Does a Sweetness Scale Exist?
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.
- Brown, yellow, or golden sugar
This a fine-grain sugar (sucrose) covered with a thin layer of syrup, usually molasses.
- 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 has the highest sweetness of any non-artifical commercial sweetener.
Maltodextrin doesn’t really have any sweetness, but it is often used commercially in combination with other sweeteners to help control sweetness.
Honey is mainly composed of fructose (appox. 38%) and glucose (approx. 31%). Chemically, it is similar to liquid invert sugar.
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).
Generally made from agave starch, the final product can contain 50% to 90% fructose.
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. Suclarose is commonly sold under the brand names Splenda and Sukrana.
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:
|Fructose||150 – 170|
|Aspartame||160 – 200|
|Agave Nectar||140 – 160|
|High Fructose Corn Syrup||100|
|Glucose (Dextrose)||70 – 80|
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.
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?
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) – Food Ingredients
- Oregon State University – Food Resource
- Experimental Cookery From The Chemical And Physical Standpoint
- The Pastry Chef’s Apprentice
- Elmhurst College – Virtual ChemBook – Sweeteners