Sugar: Interactions and Functions In Baking

In baking, sugar is an essential ingredient. It gives everything a sweet taste. It also serves a variety of other purposes. Different baked goods can benefit from it in several ways, including stabilizing, adding texture, acting as a leavening, and affecting their flavor. Let’s take a look at the interactions of sugar with the main ingredients in baked products, as well as the various functions that sugar plays in baking today.

Table of Contents

Sugar is a soluble carbohydrate, they provide a source of energy. Regular sugar is the disaccharide sucrose, which is composed of glucose and fructose. Simple sugars, are the simplest form of sugar also called Monosaccharides.

In the baking industry, it enhances sweetness, flavor, and fermentation. It is an essential component that improves the final product’s quality.

white sugar inside a wooden bowl


CarbohydrateOrigin / source
Monosaccharides (simple sugars)FructoseOccurs naturally in fruits, cane sugar and honey.
GalactoseFound in dairy products, avocados, sugar beets, other gums and mucilage.
GlucoseOccurs naturally in fruits and plant juices.
Disaccharides (compound sugars) LactoseNaturally occurring sugar found in milk.
MaltoseFormed during the germination of certain grains.
SucroseFound in sugarcane and root of sugar beets.

Sugar Composition in Food

This table describes the sugar composition of various foods. [5]

Compound (g/100 g)

ItemTotal sugars SucroseGlucoseFructose
Sugars, brown
Sugars, granulated 99.899.8
Syrup, maple59.958.90.70.3


These forms of sugar can be used in bakery:

Liquid forms Dry (powder forms)
Liquid sucrose Crystalline glucose
Invert sugar syrup Granular sucrose
Maple syrup Brown sugar
Glucose or corn syrup Lactose

Interaction Of Sugar With Bakery Ingredients

Sugar enhances the flavor as well as contributes to the technological properties of bakery products, such as their structure, mouthfeel, elasticity, color, and shelf life. Baking involves sugar interacting with ingredients such as water, starch, protein, yeast, and fat.[6]

Sugar and Water

It is known that sugar has a high affinity to water. Therefore, sugar molecules are immediately bonded to water by hydrogen bonds. Products high in sugar will experience a decrease in water activity. By reducing water activity, you create an environment that inhibits bacterial growth.

Sugar also affects the thermodynamic properties of water. Sugar increases the boiling point and lowers the freezing point of water. Additionally, adding sugar to water changes its consistency and increases its viscosity.[7]

Sugar and Starch

During the pasting process, starch granules require water to swell, and then gelatinize. In the cooking or baking process, starch gelatinization is the stage where starch granules swell and absorb water, becoming functional. Sugar in starch solutions decreases starch hydration and swelling. Therefore, higher temperatures are required to gelatinize the starch. [7]

Sugar and Protein (Gluten)

The protein content of wheat flour ranges from 8-13.5%, including glycoprotein, globulin, gliadin, glutenin, and albumin. Hydration of proteins causes gliadin and glutenin to aggregate into gluten. In bakery products, gluten is one of the most structurally important ingredients.

We have already mentioned that sugar has a very high affinity for water. Sugar competes with macromolecules such as starch and proteins for water. With sugar added, the gluten network develops slowly and the protein network weakens, due to less freely available water, leading to a soft texture that is typical of sweet baked goods, such as cake.[8]

Sugar and Yeast

Sweet bakery products are usually leavened with leavening agents, such as sodium bicarbonate, ammonium bicarbonate, or baking powder. The rising of some sweet baked goods is achieved with yeast. A dough fermentation occurs anaerobically when the yeast metabolizes fermentable sugars to CO2 and ethanol.

Glucose as a substrate can be added in the form of sucrose. Most sweet yeast-leavened baked goods contain 5-20% sugar. These high levels of sugar inhibit yeast activity. As a result of inhibited yeast activity, less CO2 is produced, which affects the texture and smell of the final product. Burger buns and brioche buns are characterized by their dense crumb structure, which is achieved by limiting yeast activity.[8]

Sugar and Fat

It has already been discussed that sugar interferes with the structure formation of starch and proteins. Interestingly, fat and sugar have the same effect on starch and gluten. Protein molecules and starch granules are protected by hydrophobic interactions, which inhibit the hydrolysis of starch and protein by water.

In the presence of high amounts of sugar, fat also coats sugar particles and prevents them from dissolving in water. Additionally, sugar can enhance emulsification by forming linkages with lipids, especially in low moisture products, such as biscuits.[9]

Function of Sugar in Baking

Sugar (sucrose) is best known as an ingredient that provides sweetness to foods. However, sugar does have many functional properties and contributes to the taste and composition of foods.[6]


Sugar adds sweetness, and balances acidic and bitter flavors.

Moisture Is Retained by Sugar

Maintains softness and moistness in baked goods. Because sugar bonds with water, it helps preserve moisture, keeping items like cakes and other sweet baked goods from drying out too quickly.[7]

Creaming / Tenderizing Agent

Sugar inhibits the activity of yeast, as we’ve already mentioned. Yeast activity is inhibited, resulting in less CO2, which affects the final flavor and texture. Bread such as brioche and hamburger buns have a dense crumb structure that is achieved by limiting the yeast activity.[8]

Color and Flavor

During baking, when temperatures reach between 80°C and 140°C. Sugar reacts with amino acids, proteins, and peptides in a process known as the Maillard reaction, causing baked goods to brown and develop flavors. There are several factors that affect the Maillard reaction, including pH, type and concentration of free amino acids and sugars, temperature, buffer presence, and water activity.[10]

sponge cake cut into pieces

Increases Shelf Life

Water molecules are bonded to sugar molecules by hydrogen bonds. The effect of this is to reduce water activity, which inhibits bacteria’s growth, thus extending the shelf life of the product.[7]

Foaming Agent

Egg white foam is stabilized with sugar because sugar bonds with water molecules and prevents them from escaping as water vapor. Delaying the evaporation of water from the foam helps keep the foam stable.[11]

whipping egg white with electric whisk


  1. “OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2020–2029” (PDF). FAO. 2019.
  2. “Guideline: Sugar intake for adults and children” (PDF). Geneva: World Health Organization. 2015.
  3. “The Origins of Sugar from Beet”EUFIC. 3 July.
  4. Mariotti, M., and Lucisano, M. “Sugar and Sweeteners.” Bakery Products Science and Technology, 2nd Edition.
  5. USDA/ARS2011. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: release 27.
  6. Sahin, A. W. ; Axel, C. ; Arendt, E. K.”Understanding the function of sugar in burger buns: a fundamental study“.
  7. Cauvain, S. P., & Young, L. S. (2006a). Baked Products Science, Technology and Practice.
  8. Wilderjans, E., Luyts, A., Brijs, K., & Delcour, J. a. (2013). Ingredient functionality in batter type cake making. Trends in Food Science & Technology.
  9. Ghotra, B. S., Dyal, S. D., & Narine, S. S. (2002). Lipid shortenings: A review. Food Research International, 35(10), 1015–1048.
  10. Sara I.F.S. Martins*, Wim M.F. Jongen and Martinus A.J.S. van Boekel. A review of Maillard reaction in food and implications to kinetic modelling.
  11. Roger A. Clemens,Julie M. Jones,Mark Kern,S. Lee,Emily J. Mayhew,Joanne L. Slavin,S. Zivanovic. Functionality of Sugars in Foods and Health 2006.

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