Ever wonder how many types of sugar and sweeteners exist for cooking and baking? Here is a glossary of common and uncommon sugars and sweeteners used to season food.
Sometimes when I think about sugar, my mind goes back to chemistry classes in high school where the organic chemistry portion of the unit tripped me up and had me in tears.
Fast forward to today, and I find it kind of ironic that I ended up using quite a bit of chemistry out of necessity because baking = chemical reactions! And, sugar also = chemical reactions!
And now, I love to experiment with sugar its many forms to create delectable desserts, and rich entrees. Sugar is delicious at best, and controversial at worst due to its highly addictive nature and adverse effects on our health.
However, it is here to stay, and when used in moderation, it can spice things up in our kitchen. But, be careful not to eat too much! We need our teeth, after all!
What is Sugar from a Culinary Standpoint?
Sugar is an umbrella term for carbohydrates typically used to sweeten food. It is crystalline in structure and accompanied with a sweet taste. Sugar, however, is not limited to adding sweetness; it is also used to add texture, flavor, and volume to the foods we eat. Think the sugary crunch on top of a blueberry muffin, bringing out flavor in tea, or turning egg whites into meringue.
Sugar originated from New Guinea around 8000 B.C.E., and eventually made its way into Southeast Asia by sea (The Sugar Association, 2023). According the Food Timeline, by Lynne Olver, “the Chinese claim to have been the first to make cane sugar, among their many other inventions. The craft may have been practiced from very ancient times in the region of Ku-ouang-tong (Canton), but it seems more likely and more logical that they learned it from the Indians.
“In fact there is a clear statement to that effect in the Natural History of Su-king, of the seventh century AD… Sugar cane, a giant grass, is native to India and in particular the Ganges delta. Indian tradition—and tradition often bears out scientific theories—places the origin of sugar cane a very long way back,” (Olver, 2000).
“According to legend, the ancestors of Buddha came from the land of sugar, or Gur, a name then given to Bengal. The Sanskrit epic of Ramanyana (c. 1200 B.C.E.) describes a banquet with tables laid with sweet things, syrup, canes to chew’… Seven centuries later, when Darius made his foray in to the valley of the Indus, the Persians in their turn discovered a reed that gives honey without the aid of bees’ and brought it home with them…. Eventually invasions, conquests and trading caravans, most notably those of the Assyrians, spread sugar cane all through the Middle East, from the Indus to the Black Sea, from the Sahara to the Persian Gulf,” (Olver, 2000).
“Its syrup, considered a spice even rarer and more expensive than any other, was used in medicine by the Egyptians and Phoenicians even before the Greeks and Romans; it is this pharmaceutical use that gives sugar cane its species name ‘officinarum,'” (Olver, 2000).
Until the modern era, sugar was a luxury in Europe reserved only for the powerful and wealthy, and an expensive medicine. It was even considered a spice.
Simple Sugars (for Chemistry Reasons)
Fructose: Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits, honey, and some vegetables. It is the sweetest naturally occurring sugar and is often used as a sweetener in processed foods and beverages.
Glucose: Glucose, also known as dextrose, is a simple sugar that serves as the primary source of energy for our bodies. It occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, and honey.
Lactose: Lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products. It is a disaccharide composed of glucose and galactose and is digested by an enzyme called lactase.
Maltose: Maltose is a sugar formed by two glucose molecules joined together. It is produced during the breakdown of starch and is found in malted grains, such as barley.
Sucrose: Sucrose is the most common type of sugar and is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets. It consists of glucose and fructose molecules bonded together and is widely used as table sugar.
Beet Sugar: Beet sugar is derived from sugar beets and is similar to cane sugar in terms of taste and composition. It is widely used as a sweetener and is often processed and refined to produce granulated sugar.
Brown Sugar: Brown sugar is a type of sugar that contains molasses, which gives it a moist texture and a distinctive caramel flavor. It can be either light or dark brown, depending on the amount of molasses present.
