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What is Sucrose? - Function, Structure & Chemical Equation

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  • 0:00 What Is Sucrose?
  • 0:44 Sucrose the Chemical
  • 1:42 Where Does Sucrose Come From?
  • 2:46 Sucrose as Energy
  • 3:15 Sucrose and Health Risks
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Ellen Ellis
Sucrose is a type of sugar that is present in almost everything we eat. It is a natural compound and one that gives us valuable energy, but it can be harmful when over-consumed.

What is Sucrose?

Did you put sugar on your cereal this morning? Did you add it to your coffee or tea? Did you eat any packaged foods with added sugar? If you did any of these things you probably ate sucrose. Other, more common names for sucrose are table sugar, beet sugar, refined sugar, cane sugar, or just plain sugar.

Chemically speaking, sugar is a term for any short-chain, sweet-tasting carbohydrate. Sucrose is a disaccharide sugar, meaning it is made up of two monosaccharide sugar units. In the case of sucrose, the two units are glucose and fructose. The name sucrose comes from the French word for sugar: sucre. The suffix -ose is always used for sugars.

Sucrose the Chemical

Carbohydrates are biological molecules made up largely of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Monosaccharide sugars are rings of carbon, sometimes with an oxygen atom in the ring, with additional carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen branches. The molecular formula of sucrose is C12H22O11. The fructose and glucose rings are linked to each other by an oxygen atom.

As a solid, sucrose typically crystallizes. If you look at your table sugar closely, or with a magnifying glass, you will see that it looks like a lot of little crystals. If you have ever tried to melt sugar in a pan on the stove, you know that it burns easily. In chemistry we call this a combustion reaction. If you heat sucrose gently to the right temperature you will get caramel. Through a process called caramelization the sucrose breaks down and reforms different sugars giving you the distinct flavor and color of caramel.

Where Does Sucrose Come From?

Sucrose is a natural chemical found in plants, although it can also be synthesized in a lab. It is much easier and cheaper to extract it from plants than to make it from scratch. Sugarcane and sugar beets are the two plants that are used to make most sucrose, or refined table sugar. Hot water is used to extract sucrose. The extract can then be concentrated into syrup and then crystallized to make table sugar. Sugarcane grows and is used mostly in hot climates, while sugar beets grow in colder regions.

No one knows for sure who first figured out how to extract and refine sucrose, but it may have happened first in ancient India or China. We know for sure that South Asia and the Middle East had refined sugar before Europe did. It was expensive and sugar merchants were wealthy. Sucrose didn't become commonplace among Europeans or westerners until the 1700s when slave labor was used on huge sugar plantations in South America and the Caribbean. Today, sugar is inexpensive and we find it in many, many processed foods.

Sucrose as Energy

Sucrose is a nutrient that we consume for energy. It is a quick and easy source of energy, as it is quickly metabolized into fructose and glucose. When you eat sugar your blood glucose level spikes quickly and you get a surge of energy. But here's the thing. We don't actually need sucrose to survive. We can get glucose and energy from other sources, like complex carbohydrates, but sucrose can be useful when energy is needed quickly.

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