12 things you might not know about sugar

Public Health England (PHE) has urged parents to look for healthier snacks for children in a more direct stance to cut children’s sugar intake. Its new Change4Life campaign encourages parents to limit sugary snacks to no more than 100 calories, twice a day.

Here, Leatherhead Food Research’s experts have pulled together 12 interesting tidbits, some of which you may know, and some of which might come as a surprise!

  1. First things first. Sugar is highly multifunctional. In addition to its sweet taste, it lends structure to foods, helps produce the nice caramelised colouring in cakes and gives a crunch to biscuits. Sugar also helps to preserve foods, extending shelf life.
  2. Leatherhead’s recent nationwide consumer survey showed that nearly half (46%) of consumers would like to see less sugar in their foods & beverages, whilst a quarter (25%) indicated that they want more natural sweeteners in their foods (Leatherhead Food Research, November 2017, 1,900 UK consumers).
  3. Findings from Leatherhead’s consumer research suggests that parents tend to buy healthier food products for their children than they do for themselves.
  4. We are born with innate likes and dislikes; our sense of taste is the most developed sense at birth. Taste buds develop as early as eight weeks in gestation. At around 26-28 weeks in pregnancy, the foetus will show different facial expressions depending on the food the mother consumes!
  5. Sugar needs to be dissolved in saliva or foods in order to reach the taste buds on our tongue, palate and throat. During chewing, these taste molecules are released to our taste buds. Any sugar parts not released will be swallowed, without giving us that desirable sweet taste.
  6. Red colouring is associated with a sweet taste. However, did you know that this is culturally dependent? In Mexico yellow colours are associated with sweetness!
  7. Different odours, shapes and even sounds also have positive associations with sweet taste and may impact our perceptions. Vanilla and certain strawberry flavours, round shapes and high pitched sounds tend to give increased sweet tastes to foods & beverages!
  8. Different sugars have different relative sweetness levels and different temporal profiles. Measuring sensory perception during the consumption of a product is important to get a perfect sweet taste.
  9. Using Leatherhead’s science-based Blueprinting technique, we can start to better understand food & beverage products and the role of sugar within them. Creating a Blueprint makes our lives much easier when changing important ingredients, such as sugar, helping to reduce the number of iterations needed to produce a preferred reformulated product.
  10. Consumers expect a reduction in sugar content to deliver a reduction in calories. As sugar needs to be replaced with other ingredients in order to maintain the product’s structure and texture, simply reducing sugar might leave the calories unchanged or even increased. It is therefore important to consider how to reduce the calorific content when reformulating products.
  11. Healthy eating is part of a healthy lifestyle and comes back to the basics of calories in vs calories out. Consumers are looking for easy ways to eat healthily. When we asked consumers about foods & beverages they would like to be more readily available, 39% said they would like healthy products which make them feel full for longer, and 19% said they would like products containing key vitamins and minerals (Leatherhead Food Research, August 2016, 2,069 UK consumers). 46% of consumers have also incorporated foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and dairy into their diet because they think they think they will help improve their health (Leatherhead Food Research, August 2017, 2,104 UK consumers).
  12. Finally, replacing sugar in foods is complex. Considering all the functional properties that sugar brings to foods, as well as how much we like it, makes this process all the more difficult. Tailored approaches and good scientific understanding of the food is vital.
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