Taste is one of the fundamental senses, allowing us to enjoy our food and drink, as well as work out which ones are safe to consume!
Of all the foods in our diet, sweet foods are the most controversial. They are the most enjoyable, but can have the biggest impact on our health, from wreaking havoc on our blood chemistry through to destroying the enamel on our teeth!
But that’s not to say we can’t enjoy sweet treats in our daily menu. The key is to understand what makes food sweet, and choose wisely to satisfy your sweet tooth.
What Makes Food Sweet?
Alcohol, sugar, or amino acids form the sweetness in foods. Sweet foods have high sugar content, such as fructose or glucose. In moderation, these foods help in fueling the body, but in large quantities sugars and alcohols can be bad for your health.
In general, health practitioners are agreed that natural sources of sugar are better for the body than processed sugars. With that in mind, it is better to select foods that are naturally sweet or have been sweetened with natural extracts. Nevertheless, moderation is key to keep a balanced diet.
Here are some of our favorite healthy – and not-so-healthy – sweet foods!
The List: 10 Sweet Foods
There are different types of bananas, including banana (Cavendish), plantain (green banana), red banana, and ladyfinger.
Cavendish, also known as the ‘dessert banana,’ is a type of banana that, when ripe, is mildly sweet with clear yellow or green peels and no bruising. After ripening, the banana peels transform from stiff and thick to flexible and thin, with brown spots surfacing until the whole banana peel becomes dark.
The best sweet-flavored bananas are golden yellow with a few brown spots. As the banana continues ripening, the peel turns brownish-black and the pulp softens and begins to ferment.
Plantain is a starchier, larger, and less-sweet type of banana, which is usually cooked before it’s eaten. Green, unripe plantains have firm flesh and a neutral flavor. In some tropical regions, including the Philippines, Africa, and Central America, plantain is a key carbohydrate source that is baked, boiled, or fried in different ways. After maturity, the skin turns yellow and has a somewhat sweet flavor that may be cooked or consumed raw.
Red bananas are plumper and shorter than the Cavendish type and have a dark reddish-purple hue. After ripening, a red banana is creamy and sweeter than a Cavendish banana. Ladyfinger is slightly shorter and thinner compared to Cavendish. They are also sweeter and can be eaten raw or in desserts.
Because of their sweetness, bananas can be used as a nutrient-dense alternative for granulated sugar. As the bananas ripen, the starch they contain degrades into maltose and glucose. Bananas are easily digestible and can replenish energy stores lost during strenuous activity. For instance, a medium banana contains 25% of the daily value of vitamin B6, 11% of vitamin C; and 10% of the potassium.
You can cream or mash overripe bananas to make a base for cheesecakes, pudding, pancakes, and bread. You can use frozen bananas to make ice cream or smoothies. Dehydrated banana flakes have a six-month shelf-life making them an exceptional pantry staple for enhancing smoothies, baby food, baking mix, or yogurt.
During the dehydration process, banana flakes become quite concentrated, so you should be careful when using them. A half-cup of banana flakes can contain approximately 170 calories which makes it an energy-dense food.
Cake is one of the sweet foods made from sugar, flour, and other ingredients mixed then baked. Traditionally, cakes were variations of bread, but they have evolved into a broad array of sweets ranging from the simple to the elaborate.
Cake shares features with other desserts such as pies, custards, meringues, and pastries. The most common ingredients in cake are flour, eggs, sugar, baking powder or baking soda, margarine, oil, or butter. Other elements and flavorings include extracts such as vanilla, cocoa, nuts, and fresh, candied, or dried fruits.
Cake can also be filled with fruit preserves, dessert sauces or nuts, decorated with candied fruit, piped borders, marzipan, and iced with buttercream or other icings.
Cake is usually served as celebratory food at ceremonies, anniversaries, and weddings. Cakes are categorized into different forms, primarily based on mixing techniques and ingredients. Common cake varieties include butter cake, sponge cake, chocolate cake, coffee cake, flourless cake, layer cakes, and one-egg cakes.
You can also find cakes fitting certain social functions, such as Halloween, Christmas, First Communion, wedding, valentine, and birthday cakes.
Candy, also referred to as confectionery, is a sweet treat with sugar as its main constituent. Candy is a preparation of honey, sugar, or other artificial or natural sweeteners combined with nuts, fruits, chocolate or other flavorings or ingredients and formed into pieces, drops, or bars.
Traditionally, confectioners used honey as a sweetener since they did not have sugar and mixed it with various spices, herbs, nuts, and fruits. With the spread of sugar cultivation and refining methods, confectioners started making sugar-based candy.
By the sixteenth century, confectioners began to manufacture sweets by molding boiled sugar with nuts and fruits into fanciful forms using simple hand techniques.
Today, the key candy ingredients in candy are sweeteners, texturizers, and flavoring. Sweetener is mostly sucrose from sugar cane and sugar beets. Other sweeteners include non-caloric sweeteners, maple sugar, molasses, honey, corn sugar, and corn syrup. They can be in either a liquid or solid form.
