All About Sugar

 Raw Sugar Cane

Raw Sugar Cane

There's a whole lot of sugar out there, and I'm not just talking about Chris Evans!

There are so many different types of sugar, and sugar products, involved in baking and decorating cakes and sweets, that it can be a bit much to get your head around!

What on earth is demerara sugar? Can I substitute it? Is it called something different where I'm from? AAAHH!

Fear not! I have done the leg work (or should that be taste bud work?) for you! I've put together a handy guide to the most common baking related sugars you're likely to come across.  If you think I have missed one, or you know one of these by another name, let me know and I'll add it to the list!

What's the sweet word on Sugar?

Sugar is a naturally occurring carbohydrate, found in many plants and plant parts.  It is extracted through a process using hot water, which is then concentrated into a syrup, and allowed to crystallize.  The more the crystallized sugar is processed the more refined, and lighter, the sugar.What we call "sugar" in its granulated form, is called Sucrose.

Glucose is a naturally occurring starch in plants, and a glycogen in animals.We are most familiar with Glucose syrup (also known as Corn Syrup), which is derived from Maise by hydrolysis.

If you need a science kick, you can read more about both Glucose and Sucrose on Wikipedia.

Granulated Sugars

Starting from the least processed, to the most processed, here are some of the most commonly used sugars in baking, and a picture of what they look like!

Brown Sugars

Brown sugars are created by adding molasses to refined white sugar, which provides a more uniform (and cheaper manufacturing!) option, than removing the crystals earlier in the refinement process. The more molasses the sugar contains, the darker the sugar and stronger the flavour.

Muscovado Sugar

 Muscovado sugar, brown sugar and coconut sugar.

Muscovado sugar, brown sugar and coconut sugar.

Process: Created by partially centrifuging evaporating cane syrup during crystallization, which is then drained using gravity, providing varying degrees of molasses content.

Flavour: Rich, strong molasses flavour.

Texture: Sticky, with small granules

Uses: Baking, Rum making.

Substitutes: Dark brown, or light brown sugar. Has a higher moisture content, so more liquids will need to be added to your recipe.

May also be known as: panela (Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Argentina, Panama, Venezuela), rapadura (Brazil), chancaca (Chile, Peru, Bolivia), piloncillo (Mexico), muscovado (Philippines, Mauritius), panocha (Philippines) kokuto (Japan), and jaggery (India, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria)

Dark Brown Sugar

Process: Created by adding molasses to refined white sugar. It has a molasses content of around 6.5%

Flavour: Mild to strong molasses flavour.

Texture: Moist and crumbly, much like kinetic sand, only a little wetter.

Uses: Baking, toffee, marinades/sauces.

Substitutes: Can substitute in equal measure with light brown sugar, but not in taste.  You can make your own Dark Brown sugar by adding molasses/treacle to refined white sugar at a 6.5% ratio.

Light Brown Sugar

Process: Created by adding molasses to refined white sugar. It has a molasses content of around 4.5%

Flavour: Mild, toffee/caramel flavour.

Texture: Same as Dark Brown Sugar.

Uses: Baking, cooking, sweets (toffee, ice cream, frosting etc.).

Substitutes: Substitutes for Dark Brown Sugar, but with a sweeter, more caramel flavour. Can substitute for regular granulated sugar, but has a higher moisture content, so you may need to adjust your recipe.

Raw Sugar

 Raw Sugar

Raw Sugar

Raw sugar is made from partially evaporated Cane juice.

Unlike Brown Sugars, it retains its original molasses content after centrifuging, instead of having it added later.

Demerara

Process: Partially refined. Produced during the first crystallization of cane juice.

Flavour: Natural caramel like flavour.

Texture: Large hard grains. Slow to melt.

Uses: Baking, decoration, perfect for coffee.

Substitutes: Can be substituted spoon for spoon for any raw sugar, but the flavor is fairly unique, especially when used in coffee.  Also very useful as an amber coloured sanding sugar.

May also be known as: Turbinado Sugar

Raw Sugar

Process: Partially refined. Produced during the first crystallization of cane juice.

Flavour: Natural Honey flavour

Texture: Large hard grains. Slow to melt.

