“Sugar in Dutch foods throughout the years” – MSc-thesis possibility with Rural Sociology and Food Technology

Sugar in Dutch foods throughout the years: proposal for a Rural Sociology Master’s Thesis supervised by dr Jessica Duncan of the Rural Sociology Group and dr ir Ralf Hartemink of the Food Technology Group of Wageningen University.

Note: the research question is proposed by Knowledge Centre for Sugar & Nutrition (Kenniscentrum suiker & voeding). They will review the thesis and potentially use findings to develop a fact sheet on the history of sugar use in the Netherlands.

Research context and problem:

Today, it is not uncommon to read warning of the impacts of increasing amounts of sugars being added foods and drinks and thus increasing sugar intake by consumers. But is this the case in the Netherlands? Are Dutch people using more sugar in their cooking? Are they consuming more sugar in ready-made products? Has the sugar content in these products increased over the years? If so, by how much and why? In order to establish an overview of trends in sugar use in some typical Dutch products the researcher will:

  1. Research and map sugar trends in foods and drinks throughout the years (both domestic cooking and industrially prepared foods);
  2. Research the functionalities of sugar in a variety of products in the context of the trends.
  3. Analyse the  social and technological drivers and implications of the trends

Main research questions

1. Sugar use throughout the years (Rural Sociology):

  • How has sugar consumption changed over the last 100 years in the Netherlands?
  • What were the social drivers that caused the introduction of industrially produced (ready-made) food products?
  • How has this introduction of industrially produced (ready-made) food products impacted the trend?

2. Trend sugar content of several Dutch products (Rural Sociology):

  • To what extent have Dutch domestic cooks used sugar (and what were the quantities) in recipes/products (e.g. soups, main dish, vegetables, bottled vegetables and fruits, desserts, etc.) over the last 100 years?
  • To what extent have ready-made industrial products (notably traditional products that have been on the markets for a longer period of time) used sugar and how has the quantity of sugar in these products changed over the last 100 years?
  • How (if at all) have these recipes/products (both household and food industry recipes) changed throughout the years with regard to sugar content?
  • Have any common foods replaced sugars partially or fully with sweeteners? To what extent did this replacement occur?

3. Functionalities of sugar (Food Science and Technology)

  • What are the different types of functionalities of sugar used in foods/drinks?
  • What are the different types of sugars (i.e. sucrose, dextrose, etc) and how are they used differently for specific functionalities (i.e. dextrose as a carrier for herbs)? And in what kind of products are they used?

Suggested Approaches

  • Literature review and archival research
  • Analyses recipes of “Het Wannee Kookboek” cookbooks 1910-2010 (first edition 1910) and “het Haagsche Kookboek” (first edition 1934)
  • Analyses on sugars composition of NEVO food composition database 1942-2013 (first edition 1942)
  • Analyses on recipes/food culture/attitude in Margriet/Libelle (first edition respectively 1938 and 1934)
  • Overview functionalities/properties/types of sugar and its use in a broad range of products


Start date: As soon as possible
End date: 6 months after start date

Eligible candidates must be students:

  • registered in one of the following education programmes:
    • MSc Applied Communication Science (MCS), including Health and Society (MHS)
    • MSc International Development Studies (MID)MSc Development and Rural Innovation (MDR)
    • MSc Management, Economics and Consumer Studies (MME)
  • speak and read Dutch fluently
  • have successfully completed two RSO courses
  • ave achieved satisfactory overall study progress
  • deally have some background in food technology

If you are interested in undertaking this research for your MSc thesis, email jessica.duncan@wur.nl. Please include your CV.

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About foodgovernance

Jessica Duncan is Assistant Professor in the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University. Originally from Canada, she lived in France, Spain and the UK before coming to the Netherlands. She holds a PhD in Food Policy from City University London and is the author of the book Global Food Security Governance: Civil society engagement in the reformed Committee on World Food Security (Routledge, 2015, http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781138802520/ ). Her research areas include: food policy; food security; global governance; environmental policy; participation; rural sociology. She is particularly interested in transitions towards environmentally sustainable food security governance.