Sugar is like a legal drug that can excite us and turn even adults into kids craving for more! Today, you might treat it as a source of disease or addiction, but things were different in the past. The ancient Greeks and Romans used sugar as medicine which only the elite could lay their hands on! Today, sugar is a staple ingredient that everyone has access to, irrespective of their social stature. From standard white to a potent brown, there are so many different types of sugars available in the market.
This article briefly discusses the history of sugar and common forms and varieties of sugar to give you a glimpse of this ‘sweet’ world.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is a byproduct of sugarcane which looks like crystals or granules. The sugar can range from white to light brown to dark brown, depending on the amount of molasses present in it. The preparation process of sugar involves boiling the sugarcane juice until it evaporates and sugar crystals remain at the bottom.
History of Sugar:
Sugar is certainly not a modern-day invention. In fact, it is one of the oldest known foods to mankind, with its roots dating back to 10,000 B.C. It was in 4000 BC that the first domestication of sugar began in India and South East Asia. By the 1st Century AD, India came up with a specific process to extract sugar granules from sugarcane juice which was called “Sarkara” (hence the name sugar, they say!).
From India to China, Persia and to the rest of the world, Sugar made its fantastic world tour and received a permanent address in all the countries.
Common Forms of Sugar:
Sugar is a generic word used for a sweet carbohydrate! There are many forms of sugar, some naturally available and some which result from combining two or more types of sugars.
Here are the 4 common forms of sugar which have varied properties and health effects:
Glucose is a monosaccharide, which means it is the simplest form of sugar. It is an essential sugar for giving energy to the body and stimulates the production of insulin in the pancreas. However, too much glucose can elevate blood sugar levels and cause diabetes.
Fructose is a simple “fruit sugar” present in natural foods like honey, fruits, root vegetables etc. It is also a monosaccharide like glucose. However, fructose doesn’t need insulin to metabolise and hence its impact on blood sugar levels is low.
Sucrose is the common “table sugar” made of two monosaccharides- one molecule of glucose and one fructose molecule. Commercially, sucrose is made from sugarcane or sugar beets in large amounts. High amounts of sucrose can cause blood sugar levels to shoot up and pose dangers to the body.
Lactose is the sugar present in milk. The body breaks it down with the help of an enzyme called Lactase. However, a lack of enough lactase can lead to lactose intolerance in many people.
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10 Different Types of Sugars with Images:
Let us now understand the different types of sugar and their characteristics:
1. Granulated Sugar:
Granulated sugar is the most common form of sugar we use in our daily lives. This sugar is a crystal form of sucrose that comes from either sugarcane juice or sugar beets. The process boils the juice to remove moisture and separates the crystals from molasses. Because of the absence of molasses, the sugar appears white, earning the name “white sugar” or “regular sugar”. Also called “table sugar”, granulated sugar is easy to measure and dissolves well in liquids.
2. Castor Sugar:
Caster or Castor Sugar is a powdered form of granulated sugar used mostly in baking and confectionery. Due to the superfine texture, the sugar blends easily and prevents grainy texture in the finished products. The coarseness of the sugar lies between granulated sugar and powdered sugar. Along with its use in baking, caster sugar works well for sweetening drinks because of its ability to dissolve quickly with no residue.
3. Confectioner’s Sugar:
Confectioners sugar is essentially powdered granulated sugar. Finely ground white sugar is mixed with cornstarch to absorb moisture and avoid clumping. You can also make an instant version of this sugar by pounding the sugar granules in a mortar and pestle or in a mixer grinder and sifting the powder. Confectioner’s sugar comes in varying degrees of fineness like XXX, XXXX etc., of which 10X is the finest of all. Due to the addition of anti-caking agents like cornstarch, the sugar may not be suitable for all cooking purposes.
4. Pearl Sugar:
Also called Nib Sugar or Hailstone Sugar, Pearl sugar is a crunchy type of sugar made by compressing powdered sugar into small nibs. The purpose is to not let the sugar dissolve in a dish and instead retain the crunch and shape in baked goods. Pearl sugar is mainly used for decorating cakes, muffins, cookies and other confectionaries. To make homemade pearl sugar, you can easily make it by adding sugar to water and stirring it on low heat to create sugar clumps.
