Sugar's key role in savory foods and food safety

Published online: May 13, 2014
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Sugar is of course an important component in many sweet treats and indulgences, but what some overlook is the significant role all-natural sugar (or sucrose) plays in other foods.
 
Sugar is used in foods not only because it provides sweet taste, but because it also provides essential functional properties required in food formulation, especially the microbiological safety required in today’s food supply.
 
In addition, numerous studies have confirmed that sugar makes many healthful foods palatable, which helps contribute to intakes of key vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain good health.
 
The American Heart Association acknowledged the important role of sugars in the diet, saying, “In fact, when sugars are added to otherwise nutrient rich foods, such as sugar-sweetened dairy products like flavored milk and yogurt and sugar-sweetened cereals, the quality of children’s and adolescents’ diets improved, and in the case of flavored milks, no adverse effects on weight status were found.”
 
Sugar is also used to make vegetables more appealing. When sautéing, sugar enhances browning and flavor development. When used as a glaze, it promotes tenderization.
 
Sugar increases the browning of meats, adds a depth of flavor to stew dishes featuring well-browned meat and balances the flavor of delicate fish, poultry and other meats in brine solutions.
 
As a preservative, sugar helps many foods last longer on the shelf. 
 
Sugar is an important component in many sauces and salad dressings, offsetting acids such as lemon or lime juice, tomato products and vinegars.
 
Clearly, the important consideration for healthy eating is not the sugar content of a food but the nutrient contribution of the food and having a healthy overall diet that does not exceed your caloric needs. Simply avoiding certain ingredients in foods will not assure nutrient rich diets or reduce caloric intakes. This was the lesson learned from the low-fat decade in the 1990s.
 
Studies show that sugar is uniquely satiating. The old saying, “a little bit goes a long way” certainly holds true for foods made with all-natural sugar.