Food & Drink

15 Different Types of Sugar and How To Use Them

Last Updated on March 13, 2024 | 0 Comments
There are many types of sugar to learn about

There are many types of sugar out there! From the classic white stuff to caramel-flavored brown sugar and versatile liquid sweeteners — it's a sweet smorgasbord. 

Each of these different types of sugar brings its own flavor, texture and uses to the table, making them essential ingredients in kitchens everywhere. So, let's dive into the sugar bowl and explore what makes each kind unique.


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The Different Types of Sugar

You might be wondering: “How many types of sugar are there?” Well, down to numerous processing methods and natural sources of sweetness, there are countless different types of sugar available for us to use. 

Crystal Size

One way we classify sugar is by crystal size. Classic granulated sugar is perfect for everyday cooking, baking and adding to your favorite hot drinks. Superfine sugar, with its minuscule crystals, is great for delicate desserts because it dissolves quickly. Finally, there's powdered sugar, which is ground down, making it ideal for smooth icings and sweets. 


Another way to categorize types of sugar is by color. White sugar goes through a process of refining to achieve that bright white hue with a mild taste. On the other hand, brown sugar keeps some of that molasses goodness, giving it a caramel flavor and tone. On the brown sugar spectrum, light brown sugar has a fraction less molasses, while dark brown sugar is richer in flavor because it keeps more molasses in the mix.

How we process sugar, through refining, affects its color and flavor. White sugar is highly refined to look crystal white and taste subtle. Brown sugars don't go through as much processing, so they retain the qualities of molasses, adding depth to their flavor and color. Plus, heating things up during processing caramelizes these types of sugars, making them even more flavorful and intense.

Different types of sugar on some wooden spoons
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How Many Types of Sugar Are There?

Among the most common types of sugar are glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose. Glucose is our body's preferred energy source, while fructose is naturally occurring in fruits. Sucrose, the familiar granulated substance found in our kitchens, is a combination of glucose and fructose molecules bonded together. Then there's lactose, found in dairy products like milk and yogurt, giving them their subtle sweetness.

When it comes to sugar, there's a big difference between the natural kind found in foods such as fruits and milk and the added sugars lurking in sodas and processed sweet treats. Natural types of sugars that are present in whole foods come bundled up with essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber.

On the other hand, free sugars are added to foods and drinks during processing to sweeten them up. Otherwise known as added sugars, these can lead to health issues when consumed in excess. Added sugars can sneak into our diets under many names like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and maltose. No matter what they're called, too much of any of these types of sugar, whether natural or added, isn't great for our health. It can lead to weight gain, dental problems and an increased risk of chronic diseases. 

Honey, maple syrup, dates and coconut sugar
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Types of White Sugar

White sugar, equally loved and demonized by many, is the refined sweetness extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. Through meticulous processing, impurities and moisture are removed to reveal glittering grains of snow-white sugar. With its fine texture, white sugar adds a sprinkle of sweetness to many dishes. 

There are many white types of sugar
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1. Table Sugar

Table sugar is made up of tiny white crystals that are neither fine nor coarse in texture. You'll find table sugar in kitchens everywhere, where it's used in all sorts of recipes and drinks. Whether you're sweetening your morning coffee or baking up a storm, white granulated sugar is the most common sweetener. 

white granulated sugar
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2. Caster Sugar

Caster sugar is a finer, smoother version of table sugar. It's not as finely ground as powdered sugar but still has a soft, delicate texture with smaller crystals. You'll often spot it in baking recipes, typically used in cakes, cookies and meringues, where you want a really light, airy texture. 

Sugar cubes and caster sugar are types of sugar
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3. Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar, also known as confectioners' sugar or icing sugar, is a superfine type of sugar, with a texture resembling that of fresh snow. This makes powdered sugar ideal for creating smooth icings, frostings and glazes for cakes, cookies and pastries. Interestingly, powdered sugar often contains a small amount of cornstarch to prevent clumping and ensure a silky texture. 

Powdered confectioners sugar
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4. Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar is recognizable due to its large, coarse crystals that sparkle and shine. Unlike other types of sugar, sanding sugar has a much larger particle size. Sanding sugar is typically used as a decorative topping for baked goods. Its large crystals add a delightful sweet crunch to the crusts of these treats, while its sparkling appearance lends an eye-catching finish. 

Sanding sugar is a type of sugar that has large particles
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Types of Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is a type of sweetener characterized by its distinct brown color and rich flavor, which comes from the presence of molasses. Unlike highly refined white sugar, brown sugar retains its molasses content. The following are the most common types of sugar in this category.

Brown types of sugar are often used in baking
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5. Light Brown Sugar

With a slightly moist texture, light brown sugar is pale brown in color, thanks to its molasses content. It's most often used in baking, where its subtle caramel flavor adds depth to cookies and cakes. This sugar can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, often incorporated into sauces, glazes and marinades to enhance their flavor profile. You may also include it as a primary ingredient in main or side dishes, such as in brown sugar sweet potatoes.

