A (Semi-)Comprehensive list of Sugars

I explained before what sugar does in baking. But I never actually said anything about where sugar comes from and I definitely never enlightened anyone on how many different types of sugar there are. This last one keeps amazing me every time - almost every country has their own special sugar! Below, I've made a list of all the different sugars -sometimes the same sugar with a different name- I've found so far. It's a work in progress so bear with me. I'd love to hear if you have anything to add!

Note: I'll explain more about what sugar is and how it's made (or why dark brown sugar yields moister cakes and what is sucrose?) in a different post, which might explain some of the terms and differences between the sugars. Sugars and sweeteners from other sources than sugar beets, sugar cane or palm have been omitted from this list - they're not always a good substitute for white sugar in baking and may need a little extra explaining.


White sugars

Sugar can be found naturally in plants as an energy source, but the sugar we use is usually made from sugar beets (also called beet sugar) or from sugar canes (also called white refined cane sugar). Sometimes it is a mix of the two. Since both beet sugar and cane sugar are refined to pure sucrose (a sugar molecule), there is no difference in taste or looks between both white sugars in their refined state. Below I have listed as much different types and names of white sugar as I could find in order of the size of the sugar granules.

Confectioners sugar, icing sugar (CA/UK), 10x powdered sugar (USA) sucre glace or powdered sugar
A granulated white sugar ground to fine powder. Anti-caking agents or corn-starch are usually added to these kind of sugars to prevent lumps, but they can affect the flavour of a baked good when you are trying to replace table sugar. Confectioners sugar easily dissolves in liquid, making it ideal for icings, frostings, confections, ice cream and whipping cream or for dusting. It tastes sweeter than other sugars due to the greater surface area and dissolving properties.

Superfine/ultra-fine/extra-fine sugar (US), caster/castor sugar (UK), bar sugar fine granulated sugar or instant dissolving sugar
This sugar has the smallest crystal size of the white granulated sugars. It is generally used in making delicate or smooth desserts, such as meringues, mousses, soufflés or puddings. Caster sugar is an 'all-purpose' sugar and can be used for in pastry, cake, meringues, syrups and sometimes frostings and icings as the finer granules dissolve faster. With more sharp edges to cut through fat and more surface area to trap air, butter becomes aerated more rapidly. Caster sugar results in a finer crumb and a smoother and lighter texture in cakes and cookies. This sugar dissolves well in cold and room-temperature liquids, making it an ideal sweetener for drinks like cocktails, coffees and teas.

Baker's Special sugar
A fine sugar similar to caster sugar, with a grain size between standard granulated and superfine. The sugar was created especially for the baking industry to improve the texture of bakes. The small granules dissolve quickly in liquids making it ideal for use in meringues, frostings and icings or cold liquids. The finer grain size also lends this sugar for dusting pastries, donuts or cookies.

Granulated sugar, crystalline white sugar, common sugar, refined sugar, table sugar, regular sugar, white table sugar or white granulated sugar
Granulated sugar is pure sucrose (a type of sugar molecule). It is a highly refined sugar from either sugar beets or sugar cane, meaning it contains no molasses or any other 'leftovers' from the original plants. The relatively large crystals means it is a good multipurpose sugar that is not susceptible to caking and clumping. It's the most common type of sugar used in baking and cooking - when people talk about "sugar," this is usually what they're talking about.

Coarse sugar
A type of sugar with a larger crystal. The large crystal size makes it highly resistant to color change or inversion (the natural breakdown of sucrose to fructose and glucose) at high temperatures, making it perfect for fondants, confections and liquors.

Sanding sugar, sparkling sugar, pearlized sugar, sprinkle sugar, sugar crystals or coloured sugar
A (usually) coarse sugar, mainly used for decorating. This sugar can come in a great variety of colours. The large crystals are fairly resistant to heat and add extra texture and crunch to cookies and other baked goods.They are used during baking as well as sprinkled on top during decorating.

Pearl sugar, hail sugar or nibsugar
Granulated sugar pressed in the shape of large to small pearls. It usually has a white colour and has a coarse, hard texture. It holds it's shape and doesn't melt when exposed to high temperatures. This sugar is usually added as decoration of filling to pastries, cookies, buns or bread. Pearl sugar differs from rock sugar in that it is made of compressed sugar granules, rather than melted sugar formed into rocks. Pearl sugar is preferred for baking as you can still bite through the pearls, while rock sugar gives much more difficulty.

