Sunday, 6 September 2009

Carbon-Free Sugar

TYWIKIWDBI brings to our attention "Carbon Free Sugar".

He obviously scrutineers the supermarket for bizarrities much as I do, top marks for observation, Sir.

This stuff obviously belongs on the inorganic aisle. For those of you who remember little or no chemistry or food-science, the sugar we use on our tables is mostly sucrose, C12H22O11
The C stands for Carbon, H for Hydrogen, O for Oxygen, so, a molecule of twelve parts Carbon, 22 parts Hydrogen, and 11 parts Oxygen is table sugar.

(Image stolen from TYWIKIWDBI)

Take away the Carbon, and you have 22Hydrogen, and 11 oxygen, which, if they combined together without Carbon, would give you eleven molecules of H2O.
Rather better known as water.

Glucose is C6H12O6.
Sugars are CARBO-hydrates.
Sugar minus carbon is water. Not Sugar.

Oh, for sure, I know that they don't really mean that the product does not CONTAIN carbon. But their marketing and display people obviously have not thought this through.
Furthermore, the debate it is really aimed at, global warming, is about carbon DIOXIDE emissions, not carbon per se.
According to my recall, uncertain though it may be, the total amount of carbon, the number of atoms of the element carbon, on this planet can neither be increased or reduced. They can combine together in different ways, and exist in different states and allotropes, but all the carbon there ever was or ever will be, remains the same. Where it endangers us is when it is combined with oxygen, and increases the amount of carbon dioxide in our planet's atmosphere, it causes more solar energy to be trapped, causing our planet to become slightly warmer.
And just a few degrees can have dramatic damaging long-term impact.

The company's rationale for the carbon free claim is that they're burning no fossil fuels, i.e. oil or coal, to power their processes, they burn recycled wood and sugar cane, which merely releases the same amount of CO2 that was absorbed in those materials as they grew. Not a zero-carbon process, as for instance hydro-electric, solar, or windpower might be, but carbon-neutral.
I notice on the company's website, tractors are shown. I trust they and the truckfleet that the plant requires to distribute and grow the product, as well as the trucks bringing in urban waste wood to feed the power plant are running on bioethanol, made from sugar, and not diesel.

In all fairness, the plant looks a model of green efficiency, and far better than most other north american industries in clean energy use.
But it's still stupid to stick a "Carbon free" label on a product that by definition is 25% carbon.

note: whilst checking my facts, rather than trusting to the rather spongy mass I call my memory, I discovered that sugar in the U.S. is significantly more expensive than in the rest of the world, due to trade and import restrictions intended to support the home-grown industry, with a result being that sugar substitutes such as sacharrine and aspartame are far more widely used, as also are corn syrup and other inferior substitutes.
I'd assumed the artificial sweetener industry was strong because of the dietary concerns, but it seems not.


  1. well sure, and then there's gluten, whatever that is....

  2. hi soubriquet, you managed to hit on two of my pet peeves about living in the u.s. first, that marketing (consumerism run amok) manages to obfuscate or destroy almost all good ideas. second is the whole sugar thing. i read a book decades ago and i think it was called "sugar blues" or something like that. the revelations i got from reading it were that there was a link between overconsumption of sugar and the diseases that most of us die from and the reminder that refined sugar did not exist for the first 9,500 years of our current incarnation. it was originally considered a kind of spice (read drug) and was brought to european royalty and used like a drug with mild drug effects that we would all remember if we could magically transport ourselves back in time to when we first overdosed on the stuff. the fact that refined sugar didn't exist long ago is just another in a long line of facts that we've chosen to ignore like that we never had "running shoes" until the 1970's and now the running shoe industrial complex is weakening all of our feet and keeping us chronically injured. now we all eat sugar as if it was food (1999 it was 158 lbs./year per person in the US). i decided long ago to cut as much of it out as possible and it is very difficult because it's everywhere and apparently the more refined, the worse it is for you. a regular coke used to have the equivalent of 14 tsp. of sugar dissolved in a 12 oz.can and now it's been replaced with high fructose corn syrup which is 100 times worse. apparently HFCS inhibits the release of ghreline, a hormone that your gut sends your brain to tell it that you're full and should stop eating and we all know the results of this in america and england. apparently stevia is now considered a non-sugar substitute but i confess being at a chemistry loss as to figure out if that's true or not. maybe with your chemistry knowledge you would know but i have no idea. it's very powerful and markets itself as producing no glycemic effect in the body. trying to keep sugar away from the little one is a full time job and telling people what you believe only gets derisive reactions and supports the strong claim they already have that i'm crazy, etc. anyway you've managed to get me ranting again. interesting post.

  3. I have noticed on trips to the Organic Whole Foods All Natural Things As They Should Be Market the addition of a few dozen Pure Sugars.

    I like Dark Sugars, such as Raw Sugar and Brown sugars with classy sounding trade names.

    There is also a nice market for Sodas made with Real Sugar, just like they used to in the good old days.

    I was once in Maine and ate some Maple Sugar Candy-which was shockingly, painfully sweet.

    I have not seen the Carbon Free Sugar, but it makes as much sense as most marketing ploys-kind of like a Cough Suppressant/Expectorant.

