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Have you ever wondered why sugar tastes so sweet?


What does sweet mean, anyway?


Is it just another "class" of "tastes"? Just like "salty" or "bitter" or "acidic"?


Or is there something special about sugar?


Did you notice how we, humans, almost in every language and culture, use the word sweet, to describe nice things, nice people or even nice words. Sweet describes the taste of sugar but we also even use the word sugar itself. Men use it to describe beautiful ladies, and vice a verse. We use it to describe nice tunes, nice talk, etc. We also use the word "honey", "honeymoon", "sweet-heart", "sweetie", to describe our loved ones. There is biological relationship between sugar and reproduction, as we see in insects and plants.


Sugar contains some of the most important energy-rich dietary components necessary for our survival. Sugar can be easily and quickly absorbed by the blood giving us vital energy to keep us alive. Energy that keeps our hearts pumping, our brains functioning, our muscles moving such that it keeps us alive and on our feet. Other foods, like fats or starch, may need first to be processed and converted into simpler forms or into sugar to be useful in the same way.


Imagine if our ancestors disliked the taste of fruits, the taste of sugar, what chances would they have had to survive?

And affinity to sugar is not limited to humans. Many animals and insects like sugar so much that they would prefer it to any other food. Children, innocent and sharper in their biological instincts than grown ups, love sugar and its derivatives. In fact, some insects, like bees, are actively producing honey, which is basically sugar. Sugar is mainly available to us through plants. Fruits, which often carry the reproductive seeds of the plant, yes honey, are the main source of sugar in our earthly ecological system. In fact, it is fair to say that Sugar is the Universally Accepted Energy Currency between living beings. It is also the most convertible Energy Currency. Sugar is truly the building block of life. A team of scientists recently discovered the presence of sugar lurking some 26,000 light-years from Earth in the center of the Milky Way [3].


Our tongues recognize the molecules of sugar by their shape! The sugar molecules fit specially-shaped cavities in our tongues. When these "pits" are filled, our nerves send a signal to the brain shouting, YAHOO, sweet! Evolution has programmed our brains to find nutritious material tasty and label organic material which we can not digest as yucky! Recent research suggests that sugar is addictive, just like drugs. Sugar and the taste of sweet stimulate the brain by activating beta endorphin receptor sites.

In 2003, studies [2] that focused on brain chemicals, known as opioids showed that some addictive drugs like heroin or morphine activate the opioid system to produce a pleasurable response that many believe helps fuel a longing or craving for more drugs and may cause withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped, elements which are key to the addiction process. Whether through opioids or some other brain chemical, the scientists suspect that sweets like drugs can activate an "incentive system" in the brain that helps reinforce behaviors. In 2008, Bart Hoebel [3], a professor of psychology at Princeton University, explained that ".. evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways very similar to drugs of abuse."

In Arabic, Sugar is the name of the disease associated with unhealthy Sugar levels in the blood, Diabetes. Sugar nowadays is seen as a main reason behind obesity. But for so many millions of years, that was hardly a problem. Finding enough food, energy enough for survival was a tough challenge.


You ask someone, why is sugar sweet, and they will most likely say, because it tastes nice. Or they will give you the answer related to the specially-shaped cavities in our tongues. Or they will say because our brains like it. All are possible answers. But I think that sugar is sweet because of its importance to survival and because of evolution. Animal species which could easily identify and develop a liking for this Universal Currency, Sugar, survived and propagated. Other species which were less sharp in recognizing and differentiating between good money from counterfeit money, just went bankrupt more easily. That is why they are sadly not with us today.


And I think that is precisely why sugar is sweet. Because those who thought sugar is sweet and likeable survived. Sugar repaid them the compliment.


How sweet was that of sugar!

Isn't sugar really sweet?!!


References:
[1]http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/sugar_000615.html

[2] Brain Briefings:
http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=brainBriefings_sugarAddiction

[3] http://health.msn.com/health-topics/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100228625>1=31036


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Comments

The following comments are for "Why is Sugar Sweet?"
by waelnawara

Sweet Indeed
Hey there,

Just wanted to compliment you on a well-done article. Sugar is indeed grand.

As a follow-up, the term 'honeymoon' comes from the ancient custom of couples drinking mead (a delicious liquor made out of honey) for the first month after marriage. Often this was given as a gift, to promote 'happiness and fertility'.

Since mead is roughly the same strength- or a bit stronger- than wine (12 - 18% usually), I'd imagine a *month's* supply would go a long way toward promoting 'happiness and fertility' back in the day.

It's also just about the easiest booze in the world to make. As a brewer of mead, I feel justified in stating that it might be *slightly* easier than falling off a log.

There, I feel like I've contributed now. Thanks for the article, waelnawara!

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: December 19, 2008 )

The Origin of Honeymoon
Thanks a lot for your contribution and additions!

Indeed ... love is sweet ... as sweet as sugar!

The basic instincts for survival, such as eating sugar and making babies, are "sweet" and pleasing to our senses. Evolution made sure that our senses appreciated these activities, considered them sweet, otherwise, what would be the urge to do them?

We survived because we thought that Sugar was sweet and making love was pleasing!

( Posted by: waelnawara [Member] On: December 20, 2008 )





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