Sweetness Scale

Does a Sweetness Scale Exist?

Picture of some common Sweeteners

How Does Sweetness Compare?

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of people who come to this blog have been searching for a sugar sweetness scale. When I first saw this trend I was reminded of the Scoville scale used to rate peppers and hot sauces. I always wondered why there wasn’t something similar for sweetness.

Mainly, the answer is because the Scoville scale is very specific. It applies only to peppers (and hot sauces made with peppers). The spicy-ness of the pepper is measured by determining the amount of the chemical capsaicin present in the pepper.

When it comes to measuring sweetness, we are not usually specific. There are a lot of sweeteners available (both natural and artifical). A sweetness scale similar to the Scoville scale would measure only one type of sweetener in a particular type of food. For example, we could have an apple sweetness scale that measures the amount of fructose in different varieties of apples.

There are other problems with a standard sweetness measurement. For instance, having a single number for sweetness does not take into account interactions between sweeteners and other substances.

Despite the problems, lets look at what types of sweeteners are available, and how they compare for “sweetness”.

 

What Types of Sweeteners are Available?

The following list shows some of the most common sweeteners available commercially. Some sweeteners are available to home cooks while others are exclusively used in industrially processed foods.

Sugar Beet or Sugar Cane Products:

    • Dry granulated sugar

Also called sucrose, this is the table sugar most of us are familiar with. Sucrose is a disaccharide meaning it is composed of one molcule of glucose and on molecule of fructose.

    • Liquid sugar / sucrose

This is just the melted form of dry granulated sugar. It is generally composed of 66% to 68% sucrose and 34% to 32% water.

    • Invert liquid sugar

This sugar is made from sucrose by splitting the sucrose into glucose and fructose and then re-combining these component sugars. Invert sugar has a higher sweetness than ordinary sucrose.

Molasses is a byproduct of procesing sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. It contains roughly 30% sucrose, 12% glucose, and 12% fructose.

Light Molasses:

Light molasses is produced after the first boiling of the sugar cane or sugar beet. It is light in color and sweet in taste. Other names for light molasses include sweet, Barbados, first” or mild molasses.

Dark Molasses:

Dark molasses, results after the second boiling and more sugar is extracted. It is darker in color, thicker and less sweet.

Blackstrap Molasses:

Blackstrap molasses is the syrup produced after the third boiling. It is very thick and dark in colour, and has a bitter taste.

Sulphured Molasses:

Sulphur dioxide is sometimes added to molasses as a preservative because molasses will ferment. It changes the flavour, so molasses may be labelled sulphured or unsulphured.

Fancy Molasses:

Fancy molasses isn’t actually a by-product, but produced directly from the juice of the sugar cane. It is the lightest and sweetest of the different types of molasses.

Cooking Molasses:

Cooking molasses is a blend of fancy molasses and blackstrap molasses.

    • Brown, yellow, or golden sugar

This a fine-grain sugar (sucrose) covered with a thin layer of syrup, usually molasses.

Corn Products:

    • Corn syrup

Produced from the starch in corn, this type of syrup gets most of its sweetness from a high glucose content. Corn syrup is the only type of corn sugar sold in retail markets in North America.

    • Glucose (dextrose)

Glucose is the result of the complete breakdown of the starch in corn. In industry, glucose can also be referred to as corn syrup which can be confusing.

    • Corn syrup solids

These are basically dried forms of glucose syrup.

    • High fructose corn syrup

This is similar to invert sugar, but it does not have equal ratios of glucose and fructose. The fructose levels are higher so that a higher sweetness is obtained with less syrup.

    • Fructose

Fructose has the highest sweetness of any non-artifical commercial sweetener.

    • Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin doesn’t really have any sweetness, but it is often used commercially in combination with other sweeteners to help control sweetness.

Honey

Honey is mainly composed of fructose (appox. 38%) and glucose (approx. 31%). Chemically, it is similar to liquid invert sugar.

Maple Syrup

The sap from the maple tree is about 1% to 4% sucrose. After being boiled and concentrated, the resulting maple syrup is roughly 60% sucrose (with small amounts of fructose and glucose).