Rock sugar (fine, coarse), chinese rock sugar, chinese lump sugar or kandij (NL/BE)
This sugar is made by saturating a sugar-water solution and evaporating the water, leaving large 'rocks' of sugar crystals. Sometimes small sticks are used in the solution for the crystals to grow on. Rock sugar can come in a variety of colours and flavours. It is often dissolved in tea and is used in several cuisines, including Chinese and Tamil. Chinese rock sugar usually comes in a caramel golden colour, while the 'lumps' are opaque white, but terms are used interchangeably. Kandij is usually a darker caramel-coloured sugar. Rock sugar is rarely used in baking.


Brown & unrefined sugars

Brown sugars have a different flavour than white sugars due to the higher molasses content and other leftovers from processing sugar. Molasses are naturally present in sugar, but sometimes they are re-added later on in the processing. They tend to be more moist and acidic and decrease the browning temperature of the sugar. The brown sugars below are organised in alphabetical order.

Arenga sugar
See palm sugar. A type of palm sugar created from the sap of a specific palm tree: the sugarpalm. Similar to other palm sugars.

Basterdsuiker (white, light brown or dark)
A Dutch type of sugar. It's a fine sugar made of Dutch sugar beets. The light brown and dark basterdsuiker are made by (re-)adding dark sugar syrup with beet sugar molasses and caramel to the fine sugar. The latter are used in stead of brown sugar in Dutch or Belgian recipes. Basterdsuiker has more moist results compared to other sugars and is comparible to brown sugar.

Brown sugar (light, medium, dark)
Brown sugar is sugar with molasses. Brown sugar can differ greatly depending on the brand or place you buy it. It is usually made by adding dark sugar syrup with molasses to refined sugar to coat the crystals, but it can be made by not completely refining the sugar. The syrup contains various amounts of molasses as well as glucose and fructose, which attract and retain moisture in the sugar molecule itsself. While the refined sugar can be made from both cane or beet sugar, the molasses used are usually from sugar cane. Darker sugars are softer and moister than white sugars and increase the acidity, but decrease the browning temperature. The flavour ranges from nutty and caramel-like to a dark molasses. The extra moisture allows for moister baked goods that stay chewy and fresh for a longer time. The extra flavour and acidity also makes it ideal for use in cooking and savoury dishes, like sauces and barbecue rubs.

Brown cane sugar
See brown sugar. A term used to refer to brown sugar made solely from sugar canes in stead of sugar beets. 

Cane sugar or sugar cane sugar
See white refined cane sugar. Also: demerara sugar, muscovado sugar, brown cane sugar and jaggery. Cane sugar, in essence, is no different from sugar made of sugar beets. However, when cane sugar is mentioned on the package you'll often find a less refined sugar inside. The colour of the sugar is usually light golden to amber and the flavour reminiscent of caramel. Molasses are often added after processing to give a distinct flavour and colour that sets the sugar apart from granulated white sugar. When the sugar is labelled as raw, unrefined or unprocessed the sugar has a larger grain and darker colour due to the minimal processing. Granulated white sugar can easily be susbstituted with cane sugar without altering the recipe.

Cassonade (BE/FR)
A sugar similar to basterdsuiker or brown sugar. It can be made from both sugar beets or sugar cane.

Chinese brown sugar/candy
An unrefined cane sugar in the shape of blocks. Similar to demerara sugar and panela.

Coconut sugar,  coconut palm sugar or gula kelapa
A type of palm sugar created from the sap of flowers and the tree of a specific palm tree: the coconut palm.

Demerara sugar
A type of cane sugar that is minimally refined. This sugar is made by dehydrating cane syrup after it is extracted from sugarcane. It has a larger grain and a pale amber to caramel golden color. The retained molasses give the sugar a toffee, caramel flavour. It is a moist, slightly sticky sugar. Demerara sugar can be used in place of brown sugar and is often used to sweeten coffee or tea, or as a topping on baked goods, like muffins, scones and cookies.

Evaporated cane juice 
A type of sugar mady by evaporating the liquids out of cane juice. It looks like granulated white sugar with a light caramel to brown colour. The distinctly different processing method compared to other sugars lends evaporated cane juice a unique flavour.

Granulated brown sugar or free-flowing brown sugar
A type of sugar similar to brown sugar. Unlike brown sugar, granulated brown sugar undergoes an extra processes of heating and drying to produce non-sticky brown crystals that do not clump. Because of the lower moisture content it is a poor substitute for brown sugar without adjusting the recipe, but can be used for decoration or as substitute for granulated white sugar instead.