5. Sanding Sugar:
Sanding sugar is a type of decorative sugar with large and coarse sugar granules. The sugar has light-reflecting properties and shines like crystals. The bonus? It comes in myriad colors, making it the ideal sugar for decorating cakes, cupcakes etc., and it doesn’t easily melt with heat.
6. Whole Cane Sugar:
Whole cane sugar is a type of non-crystalised cane sugar made by evaporating sugarcane juice until the sugar crystals form. The result is a solid block of sugar that contains a heavy concentration of molasses. The block is then broken down into coarse sugar crystals. Whole cane sugar is not free-flowing like regular sugar and clumps easily due to heavy moisture absorption. This sweetener is also called “jaggery” or “gur” in India.
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7. Demerara Sugar:
Demerara sugar gets its name from the country Guyana which was formerly called “Demerara”. This type of less-refined sugar has large, coarse crystals with a small amount of molasses to give it a nice light brown color. Although this sugar is often generalised under “brown sugar”, the caramel-ness and color is slightly subtler than the regular brown variety. Demerara sugar is a preferred sweetener for coffees, baking and adding some crunchiness in baked goods.
8. Turbinado Sugar:
Turbinado sugar is a golden-brown colored sugar variety that is often mistaken for Demerara. The key difference between the two is that the granules in Turbinado are smaller and darker in color compared to Demerara. With 3.5 to 6 % of molasses, Turbinado also has a denser and stronger flavour than Demerara, which has just 1-2%. This sugar works well to sweeten different varieties of foods and as a crunchy, sweet topping on cereals and baked goods.
9. Muscovado Sugar:
Muscovado is a dark brown sugar with 8-10 % Molasses. This type of unrefined sugar has a strong flavour and almost toffee-like taste. The crystals are fine with a sticky nature. Most sweet and savory dishes use muscovado sugar to lend a deeper flavor. This variety comes as both “light” and “dark” brown sugar with varying amounts of molasses.
10. Liquid Sugar:
Liquid sugar is the liquid form of regular crystallised sugar. This type of sugar is preferable for making beverages like cocktails, sodas etc., where the sugar needs to dissolve quickly. The liquid goes through some filtration process to lighten the color and remove impurities. Another variety of liquid sugar is the invert sugar which comprises of fructose, glucose and sucrose in different ratios. Invert sugar has low chances of crystallization making it a suitable sweetner for candy bars and baked goods.
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Interesting Facts About Sugar:
Here are some sweet little facts about your favorite sweetner:
- In the 13th Century, sugar was so rare that King Henry III had doubts on whether it was possible to source 3 pounds of sugar in entire England.
- The first mention of sugar was in Mahabashyaof Patanjali, which talked about its use in sweetened rice and milk pudding.
- In the 1600s, sugar was more valuable than alcohol, and about half a million slaves were shipped to Brazil to increase its production.
- Studies show that global sugar consumption is likely to increase to 177.8 million metric tons by 2021 as compared to 172.5 million metric tons in 2018-19
- Over-consumption of sugars is linked to several dangerous diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart problems and fatty liver.
Surprised to know about so many different types of sugars? Next, someone asks, “Get me some Sugar” show your expertise by introducing them to so many new varieties. So, which is your favorite among them? We personally love them all, but in moderation!
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers:
1. Is brown sugar better than white sugar?
The significant difference between brown and white sugars is the presence of molasses. Dark syrupy molasses is a good source of minerals like selenium and calcium etc. Brown sugar contains varying amounts of molasses which determines the amount of minerals. However, it is no healtheir than white sugar and poses equal risks.
2. What is coconut sugar?
Coconut sugar is a natural type of sugar made from the sap of a coconut palm. The sap is diluted in water, boiled and allowed to evaporate for the crystals to form. The granules are large in size with medium brown color. The flavour is closer to that of brown sugar rather than the nuttiness of a coconut.
3. Is a “Sugar-free” product better for our health?
Sugar-free products are those which contain less than 0.5gms of sugar per serving. However, most products like juices, desserts etc., still contain artificial sweeteners, which might have negative implications on our health. So, don’t assume sugar-free products to be completely safe and always stick to the serving limits.
Disclaimer: The information published in this article is purely for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice on the subject.