Chemical Reactions of Carbohydrates

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are macronutrients and one of the three basic sources of energy for our body. Carbohydrates are named for the chemical elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that they contain. Carbohydrates, which comprise sugars, fibres, and starches, are necessary nutrients. They can be found in cereals, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products such as milk and cheese. 

They are the basic dietary types that are essential for living a healthy lifestyle. The term is most commonly used in biochemistry as a synonym for saccharide, which refers to sugars, starch, and cellulose. Monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides are the four chemical groups of saccharides. The smallest (lowest molecular weight) carbohydrates, monosaccharides and disaccharides, are generally referred to as sugars.

This page will study carbohydrate chemical reactions and glucose reactions in detail.

The Chemical Reactions of Carbohydrates

Given below are the reactions of carbohydrates

1. Alkylation

Through a simple \[SN^{2}\] reaction, the -OH groups in carbohydrates react quickly with alkylating agents to produce ethers.

Methylation can be accomplished with silver oxide \[Ag_{2}O\] and methyl iodide, CH3I.

Benzylation can be accomplished with the help of benzyl halides (Cl, Br, I), \[C_{6}H_{5}CH_{2}X\] , and a base like NaH or \[Ag_{2}O\].

Because the products act as protective groups for the reactive -OH functional group, these reactions are frequently utilised in carbohydrate chemistry.

With aqueous acid, the -OR group at the acetal core can be changed back to a -OH.

2. Acylation

Esters are formed when the -OH groups in carbohydrates combine with acylating substances such as acid halides or acid anhydrides.

The most prevalent esters utilised are ethanoate esters (also commonly known as acetate and represented as "Ac")

Because the products act as protective groups for the reactive -OH functional group, these reactions are frequently utilised in carbohydrate chemistry.

3. Reduction 

Sodium borohydride, \[NaBH_{4}\], or catalytic hydrogenation (\[H_{2}\], Ni, EtOH/\[H_{2}O\]) can convert the C=O groups in open-chain carbohydrates to alcohols.

"Alditols" are the goods' names.

Because of its difficulty with polar solvents, LiAlH4 is rarely used.

Aldehydes, also known as aldoses, are converted into primary alcohols.

Ketones, sometimes known as ketones, are converted to secondary alcohols.

4. Oxidation 

Carbohydrate C=O can be converted to carboxylic acids via oxidation.

Based on Benedicts or Fehling’s tests, these carbohydrates are classed as lowering sugars.

5. Hydrolysis

Aqueous acid is a common reagent.

The -OR bond outside the ring at the anomeric core is broken and replaced with a -OH.

A mixture of a-and b-isomers is usually formed.

It's important to note that this is only acetal or ketal hydrolysis.

This reaction is the inverse of the one used to make glycosides.

Polysaccharides can be broken down into their constituent monosaccharides via this process.

6. Glycoside Formation

Excess ROH, acid catalysts are common reagents.

The "ROH" can also come from another saccharide, resulting in the union of two saccharide units.

Glycosides are simply acetals or ketals.

Simple acetals and ketals are used in this chemistry.

Monosaccharide - Glucose 

In this section, we will study the chemical reaction of carbohydrates (glucose).

With six carbon atoms and one aldehyde group, glucose is a simple sugar. The molecular formula for this monosaccharide is \[C_{6}H_{12}O_{6}\].

Dextrose is another name for it. It's called aldohexose because it has six carbon atoms and an aldehyde group. It can open in two different ways: as an open chain or as a ring structure. Animals produce it in their livers and kidneys. It can be present in plants' fruits as well as other sections of the plant. D-glucose is the most common kind of glucose found in nature. It can take the form of a solid or a liquid. It is water-soluble as well as acetic acid-soluble. It has no odour and is delicious to the taste. Andreas Marggraf, a German chemist, extracted glucose from raisins in 1747. The term glucose was invented by Jean Baptiste Dumas in 1838.

Properties of Glucose



Molecular weight/ molar mass

180.16 g/mol


1.54 g/cm3

Melting point


Simple sugar


Glucose Formation Reaction

Glucose is primarily obtained from two sources: starch and sucrose. Let's have a look at how to make glucose from these sources.

