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Carbohydrates are biomolecules consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, usually with a hydrogen to oxygen atom ratio of 2:1. The term is most common in biochemistry where it is a synonym of “saccharide”, a group that includes sugars, starch and cellulose.
The saccharides are divided into four chemical groups: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. The word saccharide comes from the greek word “Sakkharon” meaning sugar.
Monosaccharides includes fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (starch sugar), Disaccharides includes sucrose (cane or beet sugar) and lactose (milk sugar), Polysaccharides are starch, cellulose, chitin and glycogen.
Carbohydrates are found in wide varieties of natural and processed foods. Starch is a polysaccharide and it is abundant in cereals, potatoes, and processed food based on cereal flour such as bread, pizza, or pasta.
Sugars appear in human diet mainly as table sugar (sucrose extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets). Glucose and fructose both of which occur naturally in honey, many fruits and some vegetables. Table sugar, milk, honey are often added to drinks and many prepared foods such as jam, biscuits and cakes.
There are usually some problems associated with sugar affiliated industries, the food and beverage industry face challenges of the “The Anti-sugar movement”, there are movements against high sugar intake due to the fact that studies has shown that high sugar intake which offers high caloric values are associated with high risk of type 2 diabetes and weight gain which could result in obesity, with this movement against high sugar intake, more consumers are turning away from foods that are high in sugar, particularly soft drinks (soda). This poses a big challenge for manufacturers in that most health conscious consumers still want sweet products but don’t want to see “sugar” on the label.
Another problem associated with sugar affiliated industries most especially in the food and beverage industry is that of high cost of production. Nigeria imports about 80% of her raw sugar requirement in spite of favorable climate for sugarcane cultivation. This automatically bring about an increase in production cost because firms in Nigeria have to import raw sugars for use as ingredients.
Nowadays value-added foods and beverages, such as those with vitamins and minerals, are having more demands as consumers look for more than just sweet taste when making purchasing decisions. This has a cost implication for the food and drink manufacturers.
Also, unstable power supply, inefficient technology and heavy excise duty result in high cost of manufacturing. The production cost of sugar in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world.
There are also problems associated with sugar milling or sugar refining industry, one major problem this industry face is that of low yield of sugar cane. Commercial sugarcane cultivation in Nigeria is almost negligible due to poor infrastructure and incentives to encourage cultivation. This leads to short supply of sugarcane to the sugar mills.
Another problem this industry encounter is that of small size of sugar mills, Most of the sugar mills in Nigeria are of small size, therefore this makes large scale production uneconomic. Dangote sugar mill is the only prominent firm in the industry. Many other mills are economically not viable.
Also, these industries are challenged with short crushing season, manufacturing of sugar is a seasonal phenomena with a short crushing season varying between from 4 to 7 months in a year. The mills and its workers remain idle during the remaining period of the year, thus creating financial problems for the industry as a whole.
Although sugar affiliated industries are usually faced with these challenges, Sugar remains a versatile and irreplaceable functional ingredient in food industry and many other industries. The versatile industrial uses of sugars cannot be over emphasized.
Industries are able to modify sugar mostly starch called modified starch product, which are very beneficial with lot of uses. A modiﬁed starch product is prepared by physically or chemically treating starch to change its properties for a desired purpose. Examples include Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate (HSH) from corn, wheat or potato and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from corn starch (Saboonchi et al., 2021).
These High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) are used industrially for a lot of things, they are used in the beverage producing industries, also in the candy and jam industries. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) are used to sweeten soft drinks and chocolate beverages (e.g. Ovaltine). High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) browns bakery products better (e.g. bread), apart from sweetening them (Saboonchi et al., 2021).
Aside from HFCS and HSH as modified starch products, there are other modified starch uses, which include acting as an emulsifier. Modified starches act as emulsiﬁers in industries that make food emulsions (especially water-in-oil food emulsions) e.g. margarine (McClements, 2015).
Modified starch are also used as food thickeners, in fast food industries, modified starch is used to thicken instant desserts, with the addition of cold water. Commercial pizza toppings contain modiﬁed starch which thicken when heated in the oven, this gives a better pizza appearance. Wholesalers of frozen foods add modiﬁed starch to their products the reason is to prevent the products from dripping when defrosted as the modified starch can absorb more water from defrosted products.
Sugar alcohols are also used in the sugar affiliated industries, these sugar alcohols are produced when monosaccharides are treated with reducing agents, When treated with reducing agents, monosaccharides are reduced to alcohols. Aldoses yield corresponding alcohol but ketoses form two alcohols because of appearance of a new asymmetric carbon atom in this process. Glucose is reduced to sorbitol; mannose to mannitol; while fructose which is a ketose yields two alcohol which are sorbitol and mannitol. Galactose is reduced to dulcitol and ribose to ribitol (Yimin et al., 2018).
Industrial uses of sugar alcohol includes making toothpastes as are found in Toothpaste-making industries, Nigeria-made brands (Pepsodent and Close-up from Unilever) are prominent for containing sorbitol, which is a sugar alcohol. Also in cosmetics industries, Sorbitol and mannitol are used in cosmetics, aftershave lotions and baby shampoos to add sweet smell and to prevent moisture loss (moisturizers) (Awuchi, 2017).
Sugar alcohol has its function medically, sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed and rate of absorption is also low, therefore, the impact of sugar alcohols on blood sugar is less (low glycemic index) and they provide fewer calories per gram (low glycemic load). Thus, in some hospitals, sugar alcohols are widely used as sugar replacement in therapeutic diets for patients with Diabetes mellitus (De Munter et al., 2007).
De Munter JS, Hu FB, Spiegelman D, Franz M, Van Dam RM (2007). Whole grain, bran, and germ intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study and systematic review.
Yimin Qin (2018). “Bioactive Saeweeds for Food Applications”.
Awuchi Chinaza (2017). “Sugar Alcohols: Chemistry, Production, Health Concerns and nutritional Importance of mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol”. International journal of Advanced Research | sciences, Technology & Engineering | ISSN: 2488-9849. Vol. 3, Issue 2 (February 2017).
Sepideh Saboonchi, Afsoon Mehran, Parisa Bahramizadeh, Ramona Massoud (2021). “Application of modified starch in food”.