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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

Items benefiting from the relief: what is food?: food ingredients and additives: sugars

Sugars form one of the three major groups of carbohydrates in food and (together with starches) are the main sources of food energy. The main sugars used in food manufacture are sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose and maltose. All are zero-rated.


This occurs naturally in fruit and plant juices, and is also manufactured from starch. For example, honey is often made up of around 30% glucose. Glucose syrup (liquid glucose) is manufactured by the partial hydrolysis of starch (usually maize or corn starch) and is a mixture of pure glucose, maltose and other starches. Glucose (as powder or syrup) is widely used in the manufacture of sugar confectionery, soft drinks and jams and is also sold as a sweetening agent in its own right. Controlled solutions of glucose are used in the preparation of parenteral nutrition solutions.

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Fructose is found in sweet fruits and some root vegetables and is the sweetest of the natural sugars. It is a component of sucrose and may be extracted from sucrose for commercial use.

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Maltose is obtained from starch and is less sweet than fructose, sucrose or glucose. For this reason, it is not as widely used in food manufacture.

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Sucrose is the most commonly used of the sugars. Granulated sugar, castor sugar, icing sugar and the various brown sugars (demerara, muscavado and so on) are all different varieties of sucrose.

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Is extracted from milk and is the least sweet of the sugars. It is widely used as a dilutant for powders (both in the manufacture of beverage preparations) and in pharmacology. As well as food-grade lactose, there is also a commercial lactose which is used for non-food purposes, for example in the manufacture of plasterboard and fireworks. Commercial grade lactose is standard-rated.