Sugar is first and foremost used because of its sweetening properties. It has a clean sweet taste with no aftertaste and is the reference against which other sweeteners are compared. Beyond its sweetening properties, sugar provides structure and texture to many traditional foods, such as bakery products and jam. Sugar helps to create crispness and texture in biscuits, and is central to the browning process that gives bread and pastries their traditional golden colour and characteristic flavour.

In some products, sugar can act as a natural preservative. Reducing sugar concentration in a food product may shorten its shelf life and impact on quality. For example, a jam with reduced sugars content will need to be stored in the fridge.

No single ingredient can replace sugar in all foods and replicate its many functions at the same time. Thus, replacing sugar often results in the use of several additional ingredients and additives, which may result in higher calorie content.