No, sugar is not a mineral. It does meet the five geological qualifications a substance would need to be considered a mineral.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain what the five qualifications are and why it is that sugar does not qualify.
Why Is Sugar A Mineral? (Or Not?)
The Five Qualifications To Be A Mineral
To qualify as a mineral, sugar would need to meet all five qualifications. If sugar failed to exhibit one of these characteristics (as it does), it couldn’t qualify.
The five qualifications to geologically be considered a mineral are:
One: The substance must exist in nature, without humans having to make it.
For example, diamonds exist in nature. They are considered minerals. Synthetic diamonds are made in a laboratory. They look pretty much just like diamonds, but they are not considered to be a mineral.
Two: The substance must be a solid (though it can exist in other forms, it just wouldn’t be considered a mineral in those forms). In general, it should be in its solid form while at a normal range for Earth temperatures.
Hydrogen, for example, exists as a gas at normal Earth temperatures. But if you put enough pressure on it and reduce the temperature of it well-beyond what is normal for Earth, it does become a solid. We just don’t call it a solid because that solid form isn’t normal for it.
Three: The substance must be completely and totally inorganic. The substance could have come from an organic source, but must be completely inorganic at the time of review.
Petrified wood is a good example of an inorganic substance that was once organic. It starts as wood (living cells) and those cells are replaced over thousands upon thousands of years by minerals. Once it can be called “petrified wood” there is no organic material left in it.
Four: The substance must have a consistent chemical composition throughout all samples of the material (regardless of where they are taken from).
Five: The internal structure of the substance must be orderly, and consistent.
What Is Sugar?
Before we move through the geological qualifications, we should pause really quickly and confirm what sugar is (and is not).
Sugar is a compound. It is not an element. A compound is formed when two or more differing substances form chemical bonds.
In the case of sugar, the components that it is made up of depends on the kind of sugar you are talking about.
For example, table sugar (that we’d stir into our coffee or tea) is known as sucrose, and it has a chemical formula of C12H22O11.
Other sugars have different formulas:
Fructose – C6H12O6
Glucose – C6H12O6
Xylose – C5H10O5
In some cases, sugars may exhibit the same chemical formula (meaning the same number of carbons, hydrogens, and oxygens, but form up in a different structure.
As we discuss sugar in the context of whether it is a mineral, we will be talking about sucrose.
Does Sugar Meet The Qualifications To Be Considered a Mineral?
First, does sugar (sucrose) exist naturally in the world, without human intervention? In the case of sucrose, the answer is yes, the substance does exist. It is a naturally occurring sugar, and is found in various fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
There are probably varieties of sugar that are entirely human made that do no exist in nature, and these materials would not qualify as a mineral even if they managed to meet the other qualifications of this test.
Second, is sugar solid? Yes, sugar is solid, though it easily dissolves into water and other liquids made up of water.
Third, is sugar inorganic? No, sugar is not inorganic. This is where sugar really fails to meet the geological test to be a mineral. When we say “organic” we don’t mean “free of impurities or pesticides.”
In chemistry, an organic compound is generally any chemical compound that contains carbon to hydrogen bonds (C-H).
In the case of sucrose, there are quite a few C-H bonds.
People will argue that sugar is “organic” because it comes from a living plant or can be found in life forms. Ultimately, it comes down to the chemical composition and structure of the compound, and its presence inside living beings is not relevant.
Fourth (thought it doesn’t really matter), does sugar have a consistent chemical composition throughout? Yes, sugar does have a consistent chemical composition throughout. Sugar is made up of one kind of compound, and it does not need any other added substance to be sugar.
Fifth and finally, does the substance have a consistent and orderly structure? Yes, each particle of sugar is a crystal made up of a consistent and orderly arrangement of sucrose molecules.
In summary, because sugar is an organic compound, it cannot be considered a mineral.
See also: Is Sugar a Pure Substance?