Last Updated: May 12, 2020
So now you can distinguish the difference between all-purpose flour and self-raising flour and when to use them. You also know how to pick your vegetables for various dishes thanks to our very first Produce Explained article on leafy greens. And you’re no stranger when it comes to types of salt. But what about which sugar to use in your cakes? What’s so special about brown sugar and what gives it its unique taste?
Sugar is one of the most important ingredients in almost every dish you can make. It’s a class of carbohydrates that tastes sweet, and it’s an extremely common ingredient in various foods. You can probably tell the difference between icing sugar and granulated sugar, but what’s so special about cane sugar? What are some instances where you can only use a specific type of sugar and scenarios where substitutes are acceptable?
In this article, we dive deeper into the world of sugar, and the wonders of their various types and uses. Let’s embrace this baking craze in Singapore by cooking and baking only the best food for ourselves and our families during this #Stayhome period.
Granulated sugar is also known as white sugar or table sugar in the market, and is the most commonly used sugar in many different households.
Derived from the Latin word granum, which means “grain”, granulated is the perfect way to describe gritty substances like sugar and salt. This sugar is heavily refined to remove any trace of molasses left in it.
The sugar crystals in granulated sugar don’t clump together, making it the best sugar for measuring, sprinkling on food and dissolving in drinks.
This is the most popular sugar being used in most baked goods, ranging from cookies to cakes.
Price: From S$2
I’m sure we have all heard about brown sugar, considering how it’s a really popular option on bubble tea menus. This is a sucrose sugar product that is a little brown-hued because of the presence of molasses, which is typically obtained from sugar cane. A healthier version of your everyday white sugar, brown sugar contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium.
Apart from just sweetness, brown sugar adds flavour to baked goods. It has its own distinct toffee-like flavour—you can only find it in brown sugar. The difference between dark brown sugar and light brown sugar is that the former tastes more like caramel, with a deep molasses flavour while the latter is much milder and less complex.
Brown sugar caramelises more quickly than refined sugar, so apart from making sweet treats like brown sugar cookies, this sugar can be used to make glazes and gravies brown while cooking. Of course, it adds flavour to many types of desserts and baked goods.
Pro-tip: brown sugar can be substituted with maple sugar, and vice versa in various recipes. You might want to keep this in mind, because a little birdie told me that brown sugar is running low in stock at supermarkets.
Check out our brown sugar bubble tea recipe if you’re looking to have a refreshing sweet treat this ‘Circuit Breaker’.
Price: From S$3.50
Cane sugar is produced solely from sugarcane and is very minimally processed. Bearing a larger grain than everyday white sugar, cane sugar has a slightly darker colour and costs more.
Many people have said that the difference between cane sugar and normal granulated white sugar is indistinguishable, but others believe that they are different due to the way they are processed.
It is believed that cane sugar is solely from sugarcane while normal granulated sugar comes from beet. In the US especially, it is common to see cane sugar with a higher price tag because it used to be grown by Americans themselves.
It has been proven that both these sugars do the exact same job, and the reason why beet sugar costs less is that pesticides are used on the beets.
Use this in your normal everyday life as you would with normal granulated white sugar. This sugar can be used in baking, especially if your recipe doesn’t specify what type of sugar you’re supposed to use. You can also use this as coffee or tea sweetener.
One of my favourite ways to have this sugar is alongside roti prata (yes, I prefer not to have curry sometimes).
Price: From S$5.25
Caster sugar is a relatively fine sugar in Britain and other Commonwealth countries, and is aptly named because the grains are so fine, they can fit in through a sugar caster (a small container with a perforated top—similar to a salt shaker, but larger). This sugar is also known as “superfine” sugar in the United States.
The caster sugar grains are fine, so they dissolve quicker than regular granulated sugar. Caster sugar is usually ground to a consistency that sits between granulated and confectioners’ sugar in coarseness.
It’s also interesting that you can actually make your own caster sugar from granulated sugar by grinding the latter in a mortar or food processor for a few minutes.
