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What is sucrose?

There are many different types of sugars, both natural and added, that are part of the foods we eat every day. One of the most common ingredients in many foods we consume is sucrose, or what many of us would call table sugar, plain sugar or cane sugar.

When scrutinising the different types of sugars our bodies absorb from the wide variety of foods available in our diets, it’s important to know how certain sugars are categorised and the differences between them.

What is sucrose?

Sucrose is a disaccharide. Disaccharides are made up of two monosaccharides, or single sugar units. The monosaccharides that make up sucrose are glucose and fructose. 

Sucrose = 1 glucose unit + 1 fructose unit

Where does sucrose come from?

Sucrose can be found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It is also extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets, which go through a milling and refining process to make the table sugar we are all familiar with and use to sweeten coffee, tea and other foods. This sugar is also widely used in commercial food production.

Most plants naturally contain sucrose, glucose and fructose. Some plants, like cane sugar and sugar beets have a much higher concentration of sucrose which is why they are commercially farmed to produce sucrose.  

Below are some examples of fruits and vegetables that naturally contain sucrose, as well as the grams of sucrose, fructose and glucose per 100 grams of edible portion.

Peach

4.8g sucrose
1.3g fructose
1.2g glucose

Orange

4.2g sucrose
2.1g fructose
1.9g glucose

Watermelon

2.6g sucrose
3.2g fructose
1.2g glucose

Mango

8.9g sucrose
3.4g fructose
0.6g glucose

Banana

0g sucrose
6.2g fructose
6.7g glucose

Carrot

4.1g sucrose
1g fructose
1.1g glucose

Sweet potato, baked

3.3g sucrose
1.5g fructose
2.1g glucose

(Data has been taken from the FSANZ Australian Food Composition Database)

It’s worth noting the sucrose you find in many food products is the same as the sucrose found in fruits and vegetables. Both have the same chemical composition and contain the same number of kilojoules per gram, which the body uses as a source of energy. 

For example, the sucrose found in strawberry flavoured yogurt is the same as the sucrose naturally found in strawberries. However, other elements found within foods that contain sucrose can alter the way our bodies absorb and use the sugar. 

Is there sucrose in other sweeteners? 

There are many sweeteners available on our supermarket shelves and used in a variety of commercially produced food products. Many of us use these sweeteners in place of sugar. However sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar and agave syrup contain a variety of sugars, including some sucrose. Low- or no-kilojoule sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and stevia do not contain sucrose or any other sugars.

Below are some sweeteners and the amount of sucrose, fructose and glucose per 100g. As a comparison, table sugar contains 100% sucrose.

Maple Syrup

77.6g sucrose
0.7g fructose
2.1g glucose

Honey

2.3g sucrose
58.1g fructose
47.5g glucose

Golden Syrup

38.7g sucrose
31.7g fructose
36.6g glucose

(Data has been taken from the FSANZ Australian Food Composition Database)

For more info on sweeteners, see Update on Alternative Dietary Sweeteners

How is sucrose digested in the body?

Take a look at our article Digestion, absorption and transport of carbohydrates which explains in detail how we digest sugars, including sucrose.

Is sucrose a natural sugar or an added sugar?

Sucrose can be a natural sugar, added sugar or both – it all depends on its source. For example, if you eat a tub of fruit salad, the sucrose naturally found in the fruit will be natural sugars. A chocolate chip cookie on the other hand has sugar added to it during the manufacturing process, so the sucrose here would be an added sugar. 

Ultimately if sucrose is found in a food naturally (as it is found in fruits and vegetables) this is classed as natural sugars. If sugar is added to a food or beverage in the manufacturing process, this is an example of added sugar. 

Why do we add sucrose to food and beverages?

Food manufacturers will add sugar as a sweetener to food, however sugar is also added to foods to provide other functions and sensory properties. For example, sugar acts as a preservative in jams and helps provide structure and mouth-feel to foods like cakes and breads. For more information on the different functions of sugar, see the fact sheet Why Is There Sugar In My Food?

 

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