Sugar, that lovely sweet stuff, comes from two sources… sugar cane and sugar beets.
Man has been producing sugar from sugar cane for thousands of years. In the 5th century BCE the Persians began to use it regularly, and they spread it throughout the Arabic region of the world.
Europeans “discovered” sugar during the Crusades. It was carried back home and marketed as a very expensive “spice”, and could only be afforded by the wealthy. The Italians improved the process of refining sugar from cane. Columbus then took sugar cane to the Caribbean, and an entire industry was born. By the 18th century there were over a hundred sugar refineries, but sugar was still horribly expensive. By the 19th century, man had figured out how to refine sugar from Sugar Beets. Those ugly bulbs provided 70% of the sugar in Europe (and other cold climates).
It was not until the 20th century that sugar became a “staple” in most households. Today, Western Europe, Canada and Russia still get most of their sugar from beets, while the United States, Mexico, Asia, Africa and South America get the majority of their sugar from cane.
Ok… so all of that information might be great if you are ever on a quiz show, but why are there so many different types of sugar on the shelves in the supermarket? What is the difference between them, and how are they used…
Sugar is sweet…. sugar is good…
I love sugar!
I know, I know…. not supposed to love sugar. That white sweet stuff is the bane of every dentist out there (although I think they all secretly promote use of sugar to drum up business) Also, so many people out there have to avoid sugar for dietary reasons. Sigh.
Note- I am not including Stevia or Artificial Sweeteners in this list, simply because I’m not as familiar with them, and don’t want to spread mis-information.
But…for the rest of us in the baking aisle…
Sugar Types and Uses
Granulated Sugar– White refined sugar from a sugar beet or sugar cane. Used as table sugar, and in most recipes when SUGAR is called for.
Brown Sugar– White sugar with some molasses mixed in. In fact, if you are out of brown sugar, add a spoonful of molasses to white, and there you go. It comes in Dark or Light; I tend to use dark brown sugar, since I like the flavor it imparts.
Powdered Sugar– Super fine white sugar with a bit of cornstarch mixed in. Used for frosting, icing, and dusting baked goods. Powdered sugar makes a lovely cloud of white when you accidentally dump the whole amount into the mixer at once. Don’t use Powdered sugar in your tea… the cornstarch will make a nasty mess.
Superfine Sugar– Also called Castor Sugar is a quick dissolving sugar used in some frosting or meringue. If you don’t find it in the baking aisle… check the adult beverages section of your store. It’s also used in bar tending. (Note… if you are out, and you need some RIGHT NOW, you can put regular granulated sugar into a food processor, and let it process for a minute or two.)
Turbinado Sugar– Also known as Raw Sugar is less processed sugar, has larger crystals, and still has a bit of molasses flavor. Some people love it in coffee… I love to sprinkle it over muffins before baking. (This is the stuff in the brown packets at your local coffee place).
Go on… add a spoonful of sugar (it’s only 16 calories!)