  4. Cease that, Gary, you know what gluten is.......

    Jim, I probably do overconsume sugar, but I know what you mean. However, I'm not going to revert to a stone-age diet, no matter how much better it may be for me. I use sugar, but of choice, I prefer the brown, less processed kind. That being said I'm not a big one for sweet foods generally.
    I've read about how corn syrup started to be used in large quantities in the U.S., in the early eighties and how that coincides with a huge growth in obesity rates.

    In Europe, you'd find more sucrose, less fructose.
    We worry here about colouring agents used in foods, about high sodium content, and in my case, I read labels. If Aspartame is in it, I won't be consuming it. I'm significantly less troubled by sugar.

    Descartes, we rarely see maple syrup over here, my recollection of it was that it was sickly sweet, and I'd prefer honey. However, a jar of honey would last me several years. It's a good thing that honey lasts pretty much forever without spoiling.

    The "Carbon Free" ploy is just a marketing trick," Buy ours, not theirs because if you buy ours you're saving the planet".

  5. Oh, and Jim, don't imagine I have super chemistry skills, most of what I 'know' about chemistry goes back to my schooldays.
    I can remember various experiments with sugars and starches though, and I think it was Millom's reagent that would make a copper coin look silvery, and I can't recall the name of the kid in my year who thought it would be cool to take some concentrated acid home.... He put it in a test tube, corked it, and slipped it into his pocket whilst the teacher wasn't looking. Concentrated sulphuric acid eats corks pretty quickly.
    After that none of us ever tried to steal acids.

  6. Hahahahahaaaaa!!!!!!
    I just looked it up, to test my longish term memory.. Millon's reagent, not millom's.
    "Millon's test is given by any compound containing a phenolic hydroxy group. Consequently, any protein containing tyrosine will give a positive test of a pink to dark-red colour. The Millon reagent is a solution of mercuric and mercurous ions in nitric and nitrous acids (CAUTION: MILLON'S REAGENT IS HIGHLY TOXIC AND HIGHLY CORROSIVE). The red colour is probably due to a mercury salt of nitrated tyrosine. "
    They would probably frown on thirteen-year olds rubbing it on pennies with their bare hands these days, then? Or pouring mercury into cupped hands.
    It's a miracle I'm still alive.

  7. The carbon-free “claim” on the packaging does seem more that a little silly and ill-thought-out. I did go to that company’s website and found the usual back-patting. And tractors in the fields, as you mentioned. What a crock their green statments are.

    Sugar is somewhat highter priced in the U.S. due not only to little overseas competition (as you say) but there is the also the hidden cost of government subsidies to the industry (and, indeed, many farm products) which ultimately come from the taxpayer.

    However, if I have understood your general philosophy correctly, you see nothing wrong with taking money from one group and giving it to another who, for whatever reason, is considered more “needy” or is more favored. :)

    In actuality, any sugar-producing country in North America is free to dump their products in the U.S. without fear of any agricultural tariff. You’d think that fact would result in a little price competition. The fact that their products cost - amazingly - exactly the same is simply a mind-boggling coincidence, and no price-fixing should be assumed. That would be illigal, by gosh.

    There is nothing more satisfying on a warm summer day than sitting under a tree and swigging down a pint of Karo corn syrup. To each his own. Some of us simply prefer the illusively delicate tast of Aspertame.

    Since I love trees and plants, I guess that means I am also in favor of carbon-dioxide to feed them. Someone smarter than I am is going to have to come up with the answer to this

  8. Max, a pint of corn syrup? Surely that would tend to sweeten you, and I see little evidence of that.
    Maybe the aspartame in your system hides the effect of the sugars.
    My general philosophy, which you refer to, is not quite as Robin-Hood-esque as you might think.
    Yes, I believe in our british system where taxation pays for health-care for all, and I believe that those at the top of the pile, who "earn" bonuses and hidden benefits larger in each year than I will earn in a lifetime, deserve to have shovelfuls of that gold scooped out of their treasure caves to pay for some vital needs of those at the bottom of the pile.
    However, I am far from communism, and indeed, only missed becoming rich beyond your wildest dreams last night, because I neglected to buy a "Euro Millions" lottery ticket. 85 Million pounds, I understand, was the jackpot.
    If I'd won that, I would have built myself a fortified mansion, and taken pot-shots at the peasants as they toiled in my fields. This would be to my advantage. As peasants dodged the bullets, they'd be bad at farming, and thus I could claim huge euro-subsidies for my farms. In fact, I'd buy a heap of crooked accountants and lawyers to apply for every subsidy and grant going, oh well, didn't buy a ticket, so the grand plan will have to wait.
    The carbon dioxide to feed the trees is already here, it's a closed loop that works well so long as the amounts of co2 and greenery remain broadly balanced. However, we humans are rather good at deforestation and the creation of deserts. Look at the Caspian sea, or somewhat nearer to you, look at the Salton Sea.
    We aren't, despite our pride at our technology, all that good at figuring our the bigger picture. It seems such a good idea to divert a river to irrigate parched land, but somehow we fail to see the longer term repercussions.
    No, I have not got the answers, nor do I have children, so, providing the planet can hang together for a few more years, I'll not worry too much.
    But it seems to me that the worst thing that ever happened to the earth was a plague of humans, who got too clever for their own good.


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