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10 Different Types of Sugar – I Bet You Don’t Know Them All

White sugar in a wooden bowl and scoop.

Sugar is known as one of the oldest commodities in the world. While it is a common ingredient, essentially used in desserts, there was a time when sugar was so valuable that people started storing t in their “sugar safe”!

It is popularly believed that the use of sugar first originated in Polynesia in the form of cane sugar. From there on, it made its way in different parts of India. In 510 B.C., the Emperor of Darius invaded Persia which is now called India, and discovered “the reed that gives honey without bees”. At that time, the method of making cane sugar was considered a top-secret, known by only a few lucky ones. Once prepared, the final product was exported to different countries for a hefty profit.

It was only in the 7th A.D. when Arabs invaded Persia (around 642 A.D), the hush-hush surrounding the making of sugar was broken. Arabs and many others finally found out how sugar cane was grown and produced. In the Eastern part of the world, various sugar productions were established. Western Europeans found out about sugar through the Crusades in the 11th century A.D. In England, the first sugar was recorded in 1099 as Crusaders boasted about this “new spice”.

In the upcoming centuries, western Europeans started trading sugar with the East and mind you at that time sugar was no less than a luxury. Did you know that sugar was sold at “two shillings a pound” in London in 1319 A.D.? This is equal to the US $100 per kilo at the current price!

Unlike ancient times, today, sugar is quite a common good that is available in several types. In this blog post, we have compiled all those types so have a look!

Related: What is Coconut Sugar | Salt and Sugar Curing | How to Store Sugar 

1. Granulated Sugar

A bowl of granulated sugar.

Also known as refined, white, or table sugar, granulated sugar is the most common type of sugar that is used on an everyday basis. When people talk about “sugar”, this is the type of sugar they are referring to. It is produced from sugar beets or sugar cane and consists of 99.9% of pure sucrose. The sucrose is first refined and then thoroughly processed into tiny crystals.

People use granulated sugar for tea, coffee, and baked goods to make them taste better. But aside from balancing the flavor of various food items, granulated sugar is also used in keeping baked items super soft, moist, and crunchy. Cooked granulated sugar can be used as a sweet crust that you may come across on cakes, brownies, cakes, and muffins. It also helps deepen the color and flavor of many dishes which is why it is often used in bread dough.

It is also quite easy to store granulated sugar. All you have to do is store it in a dry place, and the white sugar will last forever!

2. Caster Sugar

Caster sugar flowing onto the surface.

A common baking ingredient, caster sugar is a white, refined sugar popularly used in the U.K and Australia. In U.S. stores, you may find caster sugar under the label “superfine sugar”. Many mistake caster or castor sugar with powdered sugar. However, the consistency of caster sugar isn’t like powdered sugar; in fact, it is somewhere between granulated and powdered sugar.

While it may seem that caster sugar is super fine, it maintains the rough texture of sugar even after it is processed. This is why if the recipe asks you to use saturated sugar then make sure that you stick to it. Using caster sugar instead can make the texture of your food slightly grainy, and that’s the least you would want.

You can use caster sugar as an alternative to granulated sugar in dishes where the sugar needs to be dissolved. The best quality of caster sugar is that it melts quicker than saturated sugar and can easily be incorporated into various sauces, cocktails, cold drinks, bases, and puddings.

3. Confectioners’ Sugar

Confectioner's sugar being filtered by a strainer.

Sometimes known as powdered sugar, confectioners’ sugar is the type of sugar that is finely grounded into a powdered form. Confectioners’ sugar has the ability to dissolve easily which is why it is ideal for frostings and icings. This sugar is also used for decorating cakes and cupcakes by gently dusting it over these baked goodies.

Confectioners’ sugar is produced from granulated sugar which means that you can easily make your very own confectioners’ sugar right at home. To make confectioners’ sugar, you will need a coffee grinder and confectioners’ sugar. Place some granulated sugar in your coffee grinder and churn it until it turns into a fine, consistent powder form.

