends Reducing Sucrose Consumption

  • Health concerns over obesity, diabetes, and other disorders
  • Government policies like soda taxes or awareness campaigns
  • Industry initiatives offering low-sugar product alternatives
  • Increased consumer interest in healthy lifestyles

Public health initiatives to lower sugar intake could stabilize or decrease sucrose consumption in the coming decades. But growth in emerging economies may balance declines elsewhere.

Sucrose Substitutes and Replacements

There are both nutritive and non-nutritive replacements available for sucrose in products:

  • Fructose – Nearly as sweet but processed differently than sucrose. Used in specialty products.
  • Glucose syrup – Provides bulk and texture with mild sweetness.
  • Fruit juice concentrates – Offer slight reductions in sweetness but similar flavors.
  • Aspartame – An artificial sweetener around 200 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Sucralose – Non-caloric artificial sweetener 600 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Stevia – Extracted from stevia leaf. Up to 400 times sweeter than sucrose.

Product developers can select alternative sweeteners to achieve desired taste, texture, shelf life, cost and nutritional goals. But sucrose still provides unique benefits that make it suitable for many applications.


Sucrose is a versatile disaccharide sugar offering many functional properties beyond just sweetness. Its solubility, crystallization control, and fermentability enable the production of diverse foods and beverages. Sucrose also has minor uses in non-food applications. Global consumption has risen dramatically but may be declining in some nations due to anti-obesity efforts. Still, sucrose remains a fundamental ingredient across both industry and home kitchens.

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