During candy-making, the solubility, sweetness, and crystallization are affected by invert sugar (a mixture of glucose and fructose manufactured by heat application and an acid such as citric acid).
One of the typical flavors and texturizers which contributes to the consistency, color, and taste of the candy, is milk. Vegetable fats are also used to make candy smooth and chewy and prevent the formation of crystals. Egg albumin, pectin, or gelatin can be used as emulsifying agents, and most candies contain colorings, flavorings, nuts or fruits.
Chocolate is a favorite for a lot of people. Sweet chocolate, also referred to as “real chocolate”, is made using sugar, milk powder and cocoa. The cocoa powder comes from roasted and ground cocoa beans. The amount of cocoa powder determines whether the chocolate is dark, milk or white.
Across the world, milk chocolate is a favorite among consumers. However, the younger generation prefers ruby chocolate, which comes in pink color due to the fermentation process in ruby cocoa beans.
Chocolate is associated with celebrations such as Valentine’s Day, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. It’s a snack that appeals to the senses, with its color, aroma, and how the first bite tastes and feels in the mouth.
Chocolate has several benefits when eaten in moderation. Eating dark chocolate could improve blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of developing diabetes, prevent memory loss, and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. It contains anti-oxidants that help fight the free radicals in the body that cause cancer. Dark chocolate is also good for your skin and can be found in various beauty products.
Dates are the fruit from the date palm tree grown mainly in tropical regions of the world. The term date is a Greek word daktulos, meaning fingers.
Dates are sweet and high in natural sugars. They can be eaten fresh, dried or incorporated in a variety of sweet or savory dishes. Juice extracted from dates can be used in place of sugar in recipes for candies, chocolate chips and cakes.
Chopped dates can be added to salads, stews, or even blended in smoothies. Stuffed dates mixed with cream cheese, almonds and other nuts make a good snack.
Dates have a variety of health benefits. They are high in fiber that is good for digestion, and they contain vitamins, minerals such as potassium, and proteins. They also contain antioxidants that may protect the body from inflammation.
Being a sugary fruit, dates come with health risks if not eaten in moderation. Their high calorie content can lead to weight gain, and people with diabetes should be cautious of their overall sugar level when consuming dates.
Dessert is usually the sweet course served at the end of a meal in many cultures, especially in the Western world. Typically, deserts include various sweet foods as well as other food items.
The different desserts served in the western culture include sweet soups, tarts, macaroons, fruit salads, cakes, candies, puddings, pies, ice creams, pastries, gelatins, biscuits, and cookies. Fruits are included in desserts since they have naturally occurring sweetness. When creating desserts, other cultures sweeten savory foods.
Sweet desserts usually contain honey, brown sugar, palm sugar, or some form of syrup such as corn syrup, treacle, maple syrup, or molasses. The Western-style desserts also contain starches like flour, cooking fats such as lard or butter, spices, acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, salt, eggs, and dairy, and additional flavoring agents such as nuts, fruits, peanut butter, and chocolate.
The methods of preparation and the quantity of the ingredients determine the flavor, texture, and thickness of the end product.
7. Fruit Juice
People often like the taste of fruit juice because it is a sweet drink. Usually, the sweetness means more sugar, even if it is natural sugar. Consider the sweeter whole fruits- the more natural sugar they have, the sweeter they taste. The same concept translates into fruit juices even when they have no added sugars.
Fruit juice has always been considered a far superior and healthier option than sugary soda. Fruits themselves are relatively healthy, but the nutritional value of fruit juice isn’t identical to whole fruit, and it has as much sugar as other classical sugar drinks. All fruits contain fructose, a naturally occurring sugar.
When preparing fruit juices, a lot of fiber is removed making it easier for you to take large quantities within a short time. Furthermore, some vitamins from whole fruits don’t make it into the juice. Compared to whole fruit, fruit juice has more concentrated calories and sugar and some also contain food coloring, added flavors, and other additives.
While fruit juice is a great sweet treat in moderation, you shouldn’t consider it a healthy replacement for soft drinks. Overconsumption can lead to unintentional weight loss and obesity, which has been connected to diabetes, stroke, hypertension, blood pressure, and other health problems. Cavities are also a possibility due to the high sugar content. Honey
Honey is a syrupy liquid made out of plant nectar by honeybees. It is globally loved and used for its depth of flavor and sweetness. Honey has a different flavor, color, and scent depending on the flowers used to make it.
Honey is mostly made up of sugar, including fructose (38%), glucose (31%), while water counts for 18%. It also contains maltose, sucrose, other sugars, proteins and amino acids. It contains vitamins A, C, E, K, B1, B2, B6, Niacin, phenolic acids, pantothenic acid (B5), carotenoids, abscisic acid, and fatty acids. It is also rich in plant compounds used in health promotion.
Honey also contains several antioxidants, such as flavonoids and phenolic acids. It is one of the foods with several vital substances to maintain life, including water, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes.