If you are planning to store your prepared confectioners’ sugar, you will need to add a little bit of cornstarch so that it doesn’t clump up. But if you are using all the confectioners’ sugar right away, you won’t need to add cornstarch.

Fun fact: The term “confectioners” means the one who makes sweets and candies.

4. Pearl Sugar

A bunch of pearl sugar being scooped by a wooden spoon.

Also called nib sugar, pearl sugar is a finished product of refined white sugar. This type of sugar is produced by breaking big blocks of regular sugar and then used for baking purposes such as sprinkling crushed pearl sugar on top of pastries. Do this before baking them, and this will add a crunchy flavor to your baked products. The popular food that makes the excessive use of pearl sugar is Belgian liege waffles – yeast dough that is packed with crunchy, caramelized pearl sugar.

Note that pearl sugar is naturally quite hard and coarse, so it does not melt easily, especially not at temperatures used for baking. Pearl sugar is not easily available in grocery stores in the United States. However, it can be found is special grocery stores or online. Bear in mind that pearl sugar can be expensive, so it is better to make your own.

To make pearl sugar at home, you will need sugar cubes and a tool to smash them with such as a skillet, a meat mallet, or a hammer. Place the cubes in a ziplock bag and smash them gently with your chosen tool. If you are using the sugar for Liege waffles, keep the crystals large. But if you are using it for sprinkling, then smaller pieces will work a treat.

5. Cane Sugar

Cane sugar beside the cane sugar plant.

Cane sugar is produced solely from sugarcane and is nominally processed which is unlike regular (granulated sugar) that comes from either sugar beets or sugarcane. Comparatively, it is better and pricier as well. Since cane sugar is minimally processed, it is able to retain its light brown or blonde color and is more flavorsome than granulated sugar.

So if you make two batches of cookies, one with regular sugar and the other with cane sugar, you will instantly notice the difference. You will find cookies that are made using cane sugar are more brown and flavorful than the cookies baked from granulated sugar.

If you are making an iced tea and want to add the sugar syrup in it, then you can produce a liquid from natural cane sugar. However, cane sugar can be a problem in foods or beverages that don’t require dark hues like a lemon cake, lemonade, or soft cocktail.

6. Demerara Sugar

A close up look at demerara sugar.

With its origins that can be traced to Guyana – a colony formerly known as Demerara, Demerara sugar is a somewhat large grain size brown sugar. Initially, this type of sugar was only produced in Demerara, but due to the rising popularity of this colony and its trading with the European world, demerara sugar is commonly produced in countries like Hawaii, India, and Mexico.

Don’t mistake it for brown sugar as demerara sugar does not contain additives such as molasses, like brown sugar. On the other hand, demerara sugar is light brown, minimally refined, and produced from the crystallization of cane juice. As the cane juice is crystallized, the particles achieve caramel color and are known as demerara sugar.

While demerara sugar may be easy to find in some places, in other regions it may not be available. In such a case, you can consider its substitutes – sanding sugar, light brown sugar, and turbinado sugar. These types of sugar have somewhat similar color and texture and can be ideally used as an alternative to demerara sugar.

7. Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar in a glass bowl.

Turbinado sugar boasts large, golden-brown crystals that are easily available in supermarkets, food stores, and several coffee shops.

often referred to as raw sugar, turbinado sugar is naturally grown and possesses a caramel flavor. However, the FDA states that turbinado sugar isn’t raw because raw sugar is never apt for consumption as it contains contaminants like sand and other impurities. Therefore, turbinado sugar is refined mechanically which makes it a processed type of sugar.

Unlike white sugar, turbinado sugar is pricier, at least two to three times more expensive than white sugar. Regardless, it has a somewhat similar nutrition profile as white sugar. It is believed that white sugar and turbinado sugar both have 16 calories and 4 grams of carbs, and no fiber. You may also find traces of calcium and iron in it. It also contains antioxidants that may leave behind after the processing of the sugar.

