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The Different Types of Sugar Explained

There are so many different kinds of sugar, we break them each down below

When it comes to sugar, there are a few varieties that are more well-known than others. Although white and brown sugar are the types that most of us are likely to stock up on, did you know that there are lots of other varieties available, all of which can be used in baking recipes?

Sugar is the name given to a sweet-tasting carbohydrate that breaks down into glucose when digested. It contains hydrogen, carbon, and molecules of oxygen. It is an ingredient that is found in many drinks, sweet goods, and savory dishes. Whilst sugar is predominantly used in recipes because it adds a sweet taste, it can also alter the texture and coloring.

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Contrary to belief, sugar itself is not unhealthy. Natural sugar is found in a range of fruits as fructose and many dairy products as lactose and natural sugars are said to provide the body with essential nutrients. Added sugars refer to sugar carbohydrates that are added in the processing of foods and drinks to change the texture and enhance the flavor. Consuming too many added sugars can harm your health.

Not only can it lead to issues with your blood sugars but it can also lead to diabetes, weight gain, and heart disease. As such, added sugars should not make up any more than 5% of the energy that we get from drinks and food that we consume every day. Sugar also comes in four different forms. This includes sucrose, fructose, glucose, and lactose.

What Are the Types of Sugar?

As we have mentioned, there are many different types of sugar. The calorie content and sweetness of the sugar are going to differ depending on the variety that you use.  

In our guide below, we have covered everything that you need to know about all of the most commonly used types of sugar.

Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar also goes by the name of white sugar or table sugar. It is the most common type as it tends to be used on a daily basis. It can either be made from beet sugar or cane sugar that has gone through the refining process. Unlike many other types of sugar, granulated sugar does not tend to clump together. As a multi-purpose sugar, it can be used in baking recipes or added to your tea or coffee.

Powdered Sugar

Also referred to as icing sugar or Confectioners sugar, is a type of finely ground white sugar that has been made by grinding down granulated sugar until it becomes powdery. Typically it is mixed with cornstarch because there is otherwise a risk of it caking together.

Because it dissolves very easily, powdered sugar is often used in the form of frosting or icing to decorate baked goods. Although this type of sugar is readily available from the majority of stores, it can easily be made from home as you only need two ingredients; granulated sugar and cornstarch. 

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is made from granulated sugar that has molasses added to it. It can be light or dark and is another type of multi-purpose sugar. In light brown sugar, there is only a small presence of molasses. It has a taste that is very similar to that of caramel and a wet texture. Dark brown sugar has more molasses added to it.

The most noticeable difference between this type of brown sugar and light brown sugar can be identified in the taste as dark brown sugar is more intense. Despite this, both types can be used interchangeably although it will depend on the recipe that you are following and how powerful you want the flavor to be. Although brown sugar contains a few more minerals than white sugar, they both have a similar nutritional value. 

Superfine Sugar

This is a type of sugar that is also known as caster sugar or bar sugar. As implied, superfine sugar is made up of very fine granules. It dissolves pretty quickly and is often used in desserts such as puddings and meringues. Moreover, superfine sugar is also used to create cocktail syrups. 

Pearl Sugar

Pearl sugar and Nib sugar are two terms that are used interchangeably to describe the same product. It has a coarse texture and refrains from melting even when exposed to high temperatures. Despite this, it is still used in several Scandinavian recipes for decorative purposes.

This sugar is easy to make as the process involves crushing larger cubes of white sugar before sifting them until smaller, hard fragments remain. The diameter of the fragments can be determined by preference. 

Cane Sugar

Whilst granulated sugar can come from sugar cane or sugar beets, cane sugar is specifically made from sugar cane. It does not endure a lot of processing as it is only crystalized once. The granules are slightly larger than granulated sugar although it can still be used in the same way. 

Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar has large coarse granules and just like pearl sugar, it will not dissolve when exposed to heat. Because of this, sanding sugar is usually used to decorate baked goods instead of being mixed into a recipe. The granules have a sparkly shine and look rather polished. Furthermore, sanding sugar also comes in an array of colors so you can choose according to what you are decorating. 

Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado sugar is a variety of unrefined cane sugar and it is also known as Barbados sugar. It contains natural molasses and is brown in color, though it does come in dark and light varieties. It has a moist texture that some would describe as being quite sticky. Moreover, this type of sugar has a strong toffee taste. Although most varieties of sugar are used in baking recipes, muscovado sugar works well in savory dishes too. 

Demerara Sugar

Produced from sugar cranes, demerara sugar has large, coarse grains. It endures minimal processing and is typically amber-colored. It has a natural molasses flavor and a crunchy texture which makes it a popular choice for baking. It also makes a great substitute for brown sugar so you needn’t worry if you do not have any on hand. 

Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar is made from raw cane sugar that is minimally refined. The granules look like large sugar crystals and this sugar is often mistaken for brown sugar because it looks quite similar, however, the most prominent difference is that Turbinado sugar doesn’t have molasses added to it. In regards to flavor, Turbinado Sugar tastes quite similar to caramel. Not only can it be used in baking recipes, but it can also be added to hot beverages to enhance the sweetness. 

Coarse Sugar

As implied by the name of this sugar, it has coarse crystals that are considerably larger than those of white sugar. The size of the crystals enhances the intensity of the flavor and it also has a greater resistance to heat. Coarse sugar is often used to decorate the tops of baked items because it adds some texture.

Sugar FAQs

Is there a variety of healthy sugar?

As we have mentioned previously, natural sugars are better than added sugars. There are some suggestions that brown sugar is healthier than white sugar but this is not necessarily true because they are both quite balanced when it comes to nutritional value. There are certain sugars that can trigger issues with blood sugar management. 

Does it matter what type of sugar you use?

You will find many recipes that call for the use of a specific type of sugar. When possible you should try to use the types of sugar that the recipe requests, but if you have noticed that you don’t have any in your cupboards, you may be wondering whether different types can be used interchangeably.

In most cases, brown and white sugar can be used interchangeably, although you may notice a slight difference in the taste and the texture of your baked creation. In some cases, like when making Worcestershire sauce, it’s crucial to use the right kind of sugar or you risk altering the flavor.

As we have mentioned in our guide, there are a few sugars that share similarities and because of this, they can be used as substitutes. Again, you may notice a difference in the taste, but using an effective substitute should not have a hugely negative impact on the outcome of your dish. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, the different types of sugar explained. Some have coarse granules whilst others have a texture that is almost like powder. A shared similarity is that they are a tasty ingredient when added to a wide range of recipes.

Do you have a favorite sugar to use for baking or cooking? Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by Ryan F.

Ryan is a Philadelphia local who enjoys checking out Philly's restaurant scene every chance he can. He grew up in South Jersey and now lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. Ryan also enjoys traveling and checking out local eateries in every city he visits.