10 Types of Sugar, Explained (Because There’s More Than Just White and Brown Sweeteners to Cook With)

Everyone knows about white sugar and brown sugar, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Whether you’re baking cookies, making a Thai-inspired curry or trying to enjoy a muffin without spiking your blood sugar, it would behoove you to learn a thing or two about the many different types of sugar…and we have a thorough guide to see you through. See below for everything you need to know about sugar in all its many forms. (Your sweet tooth will thank you.)

Need a Substitute for Brown Sugar? We Have 6

What Are the Different Types of Sugar?

Not all sugar is created equal—and the many varieties come from different sources and undergo different production processes. The various types of sugar can be identified by their color, crystal size and the complexity of their flavor profile, which is determined by the amount of molasses that remains in the product after whatever degree of refinement has taken place on the manufacturing side. We researched the most prevalent types of sugar and got the full scoop on the taste, texture, production and best uses for them all. Read on and then take your newfound knowledge straight to the kitchen.

1. White Sugar

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  • Best For: baked goods and beverages that need sweetening

White sugar is a refined product that’s made by boiling raw sugar cane or sugar beets to extract the sugar and then spinning the unrefined sugar in a centrifuge to remove the molasses and achieve a sparkling white sweetener. And if you’ve ever baked cookies or made a cake, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with it, since it’s used in recipes for all manner of baked goods. While there are a few different types of white sugar worth mentioning (you can read about them further down on the list), the granulated variety is the most widely used and can be found loose for baking purposes, or in cube form for sweetening hot beverages.

2. Brown Sugar

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  • Best For: baked goods and sauces or marinades for savory dishes

Brown sugar starts off much the same as white sugar (i.e., it comes from the cane) but instead of being completely refined, some molasses is retained and mixed in with the white sugar crystals. The amount of molasses retained will determine the moisture and depth of color of the brown sugar, which is why there are two types of brown sugar sold: light and dark. On account of the molasses present, both types lend a richer and more complex sweetness than their fully refined cousin. As such, brown sugar has a wider range than white sugar and can be used for baked goods (we especially like brown sugar in chocolate chip cookies) and savory dishes alike (like baked beans, curries and candied bacon).

3. Confectioners’ Sugar

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  • Best For: icing/frosting recipes and dusting finished baked goods

Also known as powdered sugar, confectioners’ sugar is one of the aforementioned types of white sugar. It is refined in the same way as granulated white sugar, but undergoes an additional step in which it is ground into an extremely fine powder. Soft and incredibly fine, confectioners’ sugar is intensely sweet and has the texture of baby powder; it also readily dissolves in liquid agents, which is why it’s a top choice in icing and frosting recipes and is also frequently used to dust baked goods (Mexican wedding cookies, brownies and doughnuts, to name a few) once they’ve come out of the oven. Per The Sugar Association, it can also be made at home by putting one cup of granulated sugar and one tablespoon of cornstarch in your blender and giving it a thorough spin.

4. Cane Sugar

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  • Best For: beverages, baked goods and as a crunchy garnish

Made exclusively from sugarcane (no sugar beets here), cane sugar is the crystallized form of molasses syrup that’s extracted from the sugarcane. Once the crystals have formed, a centrifuge is used to separate the molasses. From there, different steps follow depending on the type of cane sugar in question: unrefined, raw or refined. Unrefined is the darkest of the bunch, as it contains the most molasses; raw sugar has less molasses and is lighter in color with coarse crystals, and refined cane sugar is the type you already read about (i.e., white sugar).

5. Caster Sugar

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  • Best For: certain desserts like meringues, mousse and souffle; cocktails

Yet another kind of white sugar, caster sugar is a compromise between granulated white sugar and confectioner’s sugar—namely because it has a finer texture than granulated sugar but, unlike powdered sugar, it hasn’t been ground to the point of having no crystals whatsoever. This type of sugar, which is also called baker’s sugar or superfine sugar, is ideal for (you guessed it) baking. It can also be used to make simple syrups or added to cocktails. File this one under ‘baked goods and booze.’

6. Coconut Sugar

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  • Best For: baked goods with moist batters

A brown color and rich caramel flavor characterize this minimally processed type of sugar made from the sap of coconut palms. Coconut sugar has been used in Southeast Asian countries for centuries and is an excellent substitute for brown sugar in a wide range of recipes due to its similar flavor profile and moisture content. The experts at WebMD also confirm that it’s more likely to prevent low blood sugar without causing unhealthy blood sugar spikes. It also contains more healthful nutrients and minerals than other types of sugar, but that’s likely irrelevant, since you’d need to consume it in unhealthy amounts to really benefit. Because of its similar taste, you can use coconut sugar as a 1:1 substitute in many recipes that call for brown sugar.

7. Turbinado Sugar


  • Best For: hot beverages and baking

Turbinado sugar boasts a blonde color, large crystals and a caramel flavor that’s similar to brown sugar, but milder. It’s also minimally refined and “processed until it’s just safe enough to eat,” according to The Sugar Association—and has a subtle taste that pairs well with a whole host of things. As such, turbinado is a good candidate for everything from baked goods to hot beverages that need sweetening. (Note: Due to its coarse texture, you won’t want to use this one for a cold drink.)

8. Demerara Sugar

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  • Best For: hot beverages or as a crunchy topping for baked goods

Extracted from sugarcane and minimally refined, demerara sugar is practically the same as turbinado, according to The Sugar Association. It hails from Guyana and boasts a delightfully mild molasses flavor and large, crunchy amber-colored crystals. For this reason, it’s an excellent topping for baked goods like muffins and scones. Demerara can also be used as a sweetener for beverages—but only the hot variety, since its coarse crystals don’t dissolve well in the cold stuff.

9. Liquid Sugar

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  • Best For: cocktails and other sweetened beverages

Often referred to as simple syrup, liquid sugar can be made with any of the granulated sugars on the list (i.e., anything but powdered sugar). White granulated sugar is most commonly used to create liquid sugar, and the process of making it is, indeed, simple—just dissolve the sugar in an equal amount of boiling water and, ta-da, simple syrup. Sometimes other flavoring agents are added, but either way, the resulting liquid sugar is used almost exclusively for cocktails and other cold beverages.

10. Muscovado Sugar

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  • Best For: marinades, barbeque sauce, rich chocolate baked goods

This type of sugar comes from Barbados, and owes its moist and sticky texture to the fact that it’s an unrefined form of cane sugar that retains an ample amount of molasses. It’s intensely sweet with a rich caramel flavor that mimics toffee candy. Due to its richness and depth of flavor, however, it plays nicely in savory recipes that call for just a hint of sweetness, like meat marinades and sauces. Muscovado sugar can also be used in baked goods, but works best with heady ingredients that can compete with its deeper flavor, like chocolate and ginger.

Are Some Types of Sugar Healthier Than Others?

The research is pretty clear on the fact that added sugars should be limited in the diet; natural sugars, on the other hand, can be consumed without worry. All of the sugars on the list above are categorized as added sugars, as they are extracted from the natural source and, well, added to things. According to Harvard Medical School, there is little distinction when it comes to the comparative health value of any added sugars as they are all metabolized by the body in the same way and even those sugars that have more micronutrients (see, coconut sugar) cannot be consumed in large enough quantities for those nutrients to make a difference, since the calories content would become an issue. For this reason, you should consider the above information as simply a culinary guide and remember that all types of sugar should be consumed in moderation, unless it’s coming straight from a fruit or vegetable.

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