Food preservation

How Does Sugar Preserve Foods? Discover the Sweet Science

Preserving foods has been done for much longer than we have had fridges. Fridges are a reasonably new concept, being around for just over a century, compared to food preservation methods. Food preservation is done in many ways, such as smoking, salting, canning, and pickling, to name a few. But how does sugar preserve food?

An osmotic effect is created when sugar is added to fresh fruits or vegetables. This effect allows the sugar to absorb water in the food, reducing the water activity and inhibiting further development of harmful food-borne pathogens that spoil foods.

Just as pickling and salting have been used for hundreds of years, sugaring has been used to preserve certain fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat. We look at different ways you can use sugar to preserve foods and list the advantages and disadvantages of preserving foods this way.

How Does Sugar Help Preserve Foods?

Sugar has been used for centuries to preserve foods for when food was scarce. Sugaring could extend the life of harvested fruits and vegetables for storage and dates back centuries.

A Quick History Of Sugaring

Food preservation using honey was well-known to early cultures. Ancient Greeks preserved slightly dried quince, tightly packed and mixed with honey into jars.

The Romans improved this method by cooking the quince with honey, producing a more solid syrup texture.

In northern climates, where sunlight is limited, drying fruits and vegetables for preservation was a challenge. Thanks to the trade with India, sugar cane was introduced to Europe. Preserving fresh fruits and vegetables was introduced by heating them with condensed liquid from sugar cane.

Since then, fruits and vegetables have been preserved whole or in jams and jellies.

How Does Sugaring Preserve Foods?

Certain foods can be preserved using the sugaring method. Sugaring is a method in which the sugar draws the moisture out of the cells, called the osmotic effect.

Microbes need water and moisture to grow, developing into harmful food-borne pathogens like Salmonella and Clostridium Botulinum that spoil and rot food. The sugar binds with water reducing the water and the space for microorganisms to grow or live.

Raw sugar or table sugar is mainly used for food preservation. It can be used in crystallized or liquid forms such as syrup, honey, or molasses.

Sugar added to apples to preserve them

Different Ways To Use Sugar To Preserve Foods

You can use sugar to preserve different types of foods in different ways.

  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Marmalades
  • Fruit bars or leather
  • Fruit toffee
  • Preserves
  • Candied fruits
  • Glazed fruits
  • Brined fish or meat
  • To retain the texture of frozen fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables can be dehydrated and cooked in liquid sugar until the combination is reduced to a crystallized form and preserved in a dry form. Fresh fruit and vegetables can also be glazed in syrup. This increases the product’s internal sugar content and the product’s shelf life.

Another way of using sugar is to desiccate fruits and then pack them tightly in jars packed with pure sugar. Make jams, jellies, and marmalades by boiling the whole fruit pulp or using the juices of the fruit and vegetables. This will reduce the water content of the fruits. Sugar is added to the reduction to prevent any regrowth of any bacteria and boiled to a consistency that sets.

Sugar can also preserve alcoholic spirits, like Brandy or wine, by adding sugar to the fermentation process.

Use sugar and salt to create a dry mixture to cover dehydrated meat or fish or dissolve together to create a brine to lay the food into. The sugar helps reduce the harsh saltiness and can enhance some meats’ flavors.

Fruits or vegetables can be frozen in dry sugar packs or syrup packs. The sugar protects the fruits and veggies from the damaging effect of water crystals when frozen. The fruits do not freeze as hard, and the sugar retains and protects the texture and quality of the fruits and vegetables when frozen.

Can You Use Sugar Alternative To Preserve Foods?

There is no artificial sugar substitute that can replace how sugar preserves foods. There are, however, natural replacements that you can use instead.

Firstly, artificial sugars do not have the same properties as regular sugar when preserving foods. Artificial sugar disintegrates at high temperatures and can have a bitter aftertaste, leaving your preserves inedible.

Some research has also shown that sucralose heated over 120 degrees Celsius can form harmful compounds.

Artificial sweeteners also don’t have the same gelling effect as natural sugar when creating jams and jellies. However, you can still create jams and jellies without sugar by replacing the sugar with pectin or gelatins to set the products. You can then add artificial sugars for taste.

Just remember that not using sugar will not extend the shelf life of your product, so you should preserve it in smaller batches. Sugar helps to retain the shape, texture, and color of fruits and vegetables.

You can, however, use natural sweeteners as a replacement for white sugar.

  • Honey
  • Jaggery
  • Sugar beet molasses
  • Agave nectar
  • Corn syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Maple syrup

What Foods Can You Preserve With Sugar

Sugaring is limited to certain foods and is mainly used on fruits and some vegetables. Still, there are exceptions to the rule, and some fish and meats can also be preserved with sugar.

  • Fruits-most fruits can be preserved using sugar. Either preserving them in a sugary liquid as whole fruits, like pears, apples, and peaches, or cooking them with sugar to create jams and jellies like cherries, apricots, figs, and strawberries.
  • Vegetables-most common vegetables that are preserved in sugar are ginger and carrots. However, you can also take your surplus tomatoes and make jams and jellies.
  • Fish and Meat, some fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, cod, trout, and mackerel) and meat (e.g., corned beef, bacon, salt pork, and cured ham) can be preserved in a liquid brine using sugar and salt, the added sugar aids in reducing the saltiness of the brine preserve.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Preserving Food With Sugar

As with anything else, there are benefits and downsides to preserving food with sugar.


  • Sugaring helps preserve the flavor, texture, and color of foods
  • Helps to form the gel in jams and jellies
  • Prevents microbial activity as it reduces water activity
  • This form of preservation does not destroy the nutrients
  • Easier and quicker than other preservation
  • You can create different preservations like candied fruit, fruit leather, jams, and preserves.


  • Sugar can attract moisture quickly. The yeast in the air can activate with the sugar, which causes fermentation. Although fermentation is also used in some preservatives, it can create a bad taste.
  • Increased sugar content poses a health risk for people who have diabetes or are on a sugar-reduced diet.
  • It must be refrigerated after opening.


Sugaring is a way to preserve vegetables and fruits, similar to pickling and salt curing. Sugaring inhibits the development of bacteria by reducing water activity in and around the food. It’s a great way to preserve the excess harvest and preserve it for when the fresh fruits are no longer in season.


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