Understanding Sugar


Why do we use or need sugar? Sugar is used in baked goods to achieve flavor and color. It can help with the texture by weakening the gluten strands. It can provide food for yeasts and act as a preservative. It can also act as a creaming or foaming agent, thus assisting in leavening.

As most of us know, sugar is a carbohydrate. There are two classifications of sugar, 1. Simple or single (monosaccharides), or 2. Double or complex (disaccharides). Common single sugars are sucrose or fructose, these commonly-occur naturally in honey and fruits. Double or complex sugars may happen naturally, for example lactose in milk, but more commonly, refined sugar.

The most common sugar used in the kitchen is sucrose. This is a refined sugar that is made from either sugar cane or the root of the sugar beet. Sucrose is a disaccharide that is made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. 

One thing to note, the chemical make-up of both cane and beet sugars are the same, they taste, look, smell and react the same. Sucrose is available in many forms, granulated, white, light or dark brown, molasses and powdered.

Turbinado sugar – This is the closest consumable product to raw sugar. It is only partially-refined, coarse in texture, light brown in color with a caramel flavor. It is not usually recommended as a substitute for granulated sugar due to its high and variable moisture content.

Sanding sugar – This type of sugar is typically almost always used in decorating due to its coarse texture. It isn’t great for baking as it is hard to dissolve.

Pearl sugar – Again, a decorating type of sugar made by polishing large crystals to resemble a pearl.

Granulated sugar – This is the most common form of sugar. Most recipes will call for granulated sugar. The crystals are fine and uniform in size, making it suitable for many applications.

Brown sugar – Generally, made from cane sugar that has some of the molasses put back into it. Light brown sugar has approximately 3.5% molasses, while dark brown sugar has 6.5%. The molasses adds moisture and added flavor. Brown sugar can be substituted in any recipe measure for measure, it will add more flavor. Due to its high moisture content, it tends to clump. It requires storage in an air-tight container to prevent hardening and drying out.

Superfine or Castor sugar – This granulated sugar has smaller crystals. You can make your own by placing granulated sugar in a food processor. It dissolves quickly in liquid and aids in light/tender cakes.

Powdered sugar – Known as icing sugar or confectioner's sugar. It is processed by grinding the granulated sugar through various-sized screens. It cannot be created in a food processor. You will note that some are 10X, most common, 6X and 4X are each more coarse. The higher the number, the finer the sugar. Cornstarch is added to powdered sugar to aid in the stopping of clumping.

Fructose – A simple sugar that occurs naturally in honey, fruits and some vegetables. Many baked goods made with fructose are generally darker than those made with sucrose.