Sugar is a sweetener that is most often made from processed sugar cane and sugar beets. Also referred to by its chemical name, sucrose, sugar is produced in many different forms such as granulated or white sugar, which have been highly refined and are most commonly used as a table sweetener or as a baking ingredient. When a recipe specifies sugar, it is best to use the granulated white sugar. Sugar is available in different textures, such as super-fine, confectioner's or powdered sugar, decorating or coarse, and brown sugar. Other forms of sugar include maple sugar, sorghum, fructose, glucose, lactose, and maltose. Sugar is used most often as a sweetener, but it can be useful for other purposes including to make dough tender and to add stability to mixtures, such as meringue.
Granulated sugar is beet or cane sugar which has been processed, allowed to crystallize, and then dried so that the crystals do not clump together. Many people think of granulated sugar when they hear the word “sugar,” and this form of sugar is readily available in most markets. Recipes which call for sugar without specifying the type of sugar usually mean granulated sugar.
A number of desserts and sweets are not complete without a final dusting of confectioner's sugar, also known as "powdered sugar", "10x sugar" or "icing sugar". Confectioner's sugar is actually granulated sugar which has been mechanically ground into a very fine powder. This powdered form of sugar is commonly used to make cake frostings, sugar glazes, dessert sauces and decorative icings. Confectioner's sugar is also used to provide additional sweetness to fried donuts, funnel cakes and beignets.
Caster sugar (also spelled "castor sugar") is superfine sugar, favored for sweetening drinks or preparing meringue. Caster sugar is the name of a very fine sugar in Britain, so named because the grains are small enough to fit though a sugar "caster" or sprinkler. It is sold as "superfine" sugar in the United States.
Because of its fineness, it dissolves more quickly than regular white sugar, and so is especially useful in meringues and cold liquids. It is not as fine as confectioner’s sugar, which has been crushed mechanically (and generally mixed with a little starch to keep it from clumping).
If you don’t have any caster sugar on hand, you can make your own by grinding granulated sugar for a couple of minutes in a food processor (this also produces sugar dust, so let it settle for a few moments before opening the food processor).
Sucanat (which is a contraction of Sugar Cane Natural) is non-refined cane sugar that has not had the molasses removed from it like refined white sugar. It is essentially pure dried sugar cane juice. It is generally accepted as a substitute for brown sugar. Unlike regular brown sugar, sucanat is grainy instead of crystalline.
Brown sugar is an unrefined or partially refined soft sugar consisting of sugar crystals combined with molasses. Brown sugar is produced similarly to white sugar, with two exceptions. Its crystals are left much smaller than for white sugar, and the syrup or molasses is not washed off completely. Natural brown sugar is known as "Demerara sugar". So named because originally it came from sugar cane fields in the colony of Demerara in South America.
Brown sugar contains from 3.5% molasses (light brown sugar) to 6.5% molasses (dark brown sugar).
Different culinary sugars have different densities due to differences in particle size and inclusion of moisture. The Domino Sugar Company has established the following volume to weight conversions:
- Brown sugar 1 cup = 48 teaspoons ~ 195 g = 6.88 oz
- Granular sugar 1 cup = 48 teaspoons ~ 200 g = 7.06 oz
- Confectioner's sugar 1 cup = 48 teaspoons ~ 120 g = 4.23 oz