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Sugar, An Origin Story

By bfitch | April 19th, 2018

Sugar is essential for life on Earth. It can be found in nearly all food sources. What is it, where does it come from, and what is it used for. Most of us are familiar with granulated table sugar (sucrose). However, sugar encompasses a wide range of molecules.

One of the earliest science lessons we are all taught is the process of photosynthesis: where energy from the sun is used to combine water and carbon dioxide to yield food (sugars) and oxygen; two components that are vital for all life on Earth.

If you want to geek out on the chemistry behind photosynthesis, google “the Calvin Cycle” which describes the process that yields sugar and oxygen in great detail.

Think of photosynthesis as nature’s original solar cell, and sugars as nature’s molecular batteries. Many different simple sugars or monosaccharides are formed in photosynthesis. Monosaccharides are also called simple sugars or simple carbohydrates because they cannot be broken down further. The most important monosaccharide for all animal life is glucose as it is the primary source for energy in our cells. Plants use glucose for energy just as we do. However, plants typically produce excess glucose and other monosaccharides.

Through further reactions- plants combine monosaccharides to form larger entities called disaccharides and polysaccharides (e.g. sucrose and starches) that plants use to store energy and for structural integrity (cellulose)

Our next blog will cover more details about the most common types of sugars found in the human diet.