What is Invertase?
Invertase, or beta-fructofuranosidase, is an enzyme derived from yeast. It has the ability to break sucrose down into the simple sugars glucose and fructose. The resulting product, also known as inverted sugar syrup, is most often used in baking. It is commonly found in mass-produced candies because it is sweeter than some other forms of sugar and can increase the shelf life of sugary confections.
Honeybees can produce invertase, but for commercial use, creating large amounts of the enzyme is cheaper when made from yeast in large amounts. When invertase is added to sucrose, or common table sugar, the enzyme stimulates a process called hydrolysis. Hydrolysis splits the bond between glucose and fructose as it adds hydrogen and hydroxide, separating the two types of sugar.
Bakers and candy companies sometimes call inverted sugar syrup "invert syrup" or trimoline. They employ the product when baking because it has a stronger taste than normal sucrose, and the syrup will not crystallize as quickly as table sugar. In addition, inverted sugar tends to keep confections moist better than normal sugar can. The enzyme can, however, be considered a somewhat expensive ingredient; it requires a rigorous purification process. Thus, the cheaper enzyme glucose isomerase, which has the same effect on sucrose, is also commonly used in place of invertase.
Invertase may also be found in candies containing a liquefied sugar center, such as chocolate-covered cherries. Marshmallows and creams also tend to use the enzyme for texture or consistency as well as longevity. Even some cigarette companies use trace amounts of invertase or inverted sugar syrup in the lining of a cigarette to give it an attractive taste.
The enzyme is usually sold in three different strengths—single, double and triple. Some forms come as a liquid, while other types exist as a powder that can either be added directly to a mixture or combined with water first. The product is usually clear or takes on a pale yellow color and may smell slightly of fermentation. Though the enzyme is inclined to higher levels of activity at low temperatures, it is best when used at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), because sucrose will split faster at higher temperatures.
Most manufacturers of the enzyme caution that, while the enzyme is not flammable, it is a chemical, and the use of gloves is recommended. Contact with eyes should be avoided. Those with certain allergies might experience a reaction to eating or even handling invertase.
What? You should use gloves with invertase because "it's a chemical"? Water is a chemical. So are the molecules that make up the gloves you'll be putting on to avoid the invertase.
Does anyone know what the shelf life is for Invertase?
@Malka - Wow, very interesting post. I did not know that bees made invertase naturally -- that explains why honey has such a similar consistency to some of my favorite candies' liquid centers.
Now you've got me wondering not only if the synthesized bee invertase can turn sugars into sweet liquid goo at lower temperatures than manmade chemical invertase, but also whether the variety that the bees make is safer for people to eat.
I still don't think it takes very much invertase to add to the sugars to convert them, so probably even in the bees' case the invertase content in honey is pretty small. Honey is practically all made from nectar, so the main content is pretty obvious -- sugar.
I wonder if the invertase in honey has anything to do with why it is such a powerful antibacterial agent? If it is, then in a really bizarre twist of events, Caramilk candy centers might actually be antibacterial, too. Does anybody know what exactly makes honey such a great antibacterial agent? Is it the invertase?
@Hawthorne - That story about the Caramilk bars tells me some interesting facts:
1. Invertase takes awhile to have its chemical reaction -- quite a long time, as far as chemicals go, because it obviously can't liquefy the caramel centers just by the invertase coming into contact with the sugars.
2. Invertase can cause its sugar-liquifying reaction without access to oxygen, because the centers of the bars are sealed in chocolate and wrappers by the time it takes effect.
Neither of these are that surprising if you consider the original source of invertase (and yes, the way that scientists discovered that it could be used to make food.) The original source of invertase is from honeybees.
Honeybees synthesize this enzyme naturally; in fact, invertase's sugar-liquifying process is how bees take the sugars found in nectar and convert them into the thick, syrupy substance so dearly loved by Winnie the Pooh: honey.
Now, I think it's pretty fascinating that honeybees can use their synthesized invertase to liquefy honey in the honeycomb sections of their nest. I wonder if natural bee invertase is superior to the manmade one, since I doubt the bees heat the nest up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit to liquefy nectar into honey.
In my experience, nature makes things just right -- I'll bet the ideal temperature for honeybee invertase to liquefy sugars is lower than the ideal temperature that the manmade stuff needs.
@seHiro - Food chemistry is a complicated and professional field. I'm sure that a chemist could determine whether a substance was safe to eat or not without actually eating it, or there would be a lot more poisonings and accidents in that profession!
Invertase liquifies sucrose and glucose; it is not the primary sweetening component in things like candies or marshmallows, it's just an additive to make the sugars that are the primary sweetening agents take on the liquid form that the manufacturer wants.
When a company adds invertase to candy bars with liquid centers, for example, there is actually very little invertase in the bars, and it's diluted and mixed up with the sugars involved, so it's not a direct chemical you're eating and you don't end up being harmed from touching it.
Personally, I think it's kind of neat. Did you know that Caramilk bars (my favorite) have to sit for weeks before they can be sold? That's because the invertase needs time to liquefy the caramel centers of the bars. If they were sold as soon as they were finished, the invertase wouldn't have had time to liquefy the centers.
So, yeast invertase is not only in the chocolate covered cherries I might buy, it's also in marshmallows, creams, pastries, and even my cigarettes -- all while being considered too dangerous to handle without work gloves. Isn't chemistry great?
All sarcasm aside, this means that invertase has some sort of chemical transformation during cooking, at least I hope so, or touching it to eat it would be harmful. I wonder who discovered it wasn't harmful if eaten?
I always wonder that about chemicals that are previously harmful until somebody discovers they make a good food ingredient. Short of not paying attention and accidentally eating the invertase, how do they do it?
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