Honey, without additives, is a great alternative to natural sugar, has an indefinite shelf life and adapts to all cooking processes. The flavor of nectar honey can be classified into eight different types warm, animal, chemical, aromatic, vegetable, fruity, and floral.
Honey attributes include smoked, caramelized, medicinal, alcoholic, minty, resinous, balsamic, and spicy. It is a key ingredient in numerous recipes and foods, and can be used as a sweetener in beverages, baked goods, and in most recipes that use sugar. It is also used in meat recipes such as honey garlic chicken, and is great in dips and sauces.
Strawberries are bright red, juicy, and sweet. They are rich in manganese and vitamin C and contain significant amounts of potassium and vitamin B9 (folate). Strawberries consist of water (91%) and carbohydrates (7.7%). They also have low amounts of protein (0.7%) and fat (0.3%).
Most of the carbohydrates in strawberries are simple sugars such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose. They also contain significant amounts of fiber.
The cultivated strawberry that we eat today is the garden strawberry or Fragaria ananassa. Through the years, strawberry breeders have been aiming for strawberries with specific properties such as long shelf-life, freedom from disease, large fruit, and uniform appearance. The focus on genetic factors that favor these qualities results in losing other genes, such as those responsible for flavor.
Balancing sweetness and acidity is vital in the taste of a strawberry. The sugar content of strawberries increases from 5% when unripe to 6 to 9% as they ripen. The acidity also reduces with ripening; hence, ripe strawberries become much sweeter. This process is governed by a hormone referred to as auxin.
After reaching optimum activity, it causes the strawberry cell walls to degrade, and the ripe strawberry becomes juicy and sweet.
Strawberries are healthy, delicious, and low in calories. They are rich in many minerals, vitamins, and plant compounds-some of which have key health benefits. The health benefits range from reducing inflammation and oxidative stress to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Strawberries also help in preventing an increase in insulin and blood sugar levels. While they are an exceptional addition to a healthy diet, they are also one of the critical sweet foods.
9. Sweet Corn
Sweet corn (Zea mays var. rugose) is found in three colors: white, yellow, and bicolored. It is one of the naturally occurring foods with exceptional sweetness.
However, when harvested, the sugars start converting to starch. They are particularly sweet when grown in a sunny, rich, fertile soil position. The fresher the cob, the sweeter the sweet corn.
When the corn is picked right before you eat it, you will enjoy sweetness unlike any other. Since the corn maturation process entails the conversion of sugar to starch, it stores poorly and must be consumed fresh, frozen, or canned before the kernels become starchy and tough.
Refrigerate or preserve sweet corn within the first two to six hours to retain the sweetness and ensure better quality. From a food safety point of view, the consumption of sweet corn should be within the first four to ten days following refrigeration. Temperature control is key since fresh-cut kernels have extremely high respiration rates and are highly perishable.
The different varieties of corn include Providence, Delectable, Temptation, Incredible, and Bodacious. They have been carefully selected over generations for high sugar content. Super-sweet forms have also been developed in which the sugars don’t convert to starch after harvesting, meaning they can stay sweet up to 14 days after harvest if refrigerated.
Aside from its place in our diet, fresh sweet corn can be further processed into oils, starches, sweeteners, ethanol-based fuel, and alcohol. Sweet corn is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. While sweet corn loses vitamin C during cooking, there is an increase in its antioxidant activity.
Consumption of foods rich in antioxidants may help minimize your risk of heart disease as well as cataracts, Alzheimer’s disease, and other health issues linked to aging. When cooked, sweet corn also has an increased amount of ferulic acid, a compound that aids in fighting cancer.
10. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are sweet-tasting, starchy root vegetables cultivated globally. They come in different sizes and colors (purple, white, yellow, and orange). Sweet potatoes also contain significant amounts of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. Sweet potatoes are always sweet when raw and have a versatile flavor that is altered easily after cooking.
Sweet potatoes can be eaten as a whole or peeled, and their leaves are also edible. Their natural sweet flavor is enhanced further through cooking approaches such as roasting.
Botanically, sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory or bindweed family. They differ from yams, edible tubers native from Asia and Africa from the lily family. Diced sweet potatoes are served with salads or soups, while baked sweet potatoes can be a quick meal alternative. They can also be served as mashed or roasted sweet potato wedges.
Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and also have numerous health benefits. They can prevent certain risk factors for cancer since they are rich in antioxidants, components that help defend the body against free radical damage. Antioxidants from the peel of sweet potatoes, especially purple sweet potatoes, help minimize the oxidation process and subsequently decrease the risk of cancer.
Sweet potatoes are also rich in fiber, and promote a healthy digestive system. The protective effects of sweet potatoes on the digestive system helps in the prevention and managing gastric and duodenal ulcers, including those caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene that is converted into Vitamin A, which helps form the eye’s light-detecting receptors. This helps in maintaining eye health and night vision. Vitamin A also supports the immune system by maintaining the natural defenses of the gut and respiratory system.
Therefore, sweet potatoes are an excellent addition to a balanced diet. Boiling preserves more beta-carotene content than when sweet potatoes are fried or baked.