Agave Nector

Generally made from agave starch, the final product can contain 50% to 90% fructose.

Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame is an artifical sweetener discovered in 1965 and marketed under the brands NutraSweet, Equal and Sugar Twin.

This artificial sweetener is stable under heat and over a broad range of pH conditions, making it ideal for baking or products that require a longer shelf life. Sucralose is commonly sold under the brand names Splenda and Sukrana.

Saccharin has a bitter or metallic aftertaste, especially at high concentrations. It is used to sweeten products such as drinks, candies, cookies, medicines, and toothpaste. The Sweet’N Low brand contains saccharin.

How Do These Sweeteners Compare?

One standard approach is to take the sweetness of sucrose as our base, and then compare all other sweeteners to it. First, assign a value of 100 to the sweetness of sucrose. Now, let’s make a table:

Sweetener Sweetness Value
Suclarose 600
Saccharin 300
Fructose 150 – 170
Aspartame 160 – 200
Agave Nectar 140 – 160
Sucrose 100
High Fructose Corn Syrup 100
Brown Sugar 97
Honey 97
Glucose (Dextrose) 70 – 80
Molasses 70
Maple Syrup 60

So, this gives us a very rough sweetness scale. We can see that some things are sweeter than others and by how much.

How Useful is this Sweetness Scale?

Is this scale useful? Probably not. At least not to the ordinary person. If you want to increase or decrease the sweetness in a recipe, you cannot just substitute from the scale. There are many other factors to consider. Some sweeteners (Maple syrup, molasses, and honey) contribute unique flavours to a recipe. Some are more liquid than others, and some cannot stand the heat of cooking.

Final Thoughts

My list is by no means complete. There are dozens of natural and artificial sweeteners that have been left out. What are some of the sweeteners you like to use? Where do they fit on the scale?

Sources:

  1. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) – Food Ingredients
  2. Oregon State University – Food Resource
  3. Experimental Cookery From The Chemical And Physical Standpoint
  4. The Pastry Chef’s Apprentice
  5. Elmhurst College – Virtual ChemBook – Sweeteners

 

 

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Posted in Fun, Ingredients
6 comments on “Sweetness Scale
  1. That is helpful, although I would say sugars in general continue to be a confusing topic. For example, is agave healthful because it has a low glycemic index or is it harmful, as I’ve also heard, to add extra fructose to our diet? It seems like you can’t read and research enough. I think using moderation with any of the sweeteners we use may be the key. I use honey, maple syrup, Sucanat, agave, organic cane sugar, and some India Tree sugars.

    • Mark says:

      You’re right Mary, there is a lot of confusing and conflicting information when it comes to sweeteners. My current thoughts are that we should try to limit the amount of sweeteners we add to our food. I also try to avoid highly processed or artificial sweeteners.

      Note:
      For anybody that doesn’t know what sucanant is, it is a minimally refined form of cane sugar. The word Sucanat is a contraction of sugar cane natural and is a trademark of Ragusa Holdings Inc.

      • Just used coconut palm sugar for the first time tonight, substituting for white sugar in a recipe, and the recipe is not at all sweet enough! And I usually cut the sugar in my recipes a lot. Cruised back here to see if coconut palm sugar was on your relative sweetness list. As I said before, it’s really hard to keep up with this stuff! Coconut sugar has been promoted as being OK for diabetics, but there’s a disclaimer on the package for diabetics to not use it unless under the advice of their doctor.

  2. Yuval Klein says:

    Hi, we created a sweetens scale. You can find sweetens calculator here: http://valiber.com/calc.aspx

  3. John Scavdis says:

    The reason I am looking for a sweetness scale is to determine whether pound per pound, how does the sweetness in cane sugar compare to beet sugar? In making simple syrup, what is the ratio of sugar( cane or beet) to water to achieve the same sweetness and consistency?

    • Mark says:

      I don’t think cane or beet makes a difference. The sweetness will depend on how the sugar cane or beet is processed and what final product is produced.

      Both sugar cane and sugar beet are used to produce refined sugar (sucrose) and other products (such as molasses).

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