All About Sugar
The difference between refined and unrefined sugars
Sugar cane is cut and gathered from the fields, often by hand, and shredded and crushed at a local mill to press out the juice.
In unrefined sugar, only the harmful impurities are removed, so that a higher quantity of molasses is left behind. Natural unrefined cane sugar, muscovado, is naturally brown as it does not pass through any further refining processes.
Refined sugar is made by a two-stage process. First, all the impurities in the sugar cane are removed and the raw sugar is then further treated, resulting in a sugar as pure white.
Refined brown sugars are made by mixing refined white sugar with molasses syrup, extracted during the first stage of the process. The syrup just coats the outside of the granules.
Although both refined and unrefined sugars can be found in the U.K., unfortunately only refined sugars are available in North America.
Caster sugar or fine white sugar
A light fine sugar that dissolves easily and is most suitable for cake making; being finer it is more easily creamed than granulated sugar, which is better used for rubbed in cakes and scones.
Granulated – white or golden (unrefined)
For everyday use and rubbed in cakes and scones. Also chocolate brownies where its granular texture adds a bit of crunch.
Demerara and brown sugars
Are often used in rich fruit cakes and gingerbreads to improve the flavour and colour.
Used to make a crunchy topping sprinkled onto biscuits, cakes, muffins, loaf cakes and cobblers. Also in streusels and crumbles before baking and in recipes such as flapjacks. Great to sprinkle on porridge (parritch, if you are a follower of ‘Outlander’) for breakfast. The traditional complement to coffee.
Light brown soft sugar and light muscovado (unrefined)
Light brown soft sugar has a mild caramel flavour while light muscovado has a mild molasses flavour.
Lends a fudgy quality to cakes and cookies. Good for making fudge. Use in light fruit cakes. Sprinkle on fruit before grilling. Also good for making ice creams, cheesecakes and sauces.
Dark-brown soft sugar and dark muscovado (unrefined)
Has a toffee-like flavour and is used mainly in gingerbreads, fruit cakes and tea breads. Also used in making chutney and pickling. Dark muscovado can be substituted for a richer flavour especially in chocolate-based recipes and savoury sauces.
The darkest of all, molasses sugar is ideal for marinades, sauces and chocolate recipes. It is also used in rich fruit cakes, Christmas puddings and mincemeat.
Large white crystals of refined sugar for making jams, preserves and marmalade. It is not essential but the crystals dissolve slowly, preventing a thick layer of sugar settling on the bottom of the pan and too much froth from rising to the surface during simmering.
Must not be confused with jam sugar, which contains pectin and citric acid to help to set jams made with low-pectin fruit.