Whether you’re an avid baker or a casual cook, chances are you’ve come across a recipe that calls for a different kind of sugar than your average granulated white sugar.
And really, what’s the difference? Sugar is sugar is sugar, right?
Well, not really. In fact, though nearly all sugars are made from the very same plant, they are processed differently to get different flavors and textures into the final product. That’s why we use brown sugar for gingerbread cookies, white sugar for vanilla sponges and confectioners' sugar for royal icing.
Here are all the different kinds of sugars you can expect to see in a recipe, as well as why they are different from each other!
11 popular types of baking sugars
Cane sugar is made from sugar cane, and can be further refined to become every other kind of sugar on this list.
Most sugars are made from either sugar cane or beets, though most end up being made with cane. Sugar cane stalks are harvested, crushed and pressed to release a sugary juice, which is then heated and filtered to refine the sugar and remove any impurities. The juice is then crystallized to become the sugar that we are familiar with!
Granulated (white) sugar
This sugar is commonly known as table sugar, white sugar or granulated sugar, and it’s usually what people are referring to when they talk about sugar. It’s made from cane or beet sucrose and can be made into many other kinds of sugar, as you’ll see below.
What makes this sugar so versatile is its relative lack of flavor — compared to other sugars, at least. It’s not too coarse, it’s not too flavorful and it’s not too fine. A great all-around sugar!
Caster sugar — or bakers’ sugar, as it’s often called — is yet another form of regular old granulated sugar. The sugar crystals are smaller and finer, though, but not as small as fruit or confectioner's sugar.
It’s often used to make pastries and meringues as the lighter sugar crystals can dissolve in egg whites, butter and milk easily, all of which are used to make delicate pastries and patisserie!
Confectioners' sugar, powdered sugar, icing sugar — whatever you grew up calling it — is essentially a finely ground version of granulated sugar, plus a bit of added cornstarch to prevent the fine grains from clumping.
It’s a go-to sugar if you’re wanting to make delicate pastries and smooth frostings, as the fine grains dissolve easily in liquid without needing too much mixing or heat.
Coarse sugar is, like the name says, known for its coarse crystals. It’s more coarse than granulated sugar and, as such, doesn’t work very well in recipes where the sugar needs to dissolve in the liquid. It does do a good job of decorating the tops of cookies or cupcakes and adding a bit of crunch to flaky pastries, though.
Fruit sugar doesn’t come from fruits, per se — though you can certainly get sugar from fruits! Fruit sugar in this sense is really just a finely ground version of granulated sugar, without the cornstarch addition that would have made it confectioner’s sugar.
This type of sugar is used for making jellies, jams, puddings and gelatinous creations, most of which are made with fruits, hence the name.
Sanding sugar is not as coarse as coarse sugar, but not as fine as granulated sugar. Because it’s not quite either and, as a result, doesn’t do a great job at either one’s purpose, it’s mostly used for simple decoration. It often comes with food coloring added to it and is good for sprinkling on top of frostings or as a coat for cake pops and chocolates.
Brown sugars come from the very same sugar canes as white sugar!
Part of the sugar cane refinement process includes extracting a dark, thick syrup from the white sugar crystals. That syrup is molasses, and it becomes its very own byproduct that we can use for all sorts of baking and cooking recipes.
Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to white sugar crystals, making the sugar crystals clump up and giving the mixture a soft texture. It also adds a caramel flavor that goes well with spices, fruits and meats.
Light brown sugar and dark brown sugar are different only in the amount of molasses added to the sugar. Dark brown sugar has more, obviously, which is why it tends to clump up and dry out faster than light brown sugar!
Turbinado sugar — also known as raw sugar — is a brown sugar of sorts, though it’s not made in the same way as brown sugar.
Turbinado sugar is made by crystallizing the sugar before the molasses is pressed out of it, giving the sugar a slightly caramel flavor without having the moisture of brown sugar.
Because it’s only partially refined, this type of sugar doesn’t dissolve very well in recipes and isn’t a popular choice for baking. It can dissolve in very high temperature, though, which is why it's usually served with tea or coffee!
Demerara sugar has a higher molasses content than turbinado sugar, but not as much as a brown sugar would have. This makes it a good choice for adding that turbinado taste with the dissolvability of a brown sugar — perfect for anything from pastries to cocktails to meat roasts and more!
Muscovado sugar is neither white sugar nor brown sugar, and it’s actually more like turbinado sugar!
Where white sugar has all the molasses extracted from it and brown sugar has the molasses added back in, this sugar never had the molasses taken out at all. Muscovado sugar is cane sugar that is refined very little, leaving much of the natural molasses in the sugar and creating a very sticky, clumpy sugar that’s rich and strong.
There you have it! While you’re down this culinary rabbit hole, check out our article on different kinds of flours and how to bake with them!
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/pasja1000