Gula Djawa, goela jawa, java sugar or javanian palm sugar
Gula Djawa is a type of palm sugar. The juice from a specific sugar palm tree (Borassus flabellifer) is boiled down to a syrup which is left to cool down in bamboo stalks. It has a darker colour than normal palm sugar and a deeper complexer flavour with notes of caramel and coffee and hints of salty and even fermented flavours. Gula Djawa is used in Indonesian cuisine.

Jaggery, guṛ or gula melaka
An unrefined sugar from cane sugar or the juice from the date palm with a unique processing method. Jaggery is usually sold in solid half orbs, cones and blocks or in a soft honey-butter texture. It comes in many variations with different names. It has a distinct earthy sweet, caramal-like flavour with tones of sherry, similar to panela and lighter than gula djawa. It is used in Indian, Pakinese and Sri Lankan cuisine.

Muscovado sugar (dark, light), barbados sugar, desi khaand or khandsari sugar
A type of unrefined cane sugar of which the molasses, to various degrees, have not been removed. It is much like brown sugar, but has a coarser grain, more moist texture and a stronger molasses flavour. It lends itsself wel for use in savoury dishes, sauces and marinades or for more moist bakes and confectionary such as toffee and gingerbread.

Palm sugar
Palm sugar is made by extracting juice from a palm tree. This is then poured into moulds for use in cooking. Occasionally it is ground into a granulated form. It is mostly used in Indian, Indonesian and some African cuisines. A lighter palm sugar is also used in Thai and Australian cuisine. It has a dark, caramel-coffee flavour, with hints of salt. The lighter the block, the more it tastes like granulated sugar.

Panela, piloncillo, rapadura, raspadura, chancaca, raw cane sugar or unrefined/unprocessed cane sugar
An unrefined raw cane sugar. Panela is most commonly sold in blocks, but also comes in granular and liquid form. It is achieved by evaporating sugar cane juice, but is different from 'evaporated cane juice'. The colour varies from a light caramel-brown to a darker brown colour. Depending on the  sugar cane variety, soil, weather and harvest the flavour can also differ greatly: from caramel-like and earthy to a stronger and almost-smokey molasses flavour. It is used most often as a flavour in desserts and beverages or in savoury dishes. It is usually grated, shaved, broken or melted down before using in recipes. Mexican, Middle/Latin American, Spanish and Portugeese cuisines make use of panela. Piloncillo is used mainly in Mexican and Spanish cuisines and is shaped in cones.

Sucanat
A crystallized unrefined cane sugar. Because it is minimally refined sucanat retains some molasses, which result in a the golden colour. It is similar to panela and muscovado. It has an intense, dark flavour and is best used in stronger flavoured bakes such as spiced cakes or gingerbread cookies.

Turbinado sugar
A minimally refined cane sugar, with only the surface molasses washed off. It is similar to light brown sugar, with a caramel colour and flavour, but it has larger crystals than dark sugar. However, it is less moist than brown sugar, making it a better substitute for granulated sugar.


Other sugars:

Sucrose
See granulated sugar. A confusing term as most sugar is made up of sucrose (a sugar molecule), but may appear on some packages referring to granulated sugar.

Sugar cubes or lump sugar
Granulated sugar shaped into small squares. Usually used for sweetening coffee and tea. Sugar cubes can be used to dissolve into warm liquids or used in a similar way to pearl sugar, but the large squares don't lend themselves to baking.

Sugar sticks
Small bags of sugar, usually refined, that can be used for coffee and tea. You will mainly find these in restaurants, cafés, bars and similar.

Vanilla sugar
A finely ground sugar mixed with vanilla beans, vanilla extract or vanillin. It is used in European recipes to add flavour, the same way vanilla extract would be used. It cannot be used as a substitute for sugar. Vanilla sugar can be substituted by vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste or vanilla flavourings, but you can easily make your own.


References:
Dry Sweeteners - CraftyBaking
Types of Sugar  - The Sugar Association
A Complete Visual Guide to 11 Different Kinds of Sugar - theKitchn
Types of Sugar - What's Cooking America
Categorie: Suiker - Aziatische-ingredienten
Understanding the Types of Sygar - The Essential Ingredient
De soorten suiker en de voor- en nadelen - Zelfmaakrecepten

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