So today I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the Different Types of Sugars available out there, and how they can be used in your desserts, Because we all know sugar makes our lives SWEET!
SUGAR. You probably know that wonderful substance can make your baked goods sweet, moist and tender. However, you may not know that the choice between white sugar and brown sugar can have a more subtle impact on your cakes, cookies and croissants.
So what is the difference and how will it impact your final product?
Back to the Plant
To understand the difference between white and brown sugar, let’s look at how they are made. Both white and brown sugars come from the same plant, sugarcane. In simplified terms, the plants are crushed and the sap is extracted. Once the sap is heated, molasses, which contains sugar crystals, is formed. Spinning the molasses at very high speeds draws out the molasses, leaving only the sugar crystals, or white sugar. In the past, brown sugar was the precursor to white sugar, meaning the spinning was stopped before all of the molasses was removed. However, modern day brown sugar is generally fully processed white sugar that has had the molasses added back into the final product.
Health wise, there is very little difference between white and brown sugar. Thanks to the molasses, brown sugar does have a few more minerals, such as calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium. However, these minerals are present in such miniscule amounts, they are negligible to your diet. The calorie content is also fairly similar, with brown sugar having one more calorie per teaspoon than white sugar.
Types of Sugar
Both white and brown sugar can be further classified into different varieties. Below are just a few examples.
- Table sugar – is what you will find in the vast majority of stores and is what most recipes will commonly use
- Fruit sugar – is commonly used in sweet powdered mixes and is differentiated by its smaller crystal size
- Bakers Special sugar – is even finer than above and is generally only used in commercial bakeries
- Castor sugar – also commonly referred to as super- or ultra- fine contains the smallest crystal sizes and is used when a sugar needs to be easily dissolved
- Powdered Sugar – as the name implies has been ground and sifted to yield a smooth powder. Commonly found in the most stores it can be used for icings and adornment
- Coarse sugar – has a very large crystal size and due to its chemistry resists color change and breakdown so is used for high temperature baking.
- Sanding sugar – also consists of large crystals but is used primarily for decorations as it gives a shimmering appearance on baked goods
Turbinado- this refers to what was historically brown sugar as the molasses has not been entirely removed but rather just washed off the surface. It is often used to sweeten beverageEvaporated cane juice- as the name implies is extracted from the sugarcane plant, purified and evaporated to avoid clumping of crystal
- Light/dark brown sugar – is found in most supermarkets and is commonly used in many dessert
- Muscovado sugar – has slightly coarser texture than light or dark brown sugar
- Free flowing brown sugar – resists clumping and pours like white sugar as it has undergone further processing
- Demerara sugar – has large brown crystals and is popular in England for beverage sweetening.
Which Should You Choose?
Many people mistakenly think that white and brown sugar can be interchanged in recipes, but that is not the case. Aside from the higher moisture content of brown sugar, they often behave differently in desserts, so it is best to stick with what is called for in the recipe. However, if you are interested in tinkering with, or developing, a recipe, there are some guidelines to determine which to use.
Cookies– Brown sugar contains and attracts more water so in a cookie made with brown sugar, the sugar will hold in the moisture and result in a less spread out, and thicker, cookie.
Baking Soda-for recipes using baking soda as a leaving agent, the brown sugar combines with the baking soda and creates carbon dioxide which results in a softer and fluffier baked good.
Bread– In most cases, either sugar can be used to make yeast breads as the sugar to flour ratio is so low it will have no impact.
Butter and Sugar– if your recipe calls for creaming the two together, it is being used a leavening agent in order to aerate the dough to form a thick, fluffy product. Only white sugar can perform this task in a recipe as brown sugar is too dense.
Soft/Melted Butter– In these recipes, the sugar is interacting in gluten development. Brown sugar will result in thick, chewy cookies as it allows the gluten to more easily develop. On the other hand, white sugar slows this down, allowing the cookie to spread out more and resulting in thin and crispy cookies.
Unbaked goods– if you are working with a desert that will not be baked, you have more room to play. But keep in mind that brown sugar will obviously yield a darker product. Also, while the two are fairly similar in sweetness level, brown sugar is slightly less sweet than white sugar.
Remember, dessert making is the intersection of art and science, and can take experimenting. Remember those lab experiments you use to do in Science class? 🙂 On the bright side, your failures, while perhaps not exactly what you intended, will still be delicious (somewhat.. lol!)..