Glucose is made from starch hydrolysis on a large and commercial scale by boiling it with dilute \[H_{2}SO_{4}\]. The following is the chemical reaction:

\[(C_{6} H_{10} O_{5}) + n (H_{2}O) \rightarrow n (C_{6}H_{12}O_{6})\]

Also, another way of preparing glucose, with fructose as a joint or by-product, is to boil sucrose in dilute HCl or even \[H_{2}SO_{4}\] in an alcoholic solution. This chemical reaction is as follows

\[C_{12} H_{22} + H_{2} + O_{11} \rightarrow C_{6}H_{12}O_{6} + C_{6} H_{12} O_{6}\]

Chemical Reaction of Glucose

Aldohexose and dextrose are two names for glucose. Many bigger molecules, such as carbohydrates, starch, and cellulose, are monomers of it. This is the most common organic compound on the planet. 

The structure seen above was assigned based on the following glucose reactions:

\[C_{6}H_{12}O_{6}\] is its molecular formula.

n-hexane is created when HI is heated for a long duration, indicating that all six carbon atoms are connected in a straight chain.

When hydrogen cyanide is added to glucose, it interacts with hydroxylamine and cyanohydrins to generate oxime. The existence of the carbonyl group in glucose can be confirmed using this reaction.

When glucose reacts with a mild oxidising agent such as bromine water, the glucose is converted to a carboxylic acid with six carbon atoms. The carbonyl group is present as an aldehyde group in this case. After acetylation of glucose with acetic acid, which produces glucose pentaacetate, the existence of the -OH group is established.

When glucose and gluconic acid are oxidised by nitric acid, they produce dicarboxylic acid and saccharic acid. This indicates the existence of primary alcohol.

Glucose to Fructose Chemical Reaction

The glycolysis cycle, which transforms glucose into pyruvate, includes the isomerization of glucose to fructose. This is accomplished by isomerizing aldehyde (hemiacetal) glucose to ketone (hemiacetal) fructose and forming a new phosphate ester.

Applications of Carbohydrates

  • Carbohydrates' primary job is to deliver energy and food to the body and nervous system.

  • Carbohydrates, which include sugars, starch, and fibre, are abundant in grains, fruits, and dairy products, and are known as one of the basic components of the diet.

  • Carbs are also known by other names such as starch, simple sugars, and complex carbohydrates.

  • It also plays a role in fat metabolism and helps to keep you out of ketosis.

  • Proteins are the primary source of energy, hence it prevents them from being broken down for energy.

  • Amylase is an enzyme that aids in the breakdown of starch into glucose, which is then converted into energy for metabolism.

Applications of Glucose

  • It's a drug that's used to treat hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

  • It is given to patients who are unable to eat because it contains carbohydrate calories.

  • It's used to treat blood potassium levels that are too high (hyperkalemia)

  • It is utilised in the synthesis of substances as a precursor.

Health Effects of Carbohydrates

Low-carbohydrate diets may overlook the health benefits of high-quality carbs found in legumes and pulses, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, such as increased dietary fibre consumption. Halitosis, headaches, and constipation are common side effects of the diet, and the potential negative consequences of carbohydrate-restricted diets remain under-researched in general, notably for probable hazards of osteoporosis and cancer incidence. 

When overall calorie intake is lowered, carbohydrate-restricted diets can be just as successful as low-fat diets in assisting weight loss in the short run. "When calorie intake is held constant, the body-fat formation does not appear to be altered by even very noticeable variations in the quantity of fat vs carbohydrate in the diet," according to an Endocrine Society research statement. Effective weight loss or maintenance, in the long run, is dependent on calorie restriction, not the macronutrient ratio in a diet.

Did You Know?

In chemistry, racemization is the transformation of an optically active compound into a racemic (optically inactive) form using heat or a chemical process. Racemic mixtures (which contain equal amounts of (+) and (-) forms) are formed when half of an optically active material transforms into its mirror counterpart (enantiomer). The resulting sample is termed as a racemic mixture or a racemate if the racemization produces a mixture in which the D and L enantiomers are present in equal amounts. Racemization can occur via a variety of methods, and it's especially important in pharmacology because various enantiomers might have distinct medicinal effects.

