A Complete Visual Guide to 11 Different Kinds of Sugar

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

How well do you know your sugar varieties? What’s the difference between turbinado and demerara? Is caster sugar the same as powdered sugar?

From white sugar to cane sugar to rich brown sugar, here are 11 sugar varieties you need to know, plus our favorite ways to use them.

When you think about sugar, the first thing that probably comes to mind is sweetness. And while it does sweeten baked goods, savory dishes, and drinks, the uses for sugar are many. Sugar can add flavor, texture, and decoration. It also works to make dough tender, provide stability for egg whites when making meringues and pavlovas, and help baked goods achieve a nice golden-brown color.

11 Varieties of Sugar to Know

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1. Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is a highly refined, multi-purpose sugar. It’s also sometimes called refined, table, or white sugar. When people talk about “sugar,” this is usually what they’re talking about.

Granulated sugar is made from sugarcane and sugar beets. It’s also the most common type of sugar used in baking and cooking.

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2. Caster Sugar

Caster sugar is superfine granulated white sugar. Because the crystals are so fine, they dissolve much quicker than standard granulated white sugar, which makes it ideal for making meringues, syrups, and cocktails.

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3. Confectioners Sugar

Also referred to as powdered sugar and 10x sugar, this is a type of white sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. To prevent clumping, a small amount of cornstarch is typically blended in. Confectioners sugar easily dissolves in liquid, and is ideal for making icing and frosting, as well as decorating baked goods.

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4. Pearl Sugar

Sometimes called nib sugar or hail sugar, pearl sugar is a variety of white sugar that has a coarse, hard texture and an opaque color. It also holds its shape, and doesn’t melt when exposed to high temperatures. Pearl sugar is commonly used in Scandinavian baking to decorate pastries, cookies, and buns.

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5. Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar is used mainly for decorating. It has large crystals, which are fairly resistant to heat and add extra texture and crunch to cookies and other baked goods. You can find sanding sugar in a rainbow of colors.

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6. Cane Sugar

Unlike granulated sugar, which comes from sugarcane or sugar beets, cane sugar is produced solely from sugarcane and is minimally processed. It also has a slightly larger grain, darker color, and higher price tag. Use cane sugar the same way you would granulated sugar.

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7. Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is a variety of raw cane sugar that is minimally refined. It has large grains with an amber color and a natural, subtle molasses flavor. Use it to sweeten coffee or tea, or as a topping on baked goods, like muffins, scones, cookies, and cakes.

Get a Recipe: Petite Palmiers

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8. Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado is another type of minimally refined raw cane sugar. This sugar variety has large, medium-brown crystals, and is often mistaken for standard brown sugar because of its color, although it’s not the same thing. Turbinado sugar has a delicate caramel flavor and is commonly used to sweeten beverages and can also be used in baking.

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9. Muscovado Sugar

Also referred to as Barbados sugar, muscovado sugar is a variety of unrefined cane sugar in which the molasses isn’t removed. It comes in dark and light varieties, and has a sticky, wet, sandy texture with a rich, complex flavor. While muscovado sugar can be used as a substitute for brown sugar, its flavor is much stronger. It’s especially wonderful in barbecue sauce, marinades, and savory dishes.

Get a Recipe: Muscovado Sugar Cake

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10. Light Brown Sugar

Light brown sugar is refined white sugar with a small amount of molasses added in. It has a wet, sandy texture — although less sticky than muscovado sugar — and a delicate caramel flavor. Use it for making any baked goods, as well as in savory dishes.

Get a Recipe: Molasses Spice Cookies

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11. Dark Brown Sugar

Like its lighter counterpart, dark brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added in. It contains more molasses than light brown sugar, which gives it a stronger, more intense flavor. Light and dark brown sugar can be used interchangeably.

Get a Recipe: Brown Sugar Cookie