The first thing that comes to mind when you think of sugar is certainly sweetness. Sugar has a wide range of applications, including sweetening baked items, savory foods, and beverages. Sugar can be used to add flavor, texture, and decoration to a dish. It also aids in the tenderization of dough, the stability of egg whites in meringues and pavlovas, and the attainment of a pleasant golden-brown color in baked goods.
Sugar is generated by extracting sugar juice from sugar beet or sugar cane plants and then processing it into various sugars. Different sugar variations can be made by making minor changes to the cleaning, crystallizing, and drying processes and modifying the molasses content. Sugars with varied crystal sizes have distinct functional properties, making them suited for different foods and beverages.
The amount of molasses left on or added to the crystals determines the color of the sugar, which imparts pleasant flavors and changes the moisture content. Sugar changes color and flavor when heated (yum, caramel!). Some sugars are only used in the food industry and are therefore unavailable in supermarkets.
Types of Sugars
1. White Granulated Sugar
Granulated sugar is a fundamental and straightforward way to sweeten that is used in most baking recipes.
The process of refining beet or cane sugar into the granulated version you’re probably using right now removes all molasses, leaving nearly 100% pure sucrose with a bright white hue and fine texture similar to table salt. It has a sweet yet mild flavor that makes it popular in a variety of applications.
2. Brown Sugar
Brown sugar is unprocessed or partially refined sugar with molasses added back in, or it’s granulated sugar that has been fully refined with molasses added back in. Its brown color is due to this. Dark and light brown sugar are distinguished by including more or fewer molasses; whereas the two can be used interchangeably, the darker kind has a more profoundly caramel-like flavor.
Brown sugar is acidic because of the molasses component. Thus you’ll find it with baking soda in recipes that call for it. Brown sugar has the feel of wet sand and, if not preserved in an airtight container, will dry into a hard brick.
Light Brown Sugar
A modest amount of molasses is added to refined white sugar to make light brown sugar. It has a wet and sandy texture and a subtle caramel flavor, albeit it is less sticky as compared to muscovado sugar. It can be used in baked items as well as savory recipes.
Dark Brown Sugar
Dark brown sugar, like its lighter version, is refined white sugar with molasses added. It has a richer, more powerful flavor than light brown sugar because it contains more molasses. Brown sugar, both light and dark, can be used interchangeably.
3. Cane Sugar
Some granulated sugar is made from cane sugar, which is made wholly of sugarcane and is only lightly processed before being packaged and sold. In a 1:1 ratio, you can use cane sugar instead of granulated sugar, but the grains will be larger and slightly blonde in color.
4. Confectioners Sugar
Confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar, icing sugar, or 10X sugar) is granulated sugar that has been ground into a powder and combined with a little starch to prevent caking. Because it’s so light and smooth, it’s frequently used as a white finishing touch on cakes and bars. It can be whipped into frostings and glazing very smoothly and easily.
In a blender, pulverize 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon cornstarch (or tapioca starch, or potato starch) to manufacture your own powdered sugar. Alternatively, you can replace 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, depending on how the ingredient is used (i.e., it won’t cream with butter but will mix perfectly into a brownie batter).
5. Caster Sugar
Caster sugar, also known as superfine sugar, is white granulated sugar that has been crushed to an even finer, powder-like consistency. This kind dissolves fast, making it ideal for delicate applications where graininess would be noticeable (such as meringues, simple syrups, soufflés, and cocktails).
6. Turbinado Sugar
Turbinado sugar is a raw cane sugar with a high moisture content, large crystal size, and minimal processing (only the molasses layer is removed).
It’s light brown and slightly caramel-flavored, and it’s commonly used to add a molasses note to drinks or as a textured finish to baked goods; the crystals keep their structure and crunch rather than melting away in the oven.
7. Demerara Sugar
Demerara is made in the same way as turbinado and can be used interchangeably; its golden brown, slightly larger crystals keep their shape when baked, so it’s ideal for completing cookies, pies, and tarts.
8. Muscovado Sugar
Muscovado brown sugar is the darkest and most molasses-y of all the brown sugars, bigger, stickier, and more darkly colored, with a strong flavor to match. It’s completely unprocessed, so it retains its natural molasses; this variety is utilized in delicious applications like barbecue sauce and gingerbread, but it can also be substituted for conventional brown sugar for a more intensely flavored end result.