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FAQs on Chemical Reactions of Carbohydrates

1. How does glucose get produced in the body? What is considered to be the normal level of glucose in the body? 

Glucose, or blood sugar, tends to act as the primary source of energy for the body as it is the main sugar found in our blood. The blood helps to carry the glucose to the cells of one’s body so that it can be utilised for energy. This glucose is transferred into one’s body from the food they eat and the remnants of it are later stored in the liver. The liver not only serves as a storehouse for the glucose in one’s body, but it also helps to produce it. And the time when one isn’t eating, the liver undergoes glycogenolysis, a process wherein it turns the glycogen into glucose, thereby supplying the sugar required by the body. 

For adults, the normal glucose level (without diabetes), is considered to be between 90 and 110 mg/dL. The low blood sugar level is if the blood sugar is less than 70 mg/dL, and if it is more than 130 mg/dL before eating a meal or about 180 mg/dL a couple of hours after having one, it is considered to be a high blood sugar level. 

2. What happens if too many carbohydrates are consumed? 

The main function of carbohydrates is to maintain the energy levels of the body and boost them as well. However, consuming excess carbohydrates can’t be good for the body either. If an individual eats or continues to eat more carbohydrates than required or recommended, then their blood sugar levels are bound to get high. That in turn, leads to more formation of insulin in the body, as a result of which, the cells end up saving all the extra glucose as fat. This whole predicament can lead to diabetes and/or other health-related concerns. 

3. What role does glucose play in plants? 

Through the process of photosynthesis, plants use the energy from the sun to turn carbon dioxide and water into oxygen as well as a sugar called glucose. This sugar, in turn, is then utilised by plants for energy. They also make other substances imperative for their functioning like starch that acts as a source of food for them, the cellulose that helps them to build the walls of their cells, etc. Glucose thus helps with the nourishment of the plants along with their other energy-related purposes. 

Even certain bacteria and unicellular organisms like algae, make use of glucose for the process of photosynthesis. To know more, visit Vedantu and learn more about glucose. 

4. How is the metabolism of carbohydrates regulated? 

In living organisms, the metabolic formation, breakdown, and interconversion of carbohydrates take place through a series of biochemical processes. This series of such processes is known as carbohydrate metabolism. 

Our pancreases tend to release a plethora of hormones that look after regulating the overall process of carbohydrate metabolism. The two key hormones that are responsible for the maintenance of a steady level of glucose in the blood are insulin and glucagon, and the amount of nutrients that are currently harboured by the body ensures the release of each of these hormones. Therefore, the amount of glucose that cells would break down is dependent on the amount of insulin released into the bloodstream. 

The maintenance of steady levels of glucose in the body is referred to as glucoregulation.

5. What is glucose-fructose syrup and what is it used for?

Glucose-fructose syrup is made out of starch by cutting down or hydrolysing the molecules in glucose that are linked to free glucose molecules. Then, in a process called isomerisation, some of that glucose is changed into what is known as fructose, with the help of enzymes. This glucose-fructose syrup is very commonly used in various foods and beverages due to its sweetness as well as its versatility. It helps to prevent crystallisation, improves the texture, and also helps with the consistency in the food it is used. In fact, this syrup is also at times used in the place of additives for preserving specific kinds of food items. Here are some foods that tend to contain glucose-fructose syrup: 

  • Canned fruit 

  • Yoghurt (sweetened)

  • Different types of candies 

  • Soft drinks 

  • Bread

  • Various fast food items/ frozen foods

6. What effect does glucose have on the body?

If left untreated, having too much sugar in the blood for an extended length of time can lead to major health complications. Hyperglycemia damages the blood arteries that supply important organs, raising the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, visual issues, and nerve disorders.

7. What does it signify if your blood glucose level is too high?

Hyperglycemia is a defining feature of diabetes, defined as a high blood glucose level caused by the body's inability to adequately use or produce the hormone insulin. Blood sugar levels may rise if you consume too many processed foods. Glucose is obtained from the meals you consume.

8. Is it possible to live without carbohydrates?

While we can live without sugar, completely eliminating carbohydrates from our diet would be challenging. Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source. In the absence of these nutrients, your body will rely on protein and fat for energy. It may also be difficult to consume enough fibre, which is essential for long-term health.

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