There are several ways to use turbinado sugar; mainly, it is used as a nice, tasty topping. For example, you can use turbinado sugar to top hot cereals like oatmeal, sprinkle it on bread, muffin, sweet potatoes, and roasted veggies. Besides topping and sprinkling, you can use turbinado sugar for dressing up baked fruits like pear, peach, or apple, incorporating it into a cracker pie crust, and sweetening tea, coffee, and other beverages.

8. Muscovado Sugar

A pile of muscovado sugar on a white surface.

Muscovado sugar is a deep brown, unrefined cane sugar that contains organic molasses. It is due to the high content of molasses that this type of sugar has a candy-like taste to it and bitter aftertaste. To lighten its flavor, some companies remove a small quantity of the molasses during the processing of the sugar.

The molasses present in muscovado offer antioxidants such as gallic acid and polyphenols. These antioxidants prevent cells from damaging by eliminating free radicals. The protection from free radicals decreases the consumers’ chances of suffering from diabetes and heart diseases like a heart attack and stroke. Owing to the molasses and antioxidants, muscovado sugar is slightly more nutritious than regular sugar.

This toffee-flavored sugar gives a rich flavor to baked goodies like cakes, candies, and cookies. It can also be added in savory dishes to give them a more scrumptious. Unlike other types of sugar, muscovado sugar is made with a laborious effort, and hence it can be pricier as well.

Also called khandsari, khand, and Barbados sugar, muscovado sugar is one of the most minimally refined sugars in the market. Some popular uses of muscovado sugar include adding in barbeque sauce to improve the smoky flavor, using in cookies and brownies, mixing in coffee to complement the beverage’s bitter flavor, etc.

9. Light Brown Sugar

A jar of light brown sugar spilling over.

Brown sugar is produced when white sugar is mixed and flavored with molasses. In light brown sugar, the quantity of molasses is less which is why it has a light brown color to it. After refining white sugar, the sugar is properly mixed with molasses-based syrup and then put to re-crystallize. A thin and smooth film of molasses covers the sugar particles and changes their overall color and flavor.

Generally, when a recipe calls for the addition of brown sugar, it refers to light brown sugar. If, in case, brown sugar is not available at your home. You can consider substitutions; For 1 cup of light brown sugar, you can use 1 cup of white sugar and ¼ cup molasses.

The application of brown sugar is similar to that of granulated white sugar. The only difference is that it gives a dish more impact through its color and flavor. Some of the common uses of brown sugar are sweetening beverages, sauces, marinades, and of course, baked goods. Some varieties of light brown sugar are used in the production of alcoholic beverages such as rum.

10. Dark Brown Sugar

A wooden bowl of dark brown sugar with scoop.

Brown sugar also comes in its darker version which we all know as dark brown sugar. When the addition of molasses is greater in sugar, it turns into a darker brown color. And this type of sugar is known as dark brown sugar. It has been estimated that dark brown sugar contains twice the amount of molasses which is why it is browner in color, moister, and heavier than light brown sugar.

The good news is that both these types of sugar can be interchangeably used. So, if in case, the recipe you are preparing says dark brown sugar, and you don’t have it at home, you can use light brown sugar instead. However, by using light brown sugar, your dish may not achieve the same color or flavor as it may with the help of dark brown sugar.

In that case, you can prepare dark brown sugar at home by yourself. Like light brown sugar, preparing dark brown sugar is easy. For a cup of dark brown sugar, you will need 1 cup of white sugar and ½ cup of molasses. That’s all.

In order to store brown sugar, you will need an airtight container so that it is able to retain its moisture level.

Instead of always using the same regular sugar for diverse food items and beverages, try using different varieties of sugar and observe the different texture, flavor, color, and moisture level of each kind. What used to taste ordinary will now taste out of this world if you opt to substitute the regularly used sugar with one that complements the dish/beverage even more so.