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Fundamentals: Types of Sugar

by Jamie on October 16, 2012

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When it comes to baking, sugar is one of the most important ingredients we use. Of course, the sweetness it provides to things like cookies and cakes is obvious. In breads and rolls, however, it feeds the yeast that makes for a beautiful rise. Sugar is an integral part of the baking that we do day to day.

For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when hearing the word sugar is white, granulated sugar.  It’s the type that America uses most often for baking and sweetening our morning cup of coffee; however, the more you bake, the more different types of sugar you may come across. In an effort to expand my own baking horizons, I thought we should discuss the varieties of sugar that are available for all of our baking needs. Are you ready to talk sugar?

(Regular) White Granulated Sugar

White sugar has had all of the naturally present molasses refined out. It is the sugar that is most commonly used in baking. The fine crystals in granulated sugar don’t cake together, which makes it perfect for measuring, sprinkling onto food and dissolving into drinks.

Confectioners’ Icing or Powdered Sugar

Known by a few different names, icing sugar, powdered sugar, and confectioners’ sugar are all the same thing: granulated sugar that has been finely ground and mixed with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent caking. This is the sugar that we commonly use for frostings, glazes, and for that snowy covering on doughnuts that no doubt is all over your face and hands with the first bite.

Coarse sugar or Decorating sugar

As you can tell from its name, coarse sugar has a much larger crystals than regular white sugar. The larger size of the crystals (about the size of pretzel salt) makes the sugar stronger and more resistant to heat. This type of sugar also helps to give baked goods or candy a little texture. It is used mainly for decorating and comes in a rainbow of colors.

Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar is another large crystal sugar. It is between white granulated and coarse sugar in size. It is another decorating sugar and comes in many colors. It also reflects light and gives of a sparkly shine. And, who doesn’t love their baked goods sparkly?

Brown Sugar (light and dark)

Brown sugar is white sugar that has had cane molasses added to it. The two types of brown sugar, light and dark, refer to the amount of molasses that is present. Light brown sugar is what is used more often in baking, sauces and, glazes. Dark brown sugar, because of the rich molasses flavor, is used in richer foods, like gingerbread. Both brown sugars can harden if left open to the air, so it is best stored in an airtight container. If your brown sugar has hardened, you can microwave it for a few seconds, or place a piece of bread in the bag and leave it for a day.

Brown sugar is easy to make in a pinch!

  • 1 pound granulated sugar
  • 3 ounces molasses, by weight

Make sure everything is incorporated thoroughly in a food processor and, you can store it for up to a month!

Superfine, Ultrafine, Bar or Caster Sugar

These sugars have the smallest crystal size of white granulated sugar. It is generally used in making delicate or smooth desserts such as mousse, meringues or puddings. It also is great for sweetening cold beverages because it doesn’t need heat to dissolve.

Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has only had the surface molasses washed off. It is light in color, usually has a large crystal, and is slightly lower in calories than white sugar due to the moisture content. Turbinado sugar is mainly used in sweetening beverages, but can also be used in baking.

Muscovado or Barbados Sugar

Muscovado sugar is a type of British brown sugar. It is very dark brown in color and has more molasses than light or dark brown sugar. The sugar crystals are a little larger than regular brown sugar and the texture is stickier. It is used in sweets with rich flavors such as gingerbread, coffee cake, and fudge.

Demerara Sugar

This is another type of sugar that is very popular in England.  In the U.S., the most comparable sugar is Turbinado – because they are both “raw”. Demerara sugar is a large grained, crunchy sugar that hasn’t had all of the molasses refined out. The sugar is great in tea, coffee, dissolved into hot cereals or sprinkled onto baked goods.

While you might feel like you just took a sugar class, who couldn’t use a little extra knowledge about such an important ingredient? Now it’s time to make sure you are stocked up and ready to bake!


