Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
How is sugar used in cereal?
Cereal is a staple breakfast food throughout the Western world. Sugar has been crucial to its production from inception to the present day, adding a sweet flavour to the different types of grain while ensuring maximum possible shelf life. Below we consider the importance of cereal in Western diets, why sugar is an essential ingredient in the production of cereals, and the best pure sugar applications for different flavours, textures and functions.
Why are cereals a popular breakfast food?
Cereals, which includes porridge, are one of the most popular breakfast choices globally, with an annual spend of £1.8 billion a year and 6.5 million bowls consumed a day in the UK alone. While other sectors have faltered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cereals have continued to thrive, largely prompted by a huge uptake in at-home breakfast consumption while large amounts of the population continue to work from home.
Beginning in mid-1800s America as dried wholewheat flour dough that was so hard it needed to be soaked in milk overnight before being eaten, cereal’s popularity surged following the post-WWII baby boom, thanks to a combination of successful TV marketing campaigns and the introduction of new varieties to the marketplace. Today, the huge variety of cereals that line supermarket shelves, ranging from multigrain hoops to mueslis, is still the main reason behind cereal’s popularity. Furthermore, the market has now become a battleground for manufacturers keen to offer natural and organic options since the turn of the twenty-first century and the rise of the ethical consumer.
Pure sugars underpin the taste, texture and appearance of a huge range of these breakfast cereals. Without their application, cereal products would not have the unique flavours and textures that have made them so popular.
Cereals are one of the most popular breakfast foods in the Western world, with the variety of styles and flavours providing consumers with a wide range of choice.
How are pure sugars and syrups used in cereals aimed at children?
Pure sugars and syrups serve several functions in this application. As well as adding a sweet flavour, they ensure the cereal maintains a crunchy texture and act as a humectant to extend the shelf life of products.
For sugar-coated cereals, such as frosted flakes, invert or liquid sugar is typically used. This is because these two sugars are relatively viscous, meaning they are pourable, ensuring an even layer of sugar on each flake. In addition, the formulation of both liquid and invert sugar means they dry slowly to control crystallisation rate, leaving a shiny, appealing coating that maintains the crispy, crunchy texture, even in milk. The coating also provides a preservative function, keeping the cereal fresher and crisper for longer.
Invert sugar is also used in cereals that are made from a dough or paste and shaped into a trademark shape, such as a hoop or grain of rice, which are typically aimed at children. Here, the sugar, along with other dry ingredients such as wheat and oats, is combined with water to give the required dough or paste, which is then shaped into the desired form and baked. While sugar is primarily found in these cereals for flavour, it also acts as a humectant, ensuring maximum possible shelf life.
What role do pure sugars and syrups play in the production of cereals aimed at adults?
While it can seem crude to divide different varieties of cereals into categories for children and adults, manufacturers have long made this division to help market their products to specific audiences. As a general rule, children’s cereals are usually produced using maize, wheat or rice and have a particularly sweet taste. Cereals marketed at adults, however, are often produced with oats and rice and do not have as sweet a flavour.
Cluster cereals, usually made by combining ingredients such as nuts, rolled oats and puffed rice, have gained notable popularity among adult consumers in the UK in recent years. These rely on glucose syrup. Not only does it add a sweet flavour, but when warmed and combined with a setting agent, the glucose syrup sets solid, binding all the ingredients together to form the nominal clusters. As well as resulting in a sweet, textured cereal, it is also a highly efficient way to use ingredients, as smaller pieces that would otherwise have to be left out can instead be used within the clusters.
Porridge, which can trace its roots back to Ancient Rome, remains the most popular warm cereal in the UK. It is sold in a variety of forms, including as plain rolled oats, flavoured porridge mix and even individually portioned sachets.
Golden syrup is often poured over porridge to suit consumers’ preferences, but it can also be ready-made within a porridge sachet.
The most common porridge flavourings are either fruit-based or golden syrup. Liquid sugar is often an ingredient in these flavourings, as it can be easily added and dispersed quickly. Golden syrup is used as a flavour for the same reasons, as well as being drizzled over porridge by consumers themselves. However, many prefer adding demerara sugar to their bowl of porridge, with its coarse texture and caramel flavour developing the mouthfeel of the oat based mix.