Granulated sugar, caster sugar, icing sugar, muscovado, demerara or light brown sugar: what’s the difference, which is best and what are their properties

I’m making peanut butter, chocolate and caramel cookies. I have so far had four attempts. I’ve been reading about different sugars and the results they give. I want to share with you what I have discovered about different sugars.

White sugars

White sugar has had all the molasses removed from it, hence it’s colour and name.

Preserving sugar

Has the largest crystals and so dissolves the fastest when added to liquid. It is used for jams and jellies.

Granulated sugar

Has medium sized crystals so it’s good for syrups as it dissolves fast. It’s also used in cooking, baking and cups of tea and coffee. Sugar lumps are made from granulated sugar and a little moisture to form the lumps.

Caster sugar/Superfine sugar (USA)

Has small crystals and is used widely in baking. It’s particularly good for making meringues.

Icing sugar/Confectioner’s sugar (USA)

Has been ground down to a powder. Cornflour may have been added to keep the sugar free-flowing. Icing sugar is mainly used for icings and decoration. A food processor will reduce caster or granulated sugar into a powder that is icing sugar.

Brown sugars

Brown sugars contain molasses which give flavour and colour. According to BBC Good Food – Molasses is a thick, dark, heavy syrup which is a by-product of sugar refining. It is far less sweet than syrup or honey and the darker the molasses, the less sugar it contains. Molasses has a slightly bitter flavour that is favoured in traditional North American recipes such as Boston baked beans and it also goes into rich fruit cakes, ginger bread and treacle toffee.

Muscovado (Barbados) sugar

Either dark muscovado or light muscovado. Dark muscovado is the darkest of all the brown sugars. This is due to the high proportion of molasses left in the sugar which gives a strong caramel flavour. Both dark and light muscovado sugar make cakes and biscuits soft and moist. This is because it is hygroscopic which means it absorbs moisture from the air. Use it for gingerbread, toffee sauce, pulled pork, brownies and Christmas cake.

Here is a list of recipes using muscovado sugar.

Demerara sugar

Has large crystals, it is more refined than muscovado sugar. Use it for adding texture to the top of muffins, crumbles or for the top of a creme brulée.

Light brown sugar

Is more refined than demerara sugar. It has far less molasses in it and the crystals are small. This means it will give biscuits, cakes and cookies a moist texture. Unlike muscovado sugar it only has a subtle caramel flavour.

Which sugar should I use?

In cookies and biscuits

Most cookie recipes have a mix of white and brown sugar. White sugar encourages spreading, while brown sugar gives a chewy, soft, thick cookie. For crunchy biscuits white sugar by itself will work well.

In Meringues

Traditionally meringues are made with white caster sugar which dissolves quickly in the egg white. White caster sugar gives the meringue a beautiful cream colour. My meringue recipe is here Light muscovado sugar can be used instead and will impart its caramel flavour into the meringue. Try a recipe from BBC Good Food using light muscovado sugar.

For information about the different types of meringue, have a look at this post.

In cheesecakes

Caster sugar is normally used, as it will dissolve easily in the cream cheese mixture. Icing sugar could also be used. My cheesecake recipe is here. Brown sugar will give the cheesecake it’s caramel flavour, here is a cheesecake recipe using brown sugar.

In muffins

Muffins are small cakes which are risen by bicarbonate of soda or baking powder and an acid. This acid could be buttermilk or brown sugar.

The Professional Chef – Ninth Edition – Wiley
Leiths Techniques Bible – Susan Spaull and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne


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