What You Should Know About Invert Sugar

Homemade invert sugar
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Invert sugar is a sweetener used in various treats and beverages, thanks to its ability to retain moisture and keep a smooth texture. While invert sugar might have a flashier name, nutritionally it is the same as table sugar or other added sweeteners. You’ll want to limit the total amount of any added sugars in your diet, including invert sugar, as these sweeteners provide excess calories without beneficial nutrients.

What Is Invert Sugar?

Invert sugar is used as a sweetener in foods, just like table sugar, maple syrup, or high fructose corn syrup. It is actually derived from table sugar, which is scientifically known as sucrose.

Sucrose is a disaccharide, made up of two different individual sugar molecules attached together—in this case glucose and fructose.

Invert sugar is made by breaking the bonds between the glucose and fructose, resulting in a solution of half free glucose and half free fructose. Those bonds are broken through hydrolysis—a chemical reaction using water along with heat, enzymes, or acids.

For a simplistic view, you can imagine the difference between the two like this:

  • Sucrose = Glucose–Fructose (attached together)
  • Invert Sugar = Free Glucose + Free Fructose (apart)

The name invert sugar comes from the way that polarized light is reflected through the sugar. When polarized light shines on sucrose, the light is reflected at a certain angle. When it shines on invert sugar, the light is rotated in the opposite direction.

Sources of Invert Sugar

While invert sugar can be found in many foods, you’ll most commonly find it in the following types of products:

  • Ice cream
  • Syrups (for beverages, coffee, etc.)
  • Candies
  • Baked goods
  • Soft drinks (and other sugary beverages)
  • Fruit beverages that are not 100% fruit juice
  • Cereal
  • Yogurt
  • Granola bars

Of course, added sugars are known to lurk in unsuspecting places, so reading ingredient labels is the only sure way to discover if a food has invert sugar.

Other Names for Invert Sugar

You will typically see “invert sugar” listed as just that in the ingredients section of food labels. But there are also additional sources of invert sugar on the market—both natural and man-made. These include:

  • Inverted sugar syrup – This is a liquid syrup made with invert cane sugar that’s used in commercial baking. It is also available for consumers to purchase as a liquid sweetener for items like coffee. You can generally find two types of inverted sugar syrups: 50 percent or 100 percent. A 50 percent inverted sugar syrup still retains half of its sugar content as sucrose, but half of the sugar has been inverted to glucose and fructose. A 100 percent inverted sugar syrup has all its sugar inverted to glucose and fructose.
  • “Artificial honey” – Technically the same as inverted sugar syrup, the product is sometimes nicknamed artificial honey thanks to its honey-like flavor.
  • Simple syrup – Simple syrups kept at bars are usually a heated mixture of sugar and water, which creates varying levels of invert sugar. Using these in your cocktails can lead to beverages that are high in added sugars/carbohydrates.
  • Invert maple syrup – All maple syrup has small amounts of invert sugar, but this type is tinkered with to create higher levels. It’s often used in maple candies, lollipops, frostings, and other maple confections.
  • Honey – Honeybees produce an enzyme called invertase, which allows them to naturally break down much of the sucrose into the invert sugar form of glucose and fructose.

Benefits of Invert Sugar for Food Production

At room temperature, invert sugar is more soluble in water compared to table sugar. Ever add a spoonful of sugar to your iced coffee and find it piled up at the bottom of the cup? That’s because sugar doesn’t dissolve very well in cold liquids.

Invert sugar, on the other hand, still dissolves well under these conditions. That’s why you’ll spot it in sweeteners and syrups for cold drink products.

Other benefits for food manufacturers include:

  • Better flavor through increased sweetness
  • Reduced viscosity compared to liquid sweeteners without invert sugar
  • Softer, smoother product texture (related to less sugar crystallization)
  • Products may be more resistant to microbial spoilage compared to certain other sweeteners

Invert Sugar Nutrition Facts

Even though invert sugar might be useful in home and commercial kitchens, you’ll want to be cautious with the amount you use—just like you want to limit the amount of table sugar you consume. Sucrose and invert sugar do have some different chemical and structural properties but they are nutritionally alike.

To give you perspective, a teaspoon of sucrose contains 16 calories and 4 grams of sugar. If you compare this to different brands of invert sugar, you’ll see similar figures. Here are a few examples of common brands on the market:

  • Sugar in The Raw Liquid Cane Syrup – 20 calories and 5 grams of sugar per teaspoon
  • Kelly’s Delight Original Liquid Sugar – 12 calories and 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon
  • CK Liquid Invert Sugar – 15 calories and 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon
  • Florida Crystals Liquid Organic Raw Cane Sugar – 17.5 calories and 4.5 grams of sugar per teaspoon

The slight differences in each brand’s calorie and sugar content depends on the concentration of the syrup.

Limiting Added Sugar

Whether you’re eating a granola bar made with invert sugar or one made with sucrose (or any other sweetener), it’s still all added sugar that should be limited. Excess added sugar of any kind can put you at risk for future health problems like weight gain, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association recommends that most men limit their added sugar to no more than 36 grams per day. As women consume fewer overall calories, they should limit their added sugar to a stricter 25 grams a day. It’s also important that parents keep their children’s consumption of added sugars at a healthy level.

Here are some ideas for starting to reduce your (and your family's) added sugar intake:

  • Limit sweet treats and desserts.
  • Swap sugar sweetened beverages for water, seltzer, or unsweetened tea.
  • Pay attention to the food labels on products you eat or drink. With new FDA regulations for food labels, you’ll soon start to see added sugar specifically addressed on the nutrition facts label (if you haven’t already).
  • Check ingredient lists to see if you spot invert sugar or any other types of sweeteners.

A Word From Verywell

You don’t have to restrict your diet completely though. It’s okay to incorporate small amounts of invert sugar or other sweeteners into your meal plan, as long as you’re not eating them frequently and you keep to the recommended limits. That occasional slice of birthday cake or monthly iced mocha is not going to cause health problems, provided they’re just that—occasional treats.

For optimal health, though, try to make your everyday diet one that's low in added sugars (including invert sugar).

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