Because of how fast it dissolves, caster sugar is best used in baked goods like meringues. This is crucial for desserts like meringues—you wouldn’t want grains of sugar in this sweet treat that is known for its unique texture! It’s also commonly used in cold liquids because of how fast it dissolves.
Price: From S$7
Also known as icing sugar or powdered sugar, confectioners’ sugar is a finely-ground sugar that has been milled into a powdered state. It typically contains 2% or 5% of anti-caking agents like corn starch or potato starch.
The anti-caking agents in the sugar allow it to absorb moisture, prevent clumping and improve flow.
Unbeknownst to me, confectioners’ sugar can also be made at home by putting granulated sugar in a coffee grinder or crushing it by hand in a mortar and pestle.
Confectioners sugar is commonly used to make icing or frosting. It is also used to make other cake decorations, like fondant.
Also used in candy and fudge recipes, confectioners’ sugar is perfect for making treats that need a smooth consistency. It’s also typically seen dusted on top of various cakes.
Price: From S$5.50
Originating from Guyana (formerly Demerara) in South America, demerara sugar is produced from sugarcane, consisting of large grains to provide a nice crunch in baking. Similar to brown sugar, demerara sugar is naturally tinted brown because of small amounts of molasses, and bears hints of caramel flavour.
Some advocates have proclaimed that demerara sugar is healthier than typical granulated sugar because it undergoes minimal processing while retaining some vitamins and minerals.
White sugar goes through more processing which results in it being completely devoid of these nutrients. This doesn’t mean you can go ahead and consume large amounts of demerara sugar—sugar is sugar, after all.
Demerara sugar is commonly sprinkled on cakes, muffins and pastries. If you remember the grains of sugar on those tin biscuits from your childhood, this was probably it. Apart from a mere topping, people do add demerara sugar into their tea or coffee as well. Some say it’s an essential ingredient in the art of making the perfect cup of coffee.
Price: From S$8.60
One might confuse muscovado sugar with generic brown sugar but they’re actually worlds apart. Generic brown sugar is usually refined white sugar with molasses added in after the refining process, while muscovado sugar is made from raw sugar that isn’t refined at all.
Muscovado sugar also comes in a darker shade of brown than generic dark brown sugar, and has a different texture.
Its texture resembles wet sand; moist and sticky to the touch. Tasting it will bring about a sweet flavour at first, and then it will evolve into a rich, floral, bittersweet note.
Muscovado sugar definitely bears a more complex flavour as compared to the regular white sugar—some might even say they taste hints of fruit and toffee in it! A slightly smoky and interesting aftertaste wraps the whole experience up.
Muscovado sugar is popular in savoury dishes, especially if you’re making barbeque sauce from scratch. Because the flavours of the sugar itself are already so complex, using muscovado sugar in various dishes that highlight its unique flavour will also bear excellent results.
Some people use it in gingerbread and butter cakes, while others prefer to sprinkle it over yoghurt or stir it into their coffee.
Price: From S$13
Sanding sugar is a large crystal sugar that doesn’t dissolve with heat as easily as the other sugars. You might have seen it on sugar biscuits, glistening in the light while retaining the integrity of its grain despite the heat.
Extremely good for decorating, sanding sugar is also commonly known as pearl sugar, because of how it sparkles when it reflects light.
Amazing for decorating baked goods, sanding sugar can also be customised with different colours. It also provides a nice crunch and an extra flair to your mundane, plain baked goods. These grains are more polished-looking than regular granulated sugar grains.
Sanding sugar is used to decorate and garnish desserts from cookies to scones. A perfect addition to your creative arsenal, if you ask me. Sometimes, sanding sugar is also added to rims of glasses for speciality drinks to dazzle them up.
Price: From S$6
Now that you know the difference between the various sugars and the substitutes for each, you have no excuse not to bake if the particular sugar in your recipe is sold out at local supermarkets—you’ve got all the ammo you need, and you’re well-prepared for this situation.
It’s time to sharpen those culinary skills this ‘Circuit Breaker’—why not check out some of our simple recipes? Happy baking!