Tuesday, August 29, 2023 – Your Shortcut to … Sugar

The who, what, when, where, why, and how of the big news stories.


It can be used to treat wounds… maybe even drive cars… but most of you know it from delicious, sweet, treats. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to sugar—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett.

I don’t know about you, Bryce, but I love a little sweet treat at the end of a meal. Maybe a crunchy Pink Lady apple… or a square of chocolate… or, let’s face it, sometimes an embarrassing amount of shortbread.

Today, we’ll take you through WHY humans love sugar so much… HOW we use it … and WHERE to sample some unusual sugary treats…

Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

Rightyo Bryce, let’s hop into the Squiz Kids time machine, and head back … way back… millions of years, to the time of the apes. Our primate ancestors survived mostly on fruit, and they’d evolved to like riper – and sweeter – fruit because it had a higher sugar content. More sugar meant more energy… which meant you were more likely to survive.

We’re talking here not about the kind of white crystal sugar that comes in a bag, but the sugar that’s in plants.

Exactly right. Sugar is found in the fibres of ALL plants, because it’s a byproduct of photosynthesis – the process in which plants turn sunlight into energy. Now, when humans evolved from apes, we inherited that craving for sweet things, because sweetness meant energy. And back then, we were hunter gatherers… we had to work hard to get food.

No such thing as a supermarket or drivethrough!

No way! It was an advantage to your survival if you liked sweet things – you’d eat more sugar, get more energy, and be more likely to survive… and then your kids would have those same sweet-craving genes, all the way to us today. But, Bryce, there’s a key difference. Back when our ancestors were hunting and gathering their food, they weren’t craving ice cream, or lollies, or cake. A sweet treat for them would be a berry, or ripe fruit. The challenge now is that there’s SO much more food, and so much more sugar, available to us. We have to be careful not to fall for those cravings too often.

And sugar can find its way into a lot of things. HOW is sugar used in today’s world?

Bryce, sugar does a lot more than just taste sweet. It can also stop food from going off! Salt and sugar work in a similar way to prevent germs from growing in food—they basically draw water out of the food, and insert sugar or salt molecules where the water used to be. Microbes – they’re the things that cause food to spoil – need a certain amount of water to survive and grow. So by adding lots of sugar or salt, you’re stopping microbes from growing. Have you ever wondered why fruit doesn’t go off when it’s turned into jam?

Aha… because of the sugar.

Sugar also helps with fermentation – so if you’re making pizza dough, or bread, the yeast needs sugars to grow. And the kitchen chemistry continues with sugar being crucial for making meringues hold their structure… or biscuits to get nice and browned… and in ice cream, sugar reduces the number of ice crystals formed as your ice cream freezes.

That all makes sense to me… but at the beginning of this podcast, you said sugar could be used to save lives. I know I’ve said before that I’d die for some chocolate, but I wasn’t being serious…

Remember I said that sugar drew moisture out of foods, and stopped microbes growing? Well, you can pour sugar into an open wound to stop bacteria growing in it. In parts of the world where people can’t afford antibiotics, both sugar and honey have been used to treat wounds. And that’s not all sugar might be able to do! Last year, some scientists discovered a way to turn sugar into the hydrocarbons that are found in a car’s petrol… so it might be possible one day to power cars on sugar!

Mmmm… delicious smelling exhaust. Speaking of delicious, Amanda, I think it’s time to talk about WHERE we can go in the world to eat some whacky sugary treats.

We’re going to start in Russia, Bryce…

Da, da

…where it’s possible that two rights have made a big wrong. Lobster – delicious. Lollies – delicious. Lobster flavoured lollies?

Nooooo… although if we just swim across to Japan, we can also have squid lollies. Most of them don’t contain actual squid, but are made instead with fishpaste and sugar.

Bleuch. Koreans love a treat called nurungji, which is made from, and tastes like, burnt rice. And in Israel there’s a beloved treat called Bamba. Now they look a lot like cheese Twisties, but they’re actually sweet – kind of like peanut butter.

Okay, I like the sound of that…

All through southeast Asia, you can find lollies made with durian. That’s an Indonesian fruit with a spiky shell and, shall we say, a very strong odour. Most hotel rooms in Asia make it very clear that you are NOT allowed to eat durian on the premises. That’s how much it stinks. It reminds me a lot of how my brother’s feet smelled when we were teenagers. Apparently, the lollies taste like a combo of pineapple, coconut, and caramel… but I can’t get past the smell, and the thought of those cheesy feet.

Our friends in America have some pretty bizarre candy – their word for lollies and chocolates – don’t they?

Oh, yes… Remember the three course dinner chewing gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Well, America has Thanksgiving gumballs that apparently contain “A 3-Course Meal in Every Tin.”

Thanksgiving, of course, is the November holiday in America where people get together for a huge meal to celebrate a successful harvest.

The gumballs are flavored as turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie respectively…. although a different brand has a bag of lollies with flavours like roasted turkey, green beans, stuffing, ginger glazed carrots, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato pie.

A little further south, Mexico has something called Salsagheti… Named and shaped like spaghetti noodles, they have a texture similar to licorice but a fruitier flavor… and they’re coated in chili powder, to give it that salsa kick.

Speaking of spicy, there’s a lollipop that you have to be over 18 to buy, because it’s so super hot! There’s a way of measuring spiciness called Scovilles. A jalapeno pepper has around 2,500 Scoville heat units… a Thai bird’s eye chilli has around 75,000… a police officer’s pepper spray has up to 3 million – and this lollipop has 9 million.

Ah… no thank you. Finally, there are some sugary treats that taste just fine, but LOOK horrible.

Indeed. I give you the sour flush – you dip a lollipop plunger into a plastic toiletbowl full of sour powder… or the Crime scene candy tubes – sealed plastic tubes filled with “saliva,” “blood,” and “urine” samples… which are actually apple, raspberry, and lemonade syrups. There’s also the Box of Boogers—squishy green gummies that look just like something you found in your nose, in Snottermelon, Sour Green Boogy, and Lemon Loogy flavour.

What’s wrong with a nice bag of mixed lollies, for goodness sake?

Funnily enough, the humble musk stick – a staple of my childhood – makes it onto a lot of international lists of weird foreign lollies. It’s worth remembering, I guess, that what we find normal, others find strange… and vice versa.

I still don’t want to eat lobster lollies.

Fair enough.

The S’Quiz
This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
1. What do Scovilles measure?
2. Which two common white crystal substances are used to preserve food?
3. What’s the name of the Indonesian fruit that is very, very stinky?