index search Medialibrary

Home > Food & health > Sugar's benefits > What does sugar mean ?

What does sugar mean ?

What does sugar mean ?

What does sugar mean ?

It's sometimes hard to find the right words for the tastes and flavours we experience. We enjoy sweet flavours from birth. This pleasure continues to develop as we grow older.

We can only perceive sweetness on one condition. There has to be a connection between a stimulus (the “ signal ” given by the food we are tasting) and a gustatory receptor (taste bud) on the tongue. The connection is made by the saliva.  But it’s not quite so simple...

But what makes it sweet ?

The “sweet sensation” contains many nuances. But a sweet taste does not necessarily indicate the presence of sucrose - sugar - as we understand it. Other carbohydrates, like lactose and fructose, also have this quality. Sweetness is said to be more or less intense.

The yardstick for measuring this intensity is sucrose (sugar), whose sweetening power is 1 (or 100 when comparing it with a foodstuff of equal or lesser sweetness).  Honey, for example, has the same sweetening power as sucrose, while glucose syrup has a less than half.

What about sweeteners ?

We must distinguish between bulk or polyol sweeteners whose sweetening power is similar to that of sucrose, and intense sweeteners like aspartame, with a sweetening power up to several tens of thousand times higher than sugar.

Defining the quality of sweetness

Sucrose is conventionally used as the yardstick. With sucrose, the sweet taste develops very quickly but does not linger long in the mouth.  This is not the case for all molecules with a sweetening power. In comparison, the flavour produced by intense sweeteners can be tainted with an after-taste that may be bitter, mentholated, metallic, astringent, or too lingering.  In order to make sweeteners more like sugar, manufacturers often mix them.

The perception of sweetness varies from person to person: one or two lumps of sugar in your coffee either means you like very sweet coffee or you have a low sugar perception threshold and need two sugars to enjoy the drink.

The notion of pleasure

The sensation of sweetness is inextricably bound up with pleasure, a feeling we experience as babies in the womb, and in the first hours of life. One explanation is that we associate the pleasure of sweetness with the calories it provides.

Beyond like/don't like

Specialists agree that our sense of taste needs to be educated, and the earlier the better. This learning stage is vital because it guides the choices we make about food throughout our lives.

That’s why Le Sucre launched its “taste lessons” in 1990, as part of Taste Week. Every year chefs, craftsmen and women and other food industry professionals visit schools to talk about taste and food and to encourage children to eat a balanced diet.  The many events held as part of this national initiative also provide adults with an opportunity to try new tastes and food combinations.