Sugar and sugar rich foods are now among the most popular and widely consumed foods in the world. From corn syrup, raw sugar, refined sugar, or sweeteners its hard to pick something off the shelf in a grocery store and not find some type of sugar in it. Humans have developed a natural sweet tooth that stems from our first taste, breast milk. We constantly crave and love the sweet flavor that sugar adds to so much of what we eat and drink.
There are four main types of sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose. Glucose is a simple sugar and the most common sugar from which living cells directly extract chemical energy. Glucose is the starting point for one of the most important reaction in humans, glycolysis. Lactose is the main sugar found in milk. However most sugar found on tables is actually sucrose.
In Class this week we looked at some of the chemical structures of sugar and how they change. We then decided to experiment through the process of making caramel. To start, sugar was placed in a pot and was slowly heated while constantly stirring. There are two main ways of making caramel, a dry method and a wet method. In the dry method, solid sugar is placed in the pan and heated until the sugar molecules start breaking apart.
In the wet method, sugar is dissolved in enough water to look like a white mud and then heated. The water acts as a buffer that allows the pot to be heated at high temperatures without burning the sugar.
As the heat rises, the sugar will begin to burn, right before this moment, is when you want to add the cream.
The color of the sugar comes from the break down of sucrose and the production of hundreds of new and different compounds that also give the caramel bitter and sweet tastes. Cooked to long and the sugar will burn and become very bitter.. This caramelization reaction is not a form of a Maillard reaction which we discussed and saw in our chicken fat cooking.
Overall, it was a great first week. From eating chicken feather to tasting salted caramel with a little pot* in it, the chemistry of food is exciting and never ending. More to come soon.