Brown sugar spilling out of a white bowl in a small spoon
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6. Demerara Sugar

Originating from the Demerara region in Guyana, South America, this sugar is made from evaporated cane juice, resulting in its natural caramel taste and tone. This unique sugar adds a caramel complexity to baked goods and enhances the overall taste. Some also enjoy it as an alternative to white sugar in coffee or tea.

Demerara sugar on a teaspoon
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7. Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar, also called raw sugar, is less refined than many other types of sugar and contains small amounts of natural minerals, such as calcium, potassium and iron. It's marketed as a healthier alternative to white sugar due to its less refined nature but the differences in mineral content are minimal and unlikely to significantly impact health.

Turbinado sugar is a brown type of sugar
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8. Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado sugar or Barbados sugar, stands out with its deep color and sticky texture. You'll often find it in baking recipes, where it brings out the rich flavor of chocolate cakes and brownies. Muscovado sugar is typically made in India, Colombia and the West Indies. The name ‘muscovado’ comes from the Portuguese ‘açúcar mascavado' which translates as ‘unrefined sugar.’

Spoon of muscovado sugar on a wooden table
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Types of Liquid Sugar

Liquid sugar, also known as liquid glucose, is a solution of sugar dissolved in water. It's commonly used in a variety of culinary applications due to its liquidity and ability to easily blend into recipes. Here are a few examples of different types of sugar in its liquid form.

There are a few liquid types of sugar
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9. Liquid Sugar

Liquid sugar is one of the most common types of sugar used in commercial food production and baking. It has a consistency similar to honey or maple syrup and is typically clear or light golden in color. Liquid sugar is often derived from sugar cane or sugar beets through a process that involves dissolving granulated sugar in water and heating it to create a syrup. One of the primary uses of liquid sugar is as a sweetener in beverages. 

Liquid sugar is a type of sugar that is clear or light golden in color
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10. Invert Sugar

Invert sugar is a type of sugar syrup made from equal parts glucose and fructose, formed by splitting sucrose molecules through a process called hydrolysis. Unlike granulated sugar, invert sugar has a smoother texture and a higher level of sweetness. Invert sugar is able to remain in a liquid state at room temperature, making it a favorite among pastry chefs.

Invert sugar syrup in a glass bottle next to a jigger
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Other Sugar-Based Sweeteners

There's a whole range of sweeteners out there, from natural ones like honey and maple syrup to the more processed varieties, such as high fructose corn syrup. Sugar-based sweeteners all have slightly different purposes but at the end of the day, they all achieve the same effect, sweetening the food and drink we consume. 

Maple syrup and honey are other types of sugar
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11. Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar, is made from the sap of coconut palm tree blossoms. It resembles brown sugar and has a caramel-like flavor with a hint of coconut. An advantage to using coconut sugar is that it's pretty sustainable. It comes from the coconut palm tree, which doesn't need a lot of water or chemicals to grow. Although growing in popularity, it’s not always readily available, so it helps to know a few substitutes for coconut sugar.

A type of sugar in a coconut bowl with a palm leaf
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12. High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn starch. It's a popular choice for sweetening processed foods and drinks because it's cheap and easy to use. You'll find it in sodas, candies, baked goods and sauces. However, there's a bit of controversy around HFCS. Some studies link it to health issues, such as obesity and diabetes, although the evidence isn't crystal clear. Like any sweetener, it's best to enjoy HFCS in moderation. 

High fructose corn syrup next to two corn on the cobs
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13. Honey

Honey, that sticky golden goodness bees make from flower nectar, is one of the most versatile types of sugar used in cooking, baking and even as a natural remedy for sore throats. It comes in a range of colors from light to dark amber, depending on where the bees got their nectar. If you're curious about what type of sugar honey is, it's composed of two types of sugar — glucose and fructose. Like with the color, the exact ratio of fructose to glucose depends on what source the bees got their nectar from.

Along with being a soothing remedy for sore throats, you can drizzle honey over yogurt, oatmeal or toast for a deliciously sweet treat. Many people also incorporate it into savory dishes, such as honey walnut shrimp and honey fried chicken.

Many people wonder what type of sugar is honey?
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14. Molasses

A thick, dark syrup with a rich flavor, molasses ranges from light to dark brown in color. For this reason, you can easily use it in many recipes as a brown sugar substitute. Molasses is often used as a sweetener in baking and cooking, adding depth and complexity to dishes like gingerbread, barbecue sauce and baked beans. Molasses has been historically utilized for its potential health benefits, including aiding digestion and assisting in boosting iron levels.

Molasses are a type of sugar in liquid form
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15. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a natural sweetener with a rich, amber hue and a complex, woodsy flavor. It's a breakfast favorite, drizzled generously over pancakes, waffles and French toast. You can also use it to sweeten savory dishes, with recipes like maple bacon and maple glazed carrots being popular. Harvested in the spring through a labor-intensive process called tapping, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of syrup. 

Maple syrup surrounded by maple leaves
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Each of the different types of sugars serves up a sweet solution for every culinary need and taste preference. Whether you're whipping up a batch of cookies or simply sweetening your morning coffee, there's sugar out there to help you achieve the perfect flavor and texture. Understanding the characteristics and uses of the various types of sugars allows us to experiment, innovate and indulge in the endless possibilities of sweet delights.

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