Sugar: Know Your Label Lingo
It’s one of the most common pantry staples: sugar! Why the exclamation point? Well, pretty much everyone loves sugar, whether it’s sweetening your tea or making your cookies taste, well, like cookies (after all, a “savory cookie” is just a cracker).
But how well do you know the sweetest pantry staple of all?
“Pure Cane Sugar” / “100% Cane Sugar”
This label can be found on all the types of sugar listed below. Sugar can come from a variety of sources, but the two big ones on the American market are cane and beets. Labeling laws do not require that the source of sugar be on the label, but sugar labeled “100% cane sugar” or “pure cane sugar” must be that. And since cane sugar is generally more desirable due to its low melting point, natural preservative properties and tendency to foam up less than beet sugar, any sugar not labeled as pure cane sugar most likely contains some amount of beet sugar.
This is the most common of the major types of sugar, and you may think of it as plain sugar, white sugar, table sugar or simply “sugar.” The most simple explanation is that granulated sugar is the result of juicing the source (often sugar cane, sometimes sugar beets), refining that juice and separating sugar crystals from molasses, then drying and granulating (grinding up) those crystals.
“Castor” / “Caster” / “Ultra-Fine” / “Baker’s Sugar”
This sugar is more finely ground than granulated sugar (you can mimic the results by whirling ordinary granulated sugar in a blender or food processor). It is prized by, yes, bakers, because its finer texture dissolves more quickly and easily into batters and other concoctions.
“Powdered Sugar” / “Confectioners Sugar”
Powdered sugar is ground even finer than castor sugar, sifted, and then up to 3 percent cornstarch is added to keep it from caking. It’s often used in icings, whipped cream and meringues. It dissolves almost instantly, and the bit of cornstarch can be a plus when used in things (like meringues) that benefit from being kept more dry.
“Coarse” / “Sanding Sugar”
On the other end of the spectrum, these larger-grained sugars are ground more coarsely than granulated sugar and are used for decorating baked goods. Just as the more finely ground sugars dissolve easily, these coarse sugars keep their shape even when baked and can create lovely sugar crusts on cookies and cakes.
“Light,” “Golden,” and “Dark Brown Sugars”
Brown sugar is simply the result of adding some of the molasses back into the sugar that was removed during the initial processing. This results in a distinctive flavor and a moister texture than granulated sugar. Light and golden brown sugar have less molasses, so they have less molasses flavor, whereas dark brown sugar has a deeper flavor from more molasses being added, making it perfect for gingerbread, baked beans, mincemeat and other dishes that call out for that rich, almost earthy flavor.
Note that if the package doesn’t say “pure cane sugar” or “100% cane sugar,” however, it is most likely beet brown sugar, which is granulated beet sugar that has been sprayed with cane sugar molasses for flavor (beet sugar molasses is sold as animal feed).
“Raw Sugar” / “Turbinado Sugar” / “Demerara Sugar”
Raw sugar is sugar before the molasses has been removed. Some raw sugars, like Turbinado sugar, are steam-treated to create a lighter flavor without the extensive processing of granulated sugar. Demerara sugar is another raw sugar label you may find in stores — it is a large-grained raw sugar (note that London demerara sugar is actually made like brown sugar, with the molasses added back in).