Caster Sugar: Caster sugar, also known as superfine sugar or baker’s sugar, is a finely ground sugar with small crystals. It dissolves quickly and is commonly used in baking, especially in delicate desserts like meringues and custards.
Coconut Sugar: Coconut sugar is derived from the sap of coconut palm flowers. It contains sucrose along with small amounts of fructose and glucose. Coconut sugar is a popular alternative sweetener due to its lower glycemic index.
Date Sugar: Date sugar is made from dried, ground dates. It contains natural sugars, fiber, and minerals. Date sugar can be used as a sweetener in baking and cooking.
Demerara Sugar: Demerara sugar is a type of raw cane sugar with large, amber-colored crystals. It has a rich flavor and is often used to sweeten coffee, tea, or baked goods.
Muscovado Sugar: Muscovado sugar is a minimally processed sugar with a high molasses content. It has a dark brown color, a sticky texture, and a strong flavor. Muscovado sugar is commonly used in baking and for making rich sauces and marinades.
Powdered Sugar: Powdered sugar, also known as confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar, is a finely ground sugar mixed with a small amount of cornstarch. It is commonly used in baking and for dusting desserts.
Turbinado Sugar: Turbinado sugar is a partially refined sugar that retains some of the natural molasses. It has large, coarse crystals and a light brown color. It is often used as a sweetener in coffee or tea.
Unrefined and Less Processed Sugars
Palm Sugar: Palm sugar is a sweetener made from the sap of various species of palm trees. It is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisines and has a caramel-like flavor.
Panela: Panela, also known as piloncillo or rapadura in different regions, is a type of unrefined cane sugar commonly used in Latin American countries. It is formed into solid cones or blocks and has a rich, caramel flavor.
Rapadura: Rapadura is an unrefined cane sugar that retains its natural molasses content. It has a caramel-like flavor and is typically used as a sweetener in Latin American cuisine.
Sucanat: Sucanat stands for “sugar cane natural.” It is a type of unrefined cane sugar that retains its natural molasses content. Sucanat has a rich flavor and is often used as a natural sweetener in baking and cooking.
Agave Nectar: Agave nectar is a natural sweetener derived from the agave plant. It is sweeter than sugar and is often used as an alternative sweetener in various beverages and desserts. Agave powder is a sweetener made from the dried sap of the agave plant. It is a natural alternative to sugar and is used as a sweetener in baking, cooking, and beverages.
Barley Malt Syrup: Barley malt syrup is a sweetener made from sprouted barley grains. It contains maltose and is often used in baking, brewing, and as a natural sweetener.
Cane Syrup: Cane syrup is a thick, amber-colored syrup made from sugarcane juice. It contains sucrose and is commonly used as a sweetener and flavoring agent.
Coconut Nectar: Coconut nectar is a sweetener derived from the sap of coconut palm blossoms. It is less processed than traditional sugars and contains some nutrients and minerals. Coconut nectar is often used as a natural sweetener in cooking, baking, and beverages.
Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is a sweetener made from cornstarch. It is primarily composed of glucose and is often used in baking, candy making, and as a corn syrup substitute.
Date Syrup: Date syrup is a sweetener made from dates. It has a rich, caramel-like flavor and is commonly used as a natural sweetener in baking, cooking, and desserts.
Fruit Juice Concentrate: Fruit juice concentrate is made by removing water from fruit juice, leaving behind a concentrated form of natural sugars. It is often used as a sweetener in food and beverage products.
Golden Syrup: Golden syrup is a thick, amber-colored syrup with a buttery caramel flavor. It is made from sugar cane juice and is often used as a sweetener and flavoring agent in baking and desserts.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): HFCS is a liquid sweetener made from corn starch. It undergoes processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose, resulting in a sweetener with a high fructose content. HFCS is commonly used in processed foods and beverages.
Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is a natural sweetener made from the sap of maple trees. It contains sucrose, glucose, and fructose and is often used as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and other desserts.
