Sweet Guide: Everything You'll Ever Need to Know About Sugar

You've probably used a powdered variety to make whipped cream, dropped a cube of it in a cup of tea, and sprinkled it on cookies in a rainbow of colors. Sugar is one of the most common ingredients used in the kitchen. Americans have serious love (and cravings) for this sweet ingredient, but there's a lot of confusion about the different kinds of sugars available, how to best use them, and whether they're healthy to use.

The chemical name for sugar is sucrose. It's a carbohydrate that's most often derived from sugar cane and sugar beets. Sugar juice is extracted from the plants and undergoes a process of cleaning, crystallization, and drying to get as many different varieties of sugar as possible. Sugar varies in crystal size, flavor, and it's ability to dissolve in liquid. While sugar is most often used to sweeten baked goods and beverages it also adds complexity to savory dishes and texture when used for decoration.

Thanks to high fructose corn syrup, sugar has also turned into somewhat of a villain, expanding waistlines and transforming kids into energizer bunnies everywhere you turn. According to the American Heart Association, too much sugar is the cause of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Some scientists have even referred to sugar as a slow acting poison. While you don't have to forgo sugar completely to maintain your waistline, it's important to limit your intake of high fructose corn syrup and check the back of food labels for added sugars you might no be aware of. The American Heart Association suggests a healthy amount of sugar is up to 24 grams a day for women and up to 36 grams a day for men.

From sanding sugar to turbinado sugar, there are different varieties to use when you're going to indulge. Using the right sugar can affect the texture and taste of cooking in surprising ways. Aside from being sweet, sugar can make dough more tender, get just the right amount of browning on a crust, and stiffen egg whites for a meringue pie. Here's a guide to twelve popular varieties of sugar and how to best use them in the kitchen.

1. Granulated White Sugar

A picture of white granulated sugarWhite Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is a multi-purpose sugar and is the most commonly used sugar for cooking and baking. It's highly refined and made from sugar cane and sugar beets. This kind of sugar is also known as table or white sugar.

2. Confectioners or Powdered Sugar

A picture of confectioners powdered sugarConfectioners Powdered Sugar

Confectioners, also known as powdered sugar is granulated white sugar that's ground into a fine powder and mixed with cornstarch to prevent clumping. Because it dissolves easily in liquids, confectioners sugar is most commonly used for making icing and baked goods. You can make your own confectioners sugar by combining 1 cup of ground white sugar with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

3. Casters Sugar

Casters Sugar

Casters sugar is a granulated white sugar that's much finer than refined table sugar. The super-fine grain size makes it easier to dissolve in liquids than regular granulated sugar. It's used to make delicate and smooth desserts like chocolate mousse, puddings, and meringues. Casters sugar also works well to sweeten cold beverages like cocktails and iced coffee.

4. Pearl Sugar

Pearl Sugar

Pearl sugar is also known as nib or hail sugar. It has a coarse, hard texture with a larger grain size and doesn't melt at high temperatures. Because it retains it shape, pearl sugar is most often used to decorate pastries and baked goods.

5. Sanding Sugar

Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar is the sugar most often used for decorating cakes and cookies. Like pearl sugar it doesn't dissolve easily making it perfect to add on top of baked goods. You can find this sugar in a variety of colors.

6. Cane Sugar

Cane Sugar

Cane sugar is made from pure sugar cane and is minimally processed. It has a slightly larger grain size than table sugar and a darker in color. Like granulated table sugar, it's used in everyday cooking and baking.

7. Light Brown Sugar

Light Brown Sugar

Light brown sugar is a refined white sugar with molasses added to it. It has a sticky, almost wet texture to it and a subtle caramel flavor. It's great for using in baked goods or savory dishes.

8. Dark Brown Sugar

Dark Brown Sugar

Dark brown sugar is also refined white sugar, but with more molasses added than light brown sugar. It has a stronger caramel flavor that light brown sugar. Dark brown sugar is also great in baked goods and savory dishes.

9. Demerara Sugar

Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is a form of cane sugar that is minimally refined. It has a light brown color and large golden colored crystals with a subtle molasses flavor. It's most often used to sweeten coffee and tea or for topping baked goods like scones and muffins.

10. Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar is another minimally processed form of cane sugar. It has a dark golden color and a subtle caramel taste. Like demerara sugar it's most often used to sweeten beverages and is commonly used in baking.

11. Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado is an unrefined cane sugar in which the molasses hasn't been removed. It typically has a very dark brown color, but comes in a varieties of brown shades. Like light brown sugar, Muscovado has a sticky texture. This sugar has a strong molasses flavor making it perfect for marinades and savory dishes.

12. Liquid White Sugar

Liquid White Sugar

Liquid sugar is granulated white sugar that's been dissolved in water. It's also known as simple syrup and has a 1:1 ratio of water to sugar. Liquid sugar is most often used in drinks but can also be used for making delicate baked goods.

13. Molasses


Molasses is made from sugar cane or sugar beets by crushing the plant down, boiling the juice, and extracting the sugar crystals to leave a tar like substance. You can find light, dark, and blackstrap molasses. Light molasses is the sweetest of the three, and blackstrap is the thickest in consistency. Molasses is great in marinades and savory dishes. It's traditionally found in barbecue sauces and baked beans.

14. Cane Syrup

Cane Syrup

Cane syrup is liquid sugar made from by boiling down cane juice, without extracting the crystals. It's sweeter than molasses but has a milder flavor. This syrup is good for sweetening hot drinks.

15. Jaggery

Jaggery is a brick sugar made mostly from sugar cane but sometimes includes dates, coconut, and palm sugar. This sugar is made by collecting the sediment from cane juice and then boiling it to form a thick doughy paste. The paste is then put into molds to cool and dry. Jaggery is most commonly used in India for desserts.

16. Panela

Dark Brown

Panela is an unrefined cane sugar that's boiled and poured into molds called pylons to create a brick sugar. It comes in light and dark shades. In China this brick sugar is used medicinally in hot water to help raise blood sugar levels.

17. Palm Sugar

Palm Sugar in brick

Palm sugar is made from the sap of palm trees typically grown in Southeast Asia. The sap is collected from the flower stalks of the palm, boiled down and poured into molds to harden. You can find palm sugar in shades ranging from golden brown to black. This brick sugar has a milder sweetness than cane sugar and is used in desserts like sweet sticky rice and coconut balls.

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