Sugar, Different Types and Their Uses
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There are many different types of granulated sugar. Some of these are used only by the food industry and professional bakers and are not available in the supermarket. The types of granulated sugars differ in crystal size. Each crystal size provides unique functional characteristics that make the sugar appropriate for a specific food’s special need.
Bakers Special Sugar - The crystal size of Bakers Special is even finer than that of fruit sugar. As its name suggests, it was developed specially for the baking industry. Bakers Special is used for sugaring doughnuts and crumb texture.
Castor/caster sugar – Spelled both "caster" and "castor." The spelling castor sugar used to be the prevailing one, but caster sugar seems to be more usual now, perhaps because it is used by some sugar manufacturers on their packaging. See superfine sugar. UK castor/caster sugar is very finely granulated sugar (finer than U.S. granulated sugar) which allows it to dissolve almost instantly. In the United States, superfine sugar or the new Baker's sugar may be substituted. It is called "berry sugar" in British Columbia.
Confectioners or powdered sugar - In Britain it is called icing sugar and in France sucre glace. This sugar is granulated sugar ground to a smooth powder and then sifted. It contains about 3% cornstarch to prevent caking. Powdered sugar is ground into three different degrees of fineness. The confectioners sugar available in supermarkets – 10X – is the finest of the three and is used in icings, confections and whipping cream. The other two types of powdered sugar are used by industrial bakers.
Fruit Sugar - Fruit sugar is slightly finer than “regular” sugar and is used in dry mixes such as gelatin and pudding desserts, and powdered drinks. Fruit sugar has a more uniform small crystal size than “regular” sugar. The uniformity of crystal size prevents separation or settling of larger crystals to the bottom of the box, an important quality in dry mixes.
Granulated sugar – Also called table sugar or white sugar. This is the sugar most known to consumers, is the sugar found in every home’s sugar bowl, and most commonly used in home food preparation. It is the most common form of sugar and the type most frequently called for in recipes. Its main distinguishing characteristics are a paper-white color and fine crystals.
Sugar cubes – They are made from moist granulated sugar that is pressed into molds and then dried.
Sanding sugar - Also known as coarse sugar. A large crystal sugar that is used mainly in the baking and confectionery industries as a sprinkle on top of baked goods. The large crystals reflect light and give the product a sparkling appearance.
Superfine, ultra fine, or bar sugar - This sugar’s crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated white sugar. It is ideal for delicately textured cakes and meringues, as well as for sweetening fruits and iced-drinks since it dissolves easily. In England, a sugar very similar to superfine sugar is known as caster or castor sugar, named after the type of shaker in which it is often packaged.
Brown sugar (light and dark) - Brown sugar retains some of the surface molasses syrup, which imparts a characteristic pleasurable flavor. Dark brown sugar has a deeper color and stronger molasses flavor than light brown sugar. Lighter types are generally used in baking and making butterscotch, condiments and glazes. The rich, full flavor of dark brown sugar makes it good for gingerbread, mincemeat, baked beans, and other full flavored foods.
Demerara sugar - Popular in England, Demerara sugar is a light brown sugar with large golden crystals, which are slightly sticky from the adhering molasses. It is often used in tea, coffee, or on top of hot cereals.
Muscovado or Barbados sugar - Muscovado sugar, a British specialty brown sugar, is very dark brown and has a particularly strong molasses flavor. The crystals are slightly coarser and stickier in texture than “regular” brown sugar.
Free-flowing brown sugars - These sugars are specialty products produced by a co-crystallization process. The process yields fine, powder-like brown sugar that is less moist than “regular” brown sugar. Since it is less moist, it does not clump and is free-flowing like white sugar.
Turbinado sugar - This sugar is raw sugar which has been partially processed, where only the surface molasses has been washed off. It has a blond color and mild brown sugar flavor, and is often used in tea and other beverages.
Liquid sugars - There are several types of liquid sugar. Liquid sugar (sucrose) is white granulated sugar that has been dissolved in water before it is used. Liquid sugar is ideal for products whose recipes first require sugar to be dissolved. Amber liquid sugar is darker in color and can be used in foods where brown color is desired.
Invert sugar - Sucrose can be split into its two component sugars (glucose and fructose). This process is called inversion, and the product is called invert sugar. Commercial invert sugar is a liquid product that contains equal amounts of glucose and fructose. Because fructose is sweeter than either glucose or sucrose, invert sugar is sweeter than white sugar. Commercial liquid invert sugars are prepared as different mixtures of sucrose and invert sugar. For example total invert sugar is half glucose and half fructose, while 50% invert sugar (half of the sucrose has been inverted) is one-half sucrose, one-quarter glucose and one-quarter fructose. Invert sugar is used mainly by food manufacturers to retard the crystallization of sugar and to retain moisture in the packaged food. Which particular invert sugar is used is determined by which function – retarding crystallization or retaining moisture – is required.
Home cooks make invert sugar whenever a recipe calls for a sugar to be boiled gently in a mixture of water and lemon juice.
As a sweetener: sugar is added to foods or drinks to make them taste more pleasant. For example, it balances the bitterness of coffee or reduces the tartness of sour fruit.
As a preservative: sugar is a natural preservative that binds water to prevent the growth of micro-organisms, thereby reducing food spoilage, as in jams and preserves.
As a bulking agent: sugars give texture to a variety of foods from jams to frozen products.
Hard dense sugar obtained from the sap of various palms. Usually sold in solid pieces in colours ranging from creamy-white to dark brown.
It is widely used in India and South-East Asian countries, usually to sweeten desserts or sweet- and sour dishes.
All sugar products are hygroscopic- that is they all absorb moisture from the atmosphere. Sugar itself will become damp and sticky.
Products cooked with sugar will also absorb moisture and in the case of crisp biscuits for example, go soft. Proper storage is essential to overcome these problems.
I have several different types of sugar in my kitchen, including white sugar, brown sugar and a variety of coarse sugars. By coarse sugar, I mean a “sugar in the raw” or natural type of sugar that has a much coarser texture and much larger crystals than plain white sugar has. These natural sugars have a lot of appeal when you’re in the grocery store looking for items that are less processed or have a more unique flavor, but even though they’re still sugar, that doesn’t mean that they are going to perform the same way in a recipe as regular white sugar will.
Coarser sugars are great for toppings and can be used in all kinds of baking applications, but there are some differences between it and regular sugar and that is worth keeping in mind when you reach for the sugar in your pantry. Plain sugar has a fine texture that is easy to cream into butter and beat into meringues and frostings. The small crystals dissolve quite easily in other ingredients and that fact is important to the texture of many baked goods. Coarse sugars have a large crystal that takes a lot more effort to break down and they will take more moisture to dissolve. This means that cookie doughs made with coarse sugar will be drier than those made with regular sugar and you’ll also need to work much harder to get the sugar to dissolve into a meringue or frosting. When using sugar in a recipe that doesn’t require creaming, such as sweetening a pie filling, white sugar and raw sugar can be interchanged without any impact on the finished product.