Uses: Baking, decoration.

Substitutes: Can be substituted for any raw or granulated sugar. Also, useful as a sanding sugar.

Raw Caster Sugar

Process: Raw sugar is ground into finer grains.

Flavour: Natural Honey flavour

Texture: Superfine granules, like regular Caster Sugar

Uses: baking. Ideal for decoration/caramelisation on tarts and desserts.

Substitutes: Caster Sugar for the same texture, but not the same flavour. If you need a quick dissolving raw sugar, you can put raw or demerara sugar through a food processor until fine grained.

May also be known as: Golden Caster Sugar. Caster can also be spelled Castor.

White Sugar

 Powdered Sugar, Raw Sugar, and granulated Sugar.

Powdered Sugar, Raw Sugar, and granulated Sugar.

Raw Sugar is dissolved using phosphoric acid, and then further purified and filtered using carbon, to create refined white sugar.

White grain sugars are available in many forms, but the process is the same for each.

Sanding Sugar

Process: Refined Sugar, with little to no grinding.

Flavour: Standard white sugar

Texture: Large hard grains, unaffected by heat.

Uses: Ideal for decorating either before or after baking, for both texture and aesthetics.

Substitutes: Raw Sugar, for grain size and decoration, standard white sugar for taste.

May also be know as: Pearl Sugar, Decorating Sugar, Sugar Nibs.

Granulated Sugar

Process: Refined Sugar, granulated.

Flavour: Standard white sugar.

Texture: Hard grains, approximately 0.5mm, easily dissolved.

Uses: Baking, cooking, beverages. All purpose sugar.

Substitutes: You can use pretty much any sugar in place of granulated sugar, but depending on what you choose, you may get a different flavour, or require more or less liquid in your recipe.

May also be known as: White Sugar, Table Sugar.

Caster Sugar

Process: Refined Sugar, granulated and ground.

Flavour: Standard white sugar.

Texture: Hard grains, approximately 0.35mm, easily dissolved.

Uses: Anywhere you would use White Sugar, but melts much quicker. Ideal for creaming sugar and butter, or for heating sugar crusts on desserts and tarts.

Substitutes: You can make your own Caster sugar by grinding Standard white sugar.

May also be known as: Superfine sugar, Castor sugar.

Icing Sugar

Process: Refined sugar, ground very fine. Depending on the manufacturer, anti caking agents (like cornflour) may be added.

Flavour: Standard white sugar, however, the very fine grain allows for immediate dissolving, so it gives the impression of greater sweetness.

Texture: Very fine powder, approximately 0.024 mm, rapidly dissolved.

Uses: Desserts, baking, decoration. One of the principle ingredients of Basic Buttercream.

Substitutes: Icing sugar is required for its ultra fine texture, so unless you can grind another sugar to a fine dust, you need to make a run to the store!

May also be known as: Confectioners Sugar (although confectioners sugar grains are slightly larger), 10X sugar, powdered sugar. In Australia, icing sugar is sold either as Pure Icing Sugar, or Icing Sugar Mixture. Icing Sugar Mixture contains an anticaking agent, to stop clumping and reduce the need for sifting.  You can make your own Icing Sugar Mixture by adding cornflour to Pure Icing sugar, at a rate of 2-3%.  Check that your Icing sugar does not already contain some form of anti caking agent before doing this, as it may affect your result.

That's a lot of Sugar!

 Granulated Sugar

Granulated Sugar

That's quite a bit to take in, but hopefully it can serve as a future reference.

Its best not to substitute any ingredient in a  recipe unless you have tried the recipe before, or are 100% confident that you can exchange it for something else. Generally, recipes have been repeatedly tested before being released, so it's best to take the Author's word for it first time round! That being said, have a play with recipes. Some of the best family recipes have been changed to suit the particular tastes of the people eating them, so there's no rule locking the recipe in!

Obviously, Sugar is a "sometimes food", and I'm certainly not advocating a bowl of brown sugar for breakfast! But life is here to be lived, not endured, so being mindful of your health, enjoy your life!

Viva La Buttercream xx

Editor's note: All photos used in this blog post were purchased and licensed via Adobe Stock.