What's the Difference Between Kinds of Sugar?
Here's the raw truth behind a few common sweeteners
Sugar is one of life’s simplest pleasures (aside from that whole “it’s the new tobacco” panic). A touch of sweetness on the tongue spikes up the reward centers of the brain, and suddenly your whole day feels a little bit happier. But wait—aren’t there different types of sugar I see on the grocery store shelves, and maybe even served alongside my coffee? We’re not even talking pink packet vs. blue packet; these all say “sugar” on the label, and suddenly your simple recipe or cuppa got complicated. It’s OK, sweetness. We’ve got you covered with a brief explainer on some of the different kind of sugars you may encounter in the wild.
This is the white stuff that usually comes in paper sacks, gets stirred into diner coffee, and is the default in most home baking recipes. When someone says “sugar,” a spoonful of this is what you’re probably picturing. It’s got all of the molasses refined out of it, and the fineness of its crystals makes it easy to pour from shakers, measure, and dissolve without clumping. Most of this sugar comes from cane or beets.
Take white sugar, add molasses—the byproduct that occurs when sugar is refined—and you’ve got brown sugar. If it’s got 3.5-4.5 percent molasses, that’s light brown sugar, and 6.5 percent molasses, that’s dark brown sugar. They can be used almost interchangeably in recipes without having to adjust any other ingredients, and yes, in a pinch you can indeed make your own brown sugar at home by mixing white sugar and molasses.
You might be surprised to note that this seems pretty identical to plain old granulated sugar. That’s because it is. The only difference is that a package marked “cane sugar” would come exclusively from sugar cane, and if that’s not specifically stated, it might also contain beet sugar. "Unrefined" or "organic" cane sugar is, well, unrefined or organic, but that's not the default.
The crystals in Turbinado sugar will most likely be larger than that of granulated sugar, and it’s darker in color because it’s just had the surface molasses washed off, rather than refined all the way out. Because it’s not as processed as granulated sugar, it’s considered “raw.”
There’s not much difference between Turbinado and Demerara sugars, but Demerara’s crystals might be a tad bigger. They can be used interchangeably.
This might look like brown sugar—and also come in light and dark variations—but there are some key differences. While brown sugar is white sugar with the molasses added back in, this moist, unrefined sugar never had the molasses taken out in the first place.