And how to use them.
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Sugar starts by extracting sugar juice from sugar beet or sugar cane plants, but from there, many different varieties of sugar can be produced. And to make things even more confusing, different types of sugar are suited towards different cooking methods. Don't know your turbinado from your caster? Get familiar with the most common types of sugar before your next baking project.

White Sugar vs. Brown Sugar

one stainless steel measuring cup with brown sugar and one stainless steel measuring cup with white sugar
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Both white sugar and brown sugar originate from the same crops — either the sugarcane or sugar beet plant. White sugar goes through a purifying process that removes all of the natural syrup, known as molasses. Refined brown sugar is simply sugar with that has some of that molasses added back in, while unrefined brown sugar undergoes less processing to retain some level of molasses content. Either way, the resulting sugar is brown in color with a toffee-like flavor, as opposed to colorless and flavorless white sugar. The molasses in brown sugar also retains moisture, which results in baked goods that are softer and more dense, such as banana bread, zucchini bread, and soft cookies. Baked goods made with white sugar tend to be airier, like meringue, crispy cookies, and soufflé.

White and brown sugar can be broken down even further into subcategories based on how they're processed, their granule size, and their source. Here are a some of the most common varieties to know before you hit the bakery aisle:

1. Granulated Sugar

white granulated sugar in tablespoon
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Also known as refined, white, or table sugar, granulated sugar is the most common type of sugar used in cooking and baking. Granulated sugar is refined to remove all the naturally present molasses. The fine crystals don't clump together, making it great for measuring and dissolving into liquid or batter. Sugar labeled as "cane sugar" is simply granulated sugar that has been made exclusively from sugar cane rather than sugar beets.

2. Caster Sugar

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Commonly called superfine sugar, caster (also spelled "castor") sugar is a fine granulated sugar with a texture somewhere between regular granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar. Caster sugar is available in both white and golden varieties — the latter refers to sugar that has been processed to retain some of the natural molasses. Because it's more fine than granulated sugar, caster sugar dissolves more easily into liquids or batters, making it an excellent choice for light and airy desserts like meringues, mousse, and pavlova.

3. Confectioners' Sugar

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Confectioners' sugar, also called powdered sugar or icing sugar, is a very fine white sugar with an anti-caking agent (usually cornstarch) added to prevent clumping. This sugar is perfect for making frosting or dusting baked goods.

4. Coarse Sugar

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Sometimes called decorating sugar or pearl sugar, coarse sugar is a type of white sugar that's much larger than granulated sugar, which makes it more resistant to heat. It's sometimes used interchangeably with sanding sugar, but the two aren't the same.

5. Sanding Sugar

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Sanding sugar falls somewhere between regular granulated sugar and coarse sugar. It's more polished than other types of sugar, and comes in a variety of different colors (or no color, which reflects light!). It's often used to decorate and garnish baked goods.

6. Light Brown Sugar

packed light brown sugar in measuring cup
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Light brown sugar is refined white sugar with the molasses added back. It has less molasses than dark brown sugar, which gives it a more mild flavor and less moisture. Light brown sugar is most commonly used in baking, sauces, or glazes.

7. Dark Brown Sugar

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Dark brown sugar has more molasses than light brown sugar, giving it a deeper, more detectable molasses flavor. Its higher molasses content also means it has slightly more moisture than light brown sugar, though not enough to significantly change the texture of your final result. Dark brown sugar is mostly used to enhance the flavor of certain baked goods with its caramel-toffee notes, such as gingerbread cookies.

8. Demerara Sugar

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Demerara sugar is a type of minimally processed cane sugar with large, crunchy granules. It's golden-brown hue comes from small amount of natural molasses it contains. It's often used as a garnish on baked goods like muffins or as a sweetener for tea or coffee.

9. Turbinado Sugar

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Turbinado and demerara sugar are often mistaken for one another, but there are some differences between the two. Both are considered "raw sugars," meaning they've been crystalized only once. Like demerara sugar, turbinado has coarse granules, though it's slightly finer and tastes less of molasses than demerara. In general, the two can be used interchangeably.

10. Muscovado Sugar

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Unlike brown sugar, which has the molasses added back in, muscovado sugar is an unrefined sugar in which the molasses is never removed in the first place. Also known as Barbados sugar, muscovado has a sandy, sticky texture with a rich molasses flavor. Use it to add robust flavor to barbecue sauce, dry rubs, and marinades.

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