This unprocessed cane sugar is smokey, earthy, and intensely sweet across Latin America (except in Mexico, where it is known as piloncillo) and in Portugal as rapadura. It comes in light and dark variations, much like brown sugar, and as a block or granulated form, just like jaggery. It’s frequently used to sweeten masa-based drinks such as atole and champurrado, as well as custards like flan.
10. Palm Sugar
Palm sugar is manufactured from the sap of any sort of palm flower; coconut sugar and other varieties of jaggery (explained further below) are examples of this type of sugar. It’s used in sweet and savory Southeast Asian, Thai, and Indian dishes, imparting a caramel-like, almost smokey flavor.
11. Coconut Sugar
This sort of sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar, is manufactured from the coconut plant’s cut flower buds sap. It has a nutty and earthy flavor, is light brown in color, and is widely used in Southeast Asian sweet dishes. In most recipes, you may use coconut sugar in place of granulated or brown sugar in a 1:1 ratio because it creams and dissolves the same way.
12. Sanding Sugar
Sanding sugar, also known as sparkling sugar, has a coarse texture and doesn’t melt away easily when cooked, so it’s frequently used in decorating or finishing—and comes in a rainbow of colors to be used as sprinkles.
13. Fruit Sugar
Fruit sugar crystals are smaller and more homogeneous than normal sugar. It’s utilized in dry mixes like gelatin and pudding sweets, as well as powdered beverages. The homogeneity of crystal size prevents sugar crystals from settling to the bottom of the box, which is an important characteristic in dry mixes.
14. Baker’s Special Sugar
Baker’s special sugar crystals are finer than fruit sugar crystals. It was created specifically for the baking sector, as its name implies. This sugar is used for sugar donuts and cookies, and it’s also utilized to create a fine crumb texture in some cake recipes.
Jaggery is a type of unrefined sugar prepared from sugar cane juice or palm sap (from coconut, date, sago, or toddy palm trees) that is popular in India and Southeast Asia. The liquids are boiled down and then scraped into sprinkle-able grains that are medium brown in color and incredibly complex in flavor; it’s buttery, fruity, earthy, and mildly spicy all at once. To use the hardened, molded variety of jaggery, shave, grate, or saw off a piece with a knife to sweeten drinks and sauces or make caramel or toffee, just shave, grate, or saw off a piece with a knife.
Sucanat is a trademarked form of natural cane sugar created by a special method (boiling then paddling to create grains) that preserves a lot of molasses. It has a tan color and a firm texture, which implies it won’t dissolve easily in batters or doughs. Sucanat is sometimes ground into a powder before use to assist it to blend in better aesthetically and texturally.
17. Pearl Sugar
Pearl sugar, also known as nib sugar and hail sugar, is white sugar with a gritty, hard texture and an opaque tint. When subjected to high temperatures, it also maintains its shape and does not melt. Pearl sugar is often used to embellish pastries, biscuits, and buns in Scandinavian pastry.
18. Liquid Sugar
White granulated sugar that has been dissolved in water is known as liquid sugar. Simple syrup is liquid sugar with a sugar-to-water ratio of 1:1. In drinks, liquid sugar is frequently employed. Amber liquid sugar has a deeper tint and can be used to provide a brown color.
19. Invert Sugar
Inversion is the process of splitting sugar into its two component sugars, glucose, and fructose, yielding invert sugar, a liquid sugar with equal amounts of glucose and fructose. Invert sugar is sweeter than white sugar because fructose is sweeter than sucrose or glucose. Because only half of the sucrose has been inverted, 50% invert sugar is 1/2 sucrose, 1/4 sucrose, and 1/4 glucose.
Invert sugar is used by food manufacturers to prevent crystallization and retain moisture in packaged foods, depending on which function is desired. Invert sugar is a product that can be made at home when a recipe calls for sugar to be gently boiled in a mixture of water and lemon juice.
All sugars, however, have one thing in common: sugar juice is extracted from sugar beet or sugarcane plants. But from there, you can make a variety of sugars, some of which are fantastic for giving the bread a crispy, sweet texture. Others are molasses-forward, and they go quite well in barbecue sauces.