Sugar is the generalized name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. They arecarbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose andgalactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide. (In the body, sucrose hydrolyses into fructose and glucose.) Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. Longer chains of sugars are called oligosaccharides. Chemically-different substances may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. Some are used as lower-calorie food substitutes for sugar described as artificial sweeteners.

Sugars are found in the tissues of most plants, but are present in sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction only insugarcane and sugar beet.

Scientifically, sugar loosely refers to a number of carbohydrates, such as monosaccharides, disaccharides, oroligosaccharides. Monosaccharides are also called “simple sugars,” the most important being glucose. Almost all sugars have the formula CnH2nOn (n is between 3 and 7). Glucose has the molecular formula C6H12O6. The names of typical sugars end with –ose, as in “glucose” and “fructose“. Sometimes such words may also refer to any types of carbohydrates soluble in water. The acyclic mono- and disaccharides contain either aldehyde groups or ketone groups. These carbon-oxygen double bonds (C=O) are the reactive centers. All saccharides with more than one ring in their structure result from two or more monosaccharides joined by glycosidic bonds with the resultant loss of a molecule of water (H
) per bond.[30]

Monosaccharides in a closed-chain form can form glycosidic bonds with other monosaccharides, creating disaccharides (such as sucrose) and polysaccharides (such as starch). Enzymes must hydrolyze or otherwise break these glycosidic bonds before such compounds become metabolized. After digestion and absorption the principal monosaccharides present in the blood and internal tissues include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Many pentoses and hexoses can form ring structures. In these closed-chain forms, the aldehyde or ketone group remains non-free, so many of the reactions typical of these groups cannot occur. Glucose in solution exists mostly in the ring form at equilibrium, with less than 0.1% of the molecules in the open-chain form.[30]

Natural polymers of sugars

Biopolymers of sugars are common in nature. Through photosynthesis, plants produce glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate (G3P), a phosphated 3-carbon sugar that is used by the cell to make monosaccharides such as glucose (C
) or (as in cane and beet) sucrose (C
). Monosaccharides may be further converted into structural polysaccharides such as cellulose and pectin forcell wall construction or into energy reserves in the form of storage polysaccharides such as starch or inulin. Starch, consisting of two different polymers of glucose, is a readily degradable form of chemical energy stored by cells, and can be converted to other types of energy.[30] Another polymer of glucose is cellulose, which is a linear chain composed of several hundred or thousand glucose units. It is used by plants as a structural component in their cell walls. Humans can digest cellulose only to a very limited extent, thoughruminants can do so with the help of symbiotic bacteria in their gut.[31] DNA and RNA are built up of the monosaccharidesdeoxyribose and ribose, respectively. Deoxyribose has the formula C
and ribose the formula C


Sugars are organic substances that burn easily upon exposure to an open flame. Because of this, the handling of sugars presents a risk for dust explosion. The 2008 Georgia sugar refinery explosion, which resulted in 14 deaths, 40 injured, and more than half of the facility’s destruction, was caused by the ignition of sugar dust.

Magnification of grains of refined sucrose, the most common free sugar

Types of sugar


Fructose, galactose, and glucose are all simple sugars, monosaccharides, with the general formula C6H12O6. They have five hydroxyl groups (−OH) and a carbonyl group (C=O) and are cyclic when dissolved in water. They each exist as several isomers with dextro- and laevo-rotatory forms that cause polarized light to diverge to the right or the left.[33]

  • Fructose, or fruit sugar, occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey and is the sweetest of the sugars. It is one of the components of sucrose or table sugar. It is used as a high-fructose syrup, which is manufactured from hydrolyzed corn starch that has been processed to yield corn syrup, with enzymes then added to convert part of the glucose into fructose.[34]
  • In general, galactose does not occur in the free state but is a constituent with glucose of the disaccharide lactose or milk sugar. It is less sweet than glucose. It is a component of the antigens found on the surface of red blood cells that determine blood groups.[35]
  • Glucose, dextrose or grape sugar, occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices and is the primary product of photosynthesis. Most ingested carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion and it is the form of sugar that is transported around the bodies of animals in the bloodstream. It can be manufactured from starch by the addition of enzymes or in the presence of acids. Glucose syrup is a liquid form of glucose that is widely used in the manufacture of foodstuffs. It can be manufactured from starch by enzymatic hydrolysis.[36]


Lactose, maltose, and sucrose are all compound sugars, disaccharides, with the general formula C12H22O11. They are formed by the combination of two monosaccharide molecules with the exclusion of a molecule of water.[33]

  • Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk. A molecule of lactose is formed by the combination of a molecule of galactose with a molecule of glucose. It is broken down when consumed into its constituent parts by the enzyme lactase during digestion. Children have this enzyme but some adults no longer form it and they are unable to digest lactose.[37]
  • Maltose is formed during the germination of certain grains, the most notable being barley, which is converted into malt, the source of the sugar’s name. A molecule of maltose is formed by the combination of two molecules of glucose. It is less sweet than glucose, fructose or sucrose.[33] It is formed in the body during the digestion of starch by the enzymeamylase and is itself broken down during digestion by the enzyme maltase.[38]
  • Sucrose is found in the stems of sugarcane and roots of sugar beet. It also occurs naturally alongside fructose and glucose in other plants, in particular fruits and some roots such as carrots. The different proportions of sugars found in these foods determines the range of sweetness experienced when eating them.[33] A molecule of sucrose is formed by the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of fructose. After being eaten, sucrose is split into its constituent parts during digestion by a number of enzymes known as sucrases.[39]

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