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What are the different types of sugars?

Most of the sugar available in Australia and New Zealand is produced from the sugar cane plant. Sugar is also produced from sugar beets in other parts of the world like America. The Australian sugar cane industry harvests around 350,000 hectares of sugar cane which produces over 4 million tonnes of sugar each year.

While New Zealand doesn’t grow sugar cane, both Australia and New Zealand have sugar refineries to process the bulk raw sugar from sugar mills. It’s at the refineries that this non-food grade raw sugar is processed to produce the many different types of sugar.

Many of us are familiar with common sugar types we purchase from the supermarket. Raw sugar, brown sugar, white sugar, castor sugar and icing sugar can all be found in our pantries. When it comes to nutrition, sugars from all sources are digested in the same way and provide a similar amount of energy, or kilojoules. Micronutrient content can vary to a small extent, for example brown sugars contain molasses which provides a very small amount of naturally occurring minerals.

Here we take a look at the different types of sugars that can be produced from sugar cane and also the range of other sugars produced from different plants like coconut, fruit and tree saps. 

White Sugars

White sugars are used extensively in food production and baking. The fine granules found in white sugars are ideal for cooking and baking. They are some of the most popular types of sugars used in kitchens, bakeries, restaurants and food processing and manufacturing facilities across.

Below are some of the types of white sugars produced in Australia and New Zealand. 

Granulated Sugar
Granulated sugar is a type of sugar most people would be familiar with. Also known as refined, white or table sugar, this type is what’s most commonly used in baking and cooking recipes. Granulated sugar comes from the sugar cane plant and is 100% sucrose. For more information about table sugar, see our article ’.

Caster Sugar
Caster sugar is a type of granulated sugar that has fine crystals. This type of sugar is ideal for syrups, cocktails and cooking, as the smaller, finer crystals dissolve quickly. This type of sugar is often used for making delicate desserts that require a smooth texture such as mousse, puddings and meringues. Like granulated sugar, caster sugar comes from the sugar cane plant and is 100% sucrose. 

Icing Sugar
Powdered sugar, also called confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar is granulated sugar that has been ground to a smooth, fine powder. Often a small amount of corn starch is added to prevent the sugar from clumping or caking. Used extensively in baking it's often found in icings, confectionery and for making whipped cream.

Jam Setting Sugar
Popular for making jams, marmalades and chutneys, jam setting sugar is specifically blended to help ensure jams and chutneys set well and have the firm, chunky jam texture we’re all familiar with. Jam setting sugars are a mixture of sugar, pectin, acidity regulators and vegetable oils. 

Sanding Sugar
Sanding sugar is a specialist sugar that can have either large or fine crystals. Sanding sugar is mainly used for decorating and has been produced to look more polished so that it reflects the light well. Sanding sugar often comes in a range of vibrant colours to add sweetness and ebullience to a range of different food types.

Brown Sugars

Brown sugars contain some of the molasses that remains after the sugar cane refining process. This molasses gives brown sugars their distinctive colour and flavour, and also contributes a small amount of minerals. Brown sugars are used extensively in food manufacturing, cooking and baking.

Raw sugar
Raw sugar, is produced from sugar cane and has a slightly darker colour and a larger grain size than white or table sugar. It’s composed of 98% sucrose and 2% water and ash (minerals). Raw sugar is minimally processed and has a softer, honey-like flavour. Raw sugar is used in many food products, particularly those where the colour of the sugar adds to the product in which it is used. Turbinado sugar and Demerara sugar are types of raw sugar.

Light and dark brown sugars
Brown sugars are used in many baked goods and sauces, adding a rich, molasses flavour to food products as varied as gingerbread to baked beans. Brown sugars tend to clump more than raw or white sugars as they contain more moisture. This moisture also helps baked goods retain a chewy texture. 

Muscovado Sugar
Also called Barbados sugar, muscovado sugar is very dark brown in colour and has a particularly strong molasses flavour and smell to it. Muscovado sugar has a sandy texture and tends to be slightly more coarse and stickier than regular brown sugar. 

Rapadura Sugar
Rapadura Sugar is made from evaporated cane juice and has a rich caramel flavour. The perfect accompaniment for pastries and syrups, this versatile sugar is at home with both sweet and savoury dishes. 

Liquid Sugars

Liquid sugars are versatile, keep well in storage and come in a range of different types, flavours and colours. Packed full of flavour, liquid sugars can help add taste and colour to your baked goods as well as preventing them from drying out and extending shelf life. 

Golden Syrup
Perfect for baked goods, Asian cuisine and a popular topping for damper, this dark, reddish syrup has a caramel-toffee flavour due to the amount of molasses in this liquid sweetener. It’s made from sugar syrup (liquid sucrose) that has been broken down partially into glucose and fructose.

Treacle
Richer in flavour and with a deeper colour than golden syrup, treacle has a distinctive colour and flavour that can give hints of liquorice and smoke. It’s a versatile syrup that’s great for baked goods, puddings and sauces.  

Other types of sugars

While most of the sugars we eat on a regular basis are derived from sugar cane in Australia and New Zealand, there are other types of sugars that come from a range of plants, saps and animals, and can be used to add sweetness, colour and taste to your dishes.

Honey
We’re all familiar with this rich, sweet nectar that’s made by one of the most important animals on our planet, bees. Golden and sweet, with a floral flavour, honey is one of the most versatile sweeteners and has been used for thousands of years to sweeten foods and drinks.

Maple Syrup
Made by cooking down the sap of the maple tree, this thick, sweet liquid is a favourite topping for pancakes and waffles. It’s mainly produced in Canada and contains a range of naturally occurring minerals.

Date Syrup
Date syrup is a sweet, soft syrup with a taste that’s similar to honey. It’s made by adding water to palm dates to help extract the date nectar and then filtering and evaporating to reach the desired consistency.

Coconut Sugar
Made from the nectar of coconut blossoms, this fine sugar has a caramel taste and typically has fine granules. It turns a distinctive hazel brown colour when melted, which adds colour and flavour to a range of desserts and savoury dishes. 

Agave Syrup
The Agave plant is native to Latin America and areas of the Southern United States. It is the same plant whose sugars are fermented to make tequila. Agave syrup is made by extracting the sap of the agave plant and then heating, filtering and refining the liquid to make a syrup.

High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup is not commonly used in Australia and New Zealand, but is common in the United States. There it can be found in a range of products from ice creams, candies and cakes through to soft drinks, breads and cookies. It’s made from corn starch via a chemical process that produced a high syrup that has a high proportion of fructose compared to glucose.

 

References

Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Food Composition Database – Release 1.0. Accessed 12 May 2021 at: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/pages/default.aspx