Sugar is an essential ingredient in cooking, especially baking. It adds sweetness, helps various foods to caramelize, encourages yeast to grow in bread dough, preserves foods, and gives stability to egg whites. It’s important to note that not all sugar is created equal and different sugars lend themselves to different purposes. The most common sugars and their uses are listed below.
Granulated (white) Sugar – This is the most common type of sugar used in cooking/baking. It is extracted from either sugarcane or the roots of sugar beets and then refined by a process of boiling, centrifuging, chemical treatment, and straining. It’s perfect in all types of baking recipes from cookies to cakes. It’s also used to sweeten beverages such as coffee and tea.
Cane Sugar – Cane sugar is made purely from sugarcane and is minimally processed. Its granules are slightly larger and darker than that of granulated sugar. It can be used in cooking/baking the same way as granulated sugar however, it is far more expensive.
Superfine/Castor Sugar – When granulated sugar is finely ground it becomes superfine sugar or what is known in England as castor sugar. This type of sugar dissolves more rapidly and is perfect to use in mixed drinks and delicate mixtures such as whipped egg whites.
Confectioner’s (powdered) Sugar – Granulated sugar that is crushed and combined with a little cornstarch becomes confectioner’s sugar. It is perfect for dusting foods, decorating plates, and making icings and candies. Little lumps that usually appear in the confectioner’s sugar should be sifted out before using in most recipes.
Pearl Sugar – This type of sugar has a hard, coarse texture and an opaque white coloring. It also holds its shape at high temperatures and does not melt. This type of sugar is most commonly seen in Scandinavian desserts as a topping for buns and pastries.
Brown Sugar – This is granulated sugar that has been combined with molasses to give it a rich flavor and soft, moist texture. Brown sugar comes in both light and dark varieties and can be used interchangeably. Light brown sugar will impart a more mild molasses flavor while the dark brown sugar will be a bit stronger flavored. Brown sugar is used in cookie dough, marinades, sauces, and on top of desserts that require caramelization.
Muscovado Sugar – Sometimes referred to as Barbados sugar, it is a type of unrefined cane sugar where the molasses have not been removed. While it can be used like brown sugar in recipes, note that it has a stronger, richer and more complex flavor. It’s perfect for BBQ sauces, marinades and some savory dishes.
Demerara Sugar – This is also a type of cane sugar that is minimally refined. It contains large granules, has an amber color, and a light molasses flavor. It’s perfect for topping baked goods such as muffins, cookies, and scones and is also used to sweeten coffee and tea.
Sugar in the Raw – Also known as turbinado sugar, this sugar is similar to brown sugar only it has much larger crystals and is not as moist. Raw sugar can be used in baking but it really shines as a topping for cookies and muffins as it adds a little crunch and bite to the finished product.
Sanding (coarse) Sugar – This type of sugar has slightly larger granules and comes in a variety of colors that are perfect for decorating cookies, cakes, candies, and sweet breads.