Sweet as Sugar

I love candy, and I eat way too much of it now that swim team has started. After two hours of grueling laps, my carpool and I can inhale whole pound bags of gummy worms in a 15-20 minute ride! (I know, we’ve done this.) Each of the gummy worms, like the ones I ate tonight, as well as my friend’s bag of sour patch she polished off, were coated with white stuff. Was this sugar? And what is sugar anyway?

The sugar I’m talking about is sucrose, the white stuff we coat stuff with. It is a molecule made up of 12 atoms of carbon, 22 atoms of hydrogen, and 11 atoms of oxygen (C12H22O11).

Sugar is a carbohydrate, which explains why many swimmers may often dump whole pixie sticks in their mouth before a race. (Side note: I think that’s disgusting, but, hey, it makes sense!) My mom has said that their coach for swim team when she was younger (before pixie sticks), her coach used to make her eat raw jello-as in the mix.

Anyway, sugar is found naturally in plants, but more so in ones like beets or sugarcane. Sucrose is two sugars stuck together, fructose and glucose. And dry sugar allows you to clearly see the crystal structure of sugar. These are actually an arrangement of the molecules. Under a microscope, one article writes, “…you can see that sugar crystals aren’t cubes, exactly, but oblong and slanted at both ends.”

Mixing sugar and water together allows you to see the sugar crystals dissolve. However, eventually the sugar reaches its maximum, as it saturates the solution. Different temperatures can effect the saturation point. The higher temperatures hold more sugar within a solution. One site writes, “When you cook up a batch of candy, you cook sugar, water, and various other ingredients to extremely high temperatures. At these high temperatures, the sugar remains in solution, even though much of the water has boiled away. But when the candy is through cooking and begins to cool, there is more sugar in solution than is normally possible. The solution is said to be supersaturated with sugar.” Supersaturation is an unstable state. The molecules can begin to crystallize at the slightest motion, such as stirring or accidentally hitting it. However, some crystal forms are undesirable during candy formation.

According to one article, “The fact that sugar solidifies into crystals is extremely important in candy making. There are basically two categories of candies – crystalline (candies which contain crystals in their finished form, such as fudge and fondant), and noncrystalline, or amorphous (candies which do not contain crystals, such as lollipops, taffy, and caramels).” There are special ingredients and ways to make noncrystalline candy to prevent sugar crystals. To prevent crystallization, you need something acting as a barrier so the molecules can’t bond. One way is using other sugars, corn syrup, or fats. One site used the analogy with Legos: Crystals form something like Legos locking together, except that instead of Lego pieces, there are molecules. If some of the molecules are a different size and shape, they won’t fit together, and a crystal doesn’t form.” You can also invert the sugar, so to speak, by adding acids like lemon juice or cream of tartar. This causes the sugar to break down!

Sugar is really important, as all plants use glucose to get energy and many animals like bees, which make honey, and bears, which eat honey, rely on sugar to survive. Even we need sugar! For more information, check it the link below!

Link:
http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/sugar.html

So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!

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