Is Sugar an Element, Compound or Mixture?


Table sugar, or sucrose, is a compound because it’s formed when two or more elements are joined together. Its chemical formula is C12H22O11, and it contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. More specifically, each molecule of sugar has 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms and 11 oxygen atoms. Other forms of sugar, like glucose, fructose and lactose, are also made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, but they have different amounts of the three elements.

What Is an Element?

In chemistry, an element is a substance with atoms that all have the same atomic number. They’re the simplest substances and won’t change due to chemical reactions.  There are currently 118 elements, and they’re listed on the periodic table. Some common ones are oxygen, silicon, hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, carbon, mercury, aluminum, copper, calcium, iron, silver and zinc. Elements are represented by their chemical symbol and atomic number.

What Is a Compound?

When you bond two or more elements together, they form a compound, like sugar. When they’re joined, the elements’ atoms are no longer made up of the same properties. Compounds are represented by molecular formulas like the one for sugar, C12H22O11. The molecular formula for water is H2O because it contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Table salt is another example of a compound. Its formula is NaCl because it contains one sodium atom and one chlorine atom.

What Is a Mixture?

A mixture is when two substances are mixed together, but no chemical reaction has occurred and each substance’s chemical makeup remains the same. If you’re cooking and mix flour, sugar and salt together to prepare for baking, you’ve created a mixture, because the ingredients have remained the same and can be separated. A trail mix is another example of a mixture. It may contain nuts, seeds, granola, candy and other items, but none of them change when they’re mixed together. 

Where Does Sugar Come From?

Sucrose or table sugar is a naturally-occuring substances that you can find in plants after they’ve gone through photosynthesis. When a plant takes in carbon dioxide from the air and energy from the sun, it forms sugar in its purest form. The sugar is then extracted and prepared for use. 

Which Plants Produce Sugar?

Sugarcane and sugar beets produce more sugar than any other plants, which is why they are usually grown just for sugar production. However, most vegetables, fruits and nuts have some natural sugar content. Mangos, apples, oranges, peaches, cantaloupe and apricots are some fruits that produce the most sugar. Vegetables that produce larger amounts of sugar include sweet potatoes, sweet peas, onions and carrots. Even almonds and cashews produce sugar. 

Who Discovered Sugar?

While the exact origin of sugar isn’t known, many believe the Polynesians first discovered it. But a series of invasions helped it spread around the world, starting when  Emperor Darius of Persia invaded India. His men discovered a secret crop of sugarcane. By the year 1069, sugar had made its way to the Western World via trade, though it was considered a luxury item in Europe. In 1493, Christopher Columbus reportedly took sugarcane plants on his journey to the Caribbean, and the success he found helped turn it into the commonplace ingredient it is today.