On the Science of Sweetened Tea


Sugar cubes (stock image)
Sugar cubes (stock image)

I’ve never been particularly keen on sweetened tea. I don’t know if that puts me in the minority of tea drinkers but the fact is that there are plenty of people who do like their tea sweetened. Enough to apparently make it worthwhile to do a research study on the topic. Or a bunch of research studies. Here are a few thoughts on some of the more noteworthy ones of these that I was able to locate.

It’s not about sweetened tea, in the strictest sense of the word, but a research study focused on green tea candy is close enough for me. As students of mouthwash and toothpaste commercials may know, gingiva is another word for our gums. The study was carried out some time ago by German researchers, who found “that the oral application of green tea catechins and polyphenols might have a positive influence on the inflammatory reaction of periodontal structures.” Which is as good a reason to eat tea candy as any, I guess.

Sticking with the dental theme for a moment, another study took a look at “the relationship between caries levels and sweet tea consumption.” While us Yanks might think first of the American South when we hear the term sweet tea, this study was actually carried out by British researchers on Iraqi sweet tea drinkers. Their probably not so surprising findings were that “exposure to sugar increases the intake sugar and the risk of dental caries.”

I’ve never been all that keen on flavored teas either, but even if I were I’m not sure what I’d think about a mix of sweet pepper, apple and black tea. But that didn’t stop Chinese researchers, a few years ago, from trying to make “a new composite health drink” out of these very same elements.

Not surprisingly, given tea’s reputation for containing potentially health-giving compounds, some people are driven to wonder what happens to those compounds when you add sweeteners and whatnot to the mix. A few years back Indian researchers rolled out a study that looked at the influence of milk and sugar on the antioxidant potential of black tea. Their results seemed to be somewhat mixed, but for the most part the milk and sugar appeared to have negative effects.

As for the effects of honey on antioxidants, well, don’t fret. Portuguese researchers took on this question in a study published earlier this year and found that honey “potentiates the antioxidant activity of lemon-flavoured black tea, increasing the reducing power and lipid peroxidation inhibition properties, as also the antioxidant contents such as phenolics, flavonoids and organic acids including ascorbic acid.”

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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