7 June 2014

Sugar Rush

I eat a lot of sugar and it’s been figuring as a dietary demon in various things I’ve been watching and reading for a few years now. I’ve had a sweet tooth since I was a little kid, fuelled by the always reliable treat in the top drawer of a dresser in my grandma’s kitchen; crystallised in one of my few memories of early childhood when I made Russian caramels with her. Unlike many of my friends whose passion for alcohol has dulled their sweet tooth, mine remains keen.

What is sugar? Sugar is a very simple carbohydrate. Indeed, in biochemistry sugar and carbohydrate are synonyms. A carbohydrate is a large organic molecule composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Depending on how complex these carbohydrates are, they are referred to a monosaccharides (the simplest), disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (the most complex).

What we think of as sugars are actually the mono- and disaccharides. The more complex saccharides include things like starch or cellulose (which we think of as carbohydrates) and are both part of what we eat and what we are made of at a cellular level. This isn’t to say though, that simple sugars don’t also form a part of us. The D in DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic – in which the deoxyribose is a monosaccharide.

That’s a lot of syllables. Suffice to say sugars and carbohydrates are the same thing, and they aren’t just what you put in your coffee, they’re basic organic molecules that are absolutely everywhere.

But back to sugar:

- Glucose. You can buy it as a syrup from the supermarket. Plants make it via photosynthesis. It’s one of the three sugars that are absorbed directly into your blood stream during digestion. I like to add it to home-made icecream to make it smoother.
- Fructose. Known as fruit sugar, it is found in fruit, root vegetables, honey and maple syrup.

- Sucrose. Table sugar. It is a disaccharide formed when glucose and fructose link together. Also known as ‘white poison’ in more hysterical circles.
- Lactose. Formed from glucose and another monosaccharide known as galactose. It is the sugar in milk.
- Maltose. Formed by joining two glucose molecules. It is present in germinating seeds and 1950s milk-shakes.

- Smackose. The sugar you can’t stop thinking about. You try to ignore it with will power and clean living, then there’s a 2-for-1 special at the supermarket and you’ve suddenly downed a family block.
- Wankose. Seen increasingly at trendy cafes that don’t appreciate that if the coffee’s good you’ll have it black and unsweetened, but sometimes a latte with 2 sugars is nice… however not so much if their ‘raw organic Haitian cane sugar’ that looks more like dirty sand changes the flavour entirely.
- Chokose. Dusted over Greek pastries this can be easily inhaled by the novice, leading to rapid asphyxiation. Over 3,500 tourists die in Greece every year from inhaling chokose.  
- Artificial Sweeteners: you're eating them because you're fat, worried about the health effects of sugar, or both. Unfortunately sprinkling this shit on your cornflakes still leaves you a cancer-riddled pig at the end of the day.   

Bonus Level: My grandma Barbara Stebbings’s recipe for Russian Caramels: