A Short & Sweet Guide to 5 Types of Sugar

Sugar is found in fruits, vegetables, and nuts, but sugar beets and sugar cane contain sucrose – sugar’s chemical name – in larger quantities and are the two crops most frequently grown for the sugar we bake and cook with. Different types of sugar are created through refining processes that clean, crystallize, and dry the sugar juice harvested from these crops.

Even in today’s culinary culture of healthy cooking and alternative diets, sugar is a cornerstone ingredient in a majority of baked goods and edible decorations. Home chefs who’ve branched out to try new recipes for frosting, pancakes, and cookies have probably encountered unfamiliar types of sugar in ingredient lists. If whipping meringue or making crêpes Suzette for the first time left you wondering, “Wait, can I substitute powdered sugar for caster sugar? And what is caster sugar, anyway?” then this guide is for you.

Types of White Sugar

Each type of white sugar has its own distinct texture, and knowing the differences between them can help you identify a suitable substitute if you don’t have the recommended ingredient on hand. There are three main types of white sugar: granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and caster sugar.

Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is often referred to as “regular sugar” because it is the standard sugar offered in most grocery stores and the type of sugar most frequently called for in recipes. This “all-purpose sugar” has fine crystals and can be used to make the other types of sugar covered below.

Powdered Sugar

When granulated sugar is processed into a fine powder, it becomes powdered sugar, which is also commonly known as confectioners’ sugar. It is used to make icing and frosting as well as dust the tops of cookies and other desserts, but it usually isn’t the preferred sugar for baked goods. According to Domino Sugar, you should probably avoid substituting powdered sugar in recipes that call for granulated sugar, largely because the small amounts of cornstarch that help powdered sugar avoid caking can produce an unpredictable final product.

Caster Sugar

Caster sugar may also be labeled as superfine sugar or baker’s sugar because it has crystals that are smaller than those in granulated sugar, though it is not as fine as powdered sugar. It is the best choice for meringues and other delicate recipes, but it can also be used in baked goods in place of granulated sugar to create a more delicate final product. Want to use caster sugar but don’t have any in the kitchen? Try blending granulated sugar until the crystals are superfine. Just pay close attention throughout the process, or you’ll end up with powdered sugar instead of caster sugar.

Light Brown Sugar & Dark Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to granulated sugar, with the amount of molasses added determining whether the final product is light brown sugar or dark brown sugar. Although these two types of sugar can be used interchangeably and as a substitute for granulated sugar, which one you use will affect how much molasses flavor is added to the final product. Since dark brown sugar includes more molasses than light brown sugar, it yields a more intense flavor.

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English. Passionate about Marvel Comics, Critical Role, and all things geeky, she spends her free time playing tabletop and video games, collecting beer caps from craft breweries around the country, and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.

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