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathryn October 16, 2012 at 6:48 am

I love using different types of sugar – demerara/turbinado is my absolute favourite but I love seeing how different sugars create different flavours and textures.

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Jennifer October 16, 2012 at 8:07 am

Thanks for the run down on the sugars. I had no idea about the brown sugar and that I can make it at home!

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Tara @ Chip Chip Hooray October 16, 2012 at 8:57 am

I thought this was really helpful! Thanks for all the great info. :)

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Debra October 16, 2012 at 10:49 am

Thank you. I get sugar and brown sugar. I sure would like to be able to get the sparkly sugar here. :D

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Debra October 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

oh, I forgot I get powdered sugar here too. :P

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Carla's Confections October 16, 2012 at 11:47 am

I had no idea you could make your own brown sugar. Really great info! I knew a lot of the different types and names of the sugars from when I was living in New Zealand but I didn’t know a lot of the uses of them. Great info :)

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Emily @ Jelly Toast October 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This is a great side by side sugar reference that will be helpful to everyone. Thanks so much!

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Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes October 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Very informative! Thanks! I like the tips of how to soften brown sugar once it’s hardened.

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Gail October 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I find myself reaching for my muscovado sugar more and more — gives you a lot of brown sugar richness without tasting too molasses-y or requiring so much actual sugar. I’m trying to retrain my husband’s and my sweet tooth, and muscovado is one of my main crutches!
PS Resist the urge to pack it tightly into a jar… :/

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Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious October 16, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Such an informative post! I use all different types of sugars but I never really understood the differences (other than the color and texture of course) until now!

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Mimi October 16, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Thank you for posting this! It was an interesting read!

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Sally October 17, 2012 at 6:08 am

Thanks for the informative post I didn’t realise I could make my own brown sugar. I’ll file that away in case I run out one day because we always have molasses in, I love the stuff.

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Girlnapurpledres October 31, 2012 at 4:17 pm

What a lovely post – I may even be reading this for the second time but in all a lovely read!

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Sherry November 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Make your own powdered sugar.using White Granulated Sugar
and a blender. Works great.

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Skip February 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Great article on Sugar but I wish there had been info on the difference between ca e and beet sugars and when to use or not use them.

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Emily Grace April 2, 2013 at 9:52 am

This was really interesting! Thanks for posting!

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PM April 28, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I’m interested in the ‘new wave’ kinds of sugar available–like stevia, agave, succanat, sucralose (etc) blends. Any info? Thanks!

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henrielle kyle June 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm

its very interesting I dont know there are lots of ways to make your own sugar thanks a lot :* <3

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rai August 16, 2013 at 7:20 am

hello thank you for this great info about sugar..

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Jamie August 19, 2013 at 10:48 am

Rai,

You’re so welcome! Have a lovely day and thank you for following MBA!

Jamie

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John Sikora October 26, 2013 at 11:36 pm

I love to bake and i have diabetes and would like to know what tpe of sugar to use. Thank you

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Jamie January 10, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Hi John – it’s best to discuss with your doctor what sugar substitutes to use in recipes.
- Jamie

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Kelly April 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I am a prep cook and the kitchen I work in uses cane sugar is that different than granulated sugar? If so do you measure it differently in baking?

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Jamie Lothridge May 5, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Kelly,
As far as I know, most “granulated” sugars – cane, Muscovado, white – can all be interchanged and measured the same, cup for cup. It’s when the texture changes, like powdered, castor, or brown sugar made with molasses, that you can’t interchange them as easily.
- Jamie

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Jake May 15, 2014 at 11:52 am

Wow, I never knew that there was such an abundance of different types of sugar. With this information I can now completely expand my baking ability and my pallet to a whole new arrangement of flavors. Sugar truly is the building blocks of all baking recipes and I am glad there is someone out there with such a passion and knowledge for it as yourself. I will be reading and blogging quite more often on these posts as you have peaked my interest and curiosity on the subject. I am sure you will bring forth a whole new world for me.

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