Taste is the most obvious quality that sugar brings to food and beverages, but it’s not the only one. From browning to baking to preservation, sugars contribute some important functional qualities, as well. When reducing sugar in a recipe, it’s important to consider those functionalities and when possible, take steps to compensate so you can achieve similar results.
- Sugar increases the volume of baked goods. As yeast consumes the sugar in a dough, it releases bubbles of carbon dioxide. These bubbles expand the dough, creating a more porous structure and a softer crumb.1
- Sugar helps preserve jams and jellies. At the right concentrations, sugar binds the water in food. With no water available to microorganisms, they starve; keeping the food fresh longer.1 To get similar results when reducing sugar, reduce pectin at a 1:1 ratio.
- Sugar lowers the freezing point of foods. When you reduce sugar in frozen desserts, ice crystal formation will be larger. To help maintain a smooth texture, try adding pectins, gelatins, or gums.1
- Sugar increases the setting temperature for baked egg custards. Reducing or omitting sugar won’t impact the firmness or texture of the custard, but it will change the way it sets while baking. When reducing sugar, instead of changing the cooking temperature, just reduce cooking time by 2-5 minutes.
- Sugar affects whipping time in meringues and sponges. Because sugar increases the time it takes to whip food, it’s best to whip to soft-peak stage, then add sugar. If reducing sugar by 50%, you can decrease whipping time by 25%.
- Sugar helps foods brown and crackle. The Maillard reaction between sugar and amino acids helps food brown, creating the perfect finish for everything from golden bread crust to the toasty baked meringue.Sugar can also help water evaporate on the surface of foods to produce crackle-top cookies.2
- Sugar enhances the mouthfeel of beverages. When dissolved in a liquid, sugar adds thickness and body, creating a pleasing texture and helping the flavour linger in the mouth.3 Reducing sugar in beverages may need to be implemented incrementally over time.
- Sugar retains moisture. Sugar enhances the flavour, moisture retention, and tenderness of baked goods. To maintain these qualities, balance reduced sugar with reduced amounts of fat, egg, and liquid, or substitute honey for some of the sugar.4
- DanSukker, Functional Properties of Sugar
- The Sugar Association, Why Sugar Is In Food.
- Berry, 2013
- Campbell, Penfield, Porter & Griswold, 1980