Molasses: Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar refining process. It is a thick, dark syrup with a strong flavor. Molasses is often used in baking, marinades, and savory dishes for its rich taste.
Honey: Honey is a sweet, viscous substance produced by bees from flower nectar. It primarily consists of glucose and fructose and is used as a natural sweetener and ingredient in various recipes. Raw honey unfiltered, unpasteurized, and retains its natural enzymes and nutrients.
Invert Sugar: Invert sugar is created by hydrolyzing sucrose into its component sugars, glucose and fructose. It is commonly used in confectionery and baked goods to retain moisture and prevent crystallization.
Muscovado Syrup: Muscovado syrup is a thick, dark syrup made from muscovado sugar. It has a strong molasses flavor and is often used as a sweetener and flavoring agent in desserts, sauces, and beverages.
Rice Syrup: Rice syrup, also known as rice malt syrup, is made from cooked rice that has been fermented and treated with enzymes. It is commonly used as a natural sweetener and as an ingredient in gluten-free and vegan products.
Sorghum Syrup: Sorghum syrup is derived from the juice of sorghum plants. It has a sweet, molasses-like flavor and is often used as a syrup or sweetener in cooking and baking.
Treacle: Treacle is a viscous, dark syrup with a robust flavor. It is a byproduct of sugar refining and is commonly used in British and Caribbean cuisines. Treacle is often used in desserts, such as treacle tart or sticky toffee pudding.
Yacon Syrup: Yacon syrup is a sweet syrup derived from the roots of the yacon plant. It contains fructooligosaccharides, which are prebiotic fibers with a sweet taste. Yacon syrup is used as a natural sweetener and is often marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional sugars.
Allulose: Allulose is a low-calorie monosaccharide that occurs naturally in small quantities in certain fruits. It has a similar taste and texture to regular sugar but contains significantly fewer calories. Allulose is used as a sugar substitute in various food and beverage products.
Birch Sugar (Xylitol): Birch sugar, also known as xylitol, is a sugar alcohol derived from birch tree bark. It has a similar sweetness to regular sugar but with fewer calories and a lower impact on blood sugar levels. Xylitol is commonly used as a sugar substitute in various food and oral care products. Xylitol is often used in chewing gums, toothpaste, and sugar-free products.
Erythritol: Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. It has a sweet taste but contains fewer calories than regular sugar. Erythritol is often used as a sugar substitute in sugar-free and low-calorie products.
Fruit Sugar: Fruit sugar, also called levulose, is a natural sugar found in many fruits. It is a monosaccharide and is fructose in its pure form. Fruit sugar is sweeter than table sugar and is often used as a sweetener in certain beverages and food products.
Inulin: Inulin is a dietary fiber extracted from plants, including chicory roots. It has a mildly sweet taste and is often used as a sugar substitute due to its low calorie and carbohydrate content.
Isomalt: Isomalt is a sugar substitute derived from beet sugar. It is a type of sugar alcohol and is often used in sugar-free candies, desserts, and diabetic-friendly products.
Mannitol: Mannitol is a sugar alcohol found in certain plants and algae. It is commonly used as a sweetener in sugar-free confections, chewing gums, and pharmaceutical products.
Monk Fruit Extract: Monk fruit extract, also known as Luo Han Guo, is derived from the monk fruit, a small melon-like fruit native to Southeast Asia. It is intensely sweet and is often used as a sugar substitute in various products.
Sorbitol: Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in fruits and vegetables. It has a sweet taste but fewer calories than regular sugar. Sorbitol is often used as a sweetener in sugar-free candies, chewing gums, and oral care products.
Stevia: Stevia is a plant-based sweetener extracted from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is many times sweeter than sugar and is used as a sugar substitute in various food and beverage products.
Tagatose: Tagatose is a low-calorie monosaccharide that occurs naturally in some dairy products. It is about 90% as sweet as sucrose and is often used as a sugar substitute in various food and beverage applications.
More Reference Posts
Olver, L., (2000). The Food Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcandy.html#aboutsugar