Different types of sugar in wooden spoons.

If you’ve ventured down the sugar aisle at the supermarket recently and found yourself overwhelmed by choice we’re not surprised. For a product that’s been a kitchen staple for generations there’s now a surprisingly large range of sugar and alternative sweeteners available. Do you know your caster sugar from your coconut sugar and which recipes they’re best used in? Read on to find out.

White Sugar

Also known as table sugar, granulated sugar and regular sugar,this is the most commonly used type of sugar. In Australia, all of the white sugar produced is derived from sugar cane. In fact, we produce so much, that more than 80% of sugar produced here is exported. However, white sugar can also be derived from sugar beet.
White sugar is highly processed to remove all of its natural brown molasses, leaving a dry, pure white, grained sugar. If a recipe calls for ‘sugar’ without specifying the type, white sugar is most likely what is being referred to.

White sugar is used in baking, cooking and sugar work. It can also be purchased in cube form and used to sweeten hot beverages.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is a generic name given to sugar that contains molasses. Sometimes you see recipes calling specifically for light brown or dark brown sugar. Light or golden brown sugar contains around 3.5% molasses, while dark contains around 6.5%.

Dark brown sugar will have more moisture than the light brown variety. Structurally they are mostly interchangeable, however the difference is in taste. Dark brown sugar will give you a deeper, more toffee-like flavour.

Brown and white sugar can be substituted in recipes 1:1, but, as molasses is able to absorb moisture baked goods made with brown sugar instead of white may have a softer texture. The sweetness of the finished product will not be affected.

Brown sugar is good for adding colour and richness to biscuits and slices. It’s also great in sauces and marinades.

Caster Sugar

A variety of white sugar with tiny granules that dissolve quickly.A grain of caster sugar is around 0.35mm in length, compared toregular white sugar that measures 0.5mm. You can make yourown caster sugar by processing white sugar in a food processor for a few seconds.

Probably the most widely used sugar in baking. Caster sugar is perfect for meringues, sponge cakes, custards and baked goods with a low flour content, like brownies.

Raw Sugar

Despite its golden colour, raw sugar is still a type of white sugar.It’s made by extracting the juice from sugarcane and boiling it down until nearly all the moisture evaporates.

With larger crystals than regular white sugar, raw sugar takes longer to dissolve producing mixed results in baked goods. Sprinkle over baked goods, make fluffy cakes and sweeten tea and coffee.

Different types of sugar in bowls. Pictured from left Muscovado sugar, Raw Sugar, Caster Sugar, White Sugar Cubes, Rock Sugar.

Muscovado Sugar

A rich and moist unrefined sugar that has lots of natural molasses. It is dark and sticky with strong caramel and toffee flavours. Replace with dark brown sugar if unavailable.

Muscovado sugar is commonly used to give baked goods like biscuits and cakes a deeper flavour but can also be used to sweeten savoury dishes.

Icing Sugar

Icing sugar, also known as confectioner’s sugar and powdered sugar, is white granulated sugar that has been pulverised. When shopping, keep an eye out for icing sugar mixture. This has a starch added to the powdered sugar, sometimes in the form of wheat, making it unsuitable for people requiring a gluten-free diet.

Icing sugar dissolves instantly so is great for use in icing and buttercreams. We also like to use it to sweeten whipped cream and dusted over baked goods just before serving.

Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is partially refined sugar with a straw-like colour and slight butterscotch aroma. It is often mistaken for raw sugar, but can be told apart thanks to its larger crystals.

Demerara sugar is a popular sweetener for tea and coffee. It can also be sprinkled on top of biscuits and muffins for added crunch.

Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar, also known as decorative or pearl sugar, has crystals that are slightly larger than regular white sugar that won’t dissolve when subjected to heat. It is available in different colours and is used to decorate baked goods.

Purely for decoration.

Coconut Sugar

A naturally occurring sugar made from coconut palm sap, not to be confused with palm sugar, which is made from a different type of palm tree. After the sap is collected, it’s heated, then dried to produce a sweet brown, sugar crystal.

Coconut sugar dissolves easily in liquid, so is well suited to use in sauces, custards and syrups. It can be used as an alternative to brown sugar, however the finished product may differ in texture. It can also be used to sweeten curries and stir-fries.

Rapadura Sugar

Rapadura sugar is simply sugar cane juice that has been dehydrated. Unlike other sugars it is not separated from the
nutrient-dense molasses during the pressing and drying process. As a result rapadura sugar has a unique caramel flavour and golden colour.

Rapadura sugar can be substituted for other granulated sugars at 1:1 in baking and will not alter the texture of baked goods when used instead of processed sugar.


Molasses is a thick, strong-flavoured syrup that is a byproduct of sugar production. It contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. The darker the molasses, the more nutrients.

Molasses can also be used in biscuits, breads, cakes, sauces and marinades. If you’re substituting molasses in place of sugar,remember to reduce some of your other liquid ingredients to keep the correct wet/dry ratio.


Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables. It has the same sweetness as sugar, but 40 percent fewer calories.

Xylitol doesn’t caramelise, even at high temperatures. It can, however, be used in place of sugar in recipes that don’t require the sugar to break down into liquid form, such as cakes and breads.


Stevia is a plant native to South America. Products labelled as ‘stevia’ on supermarket shelves are made from a highly refined stevia leaf extract. It is available in powder, tablet and liquid form. Stevia is very sweet and highly concentrated. A teaspoon of stevia leaf powder is the approximate equivalent of 1 cup of sugar.

Stevia is commonly used as an alternative to sugar when sweetening beverages. You can bake with stevia, but the texture and sweetness of the finished product will be different.

Monk Fruit

Extracted from luo han guo, a small, green gourd that resembles a melon, native to Southeast Asia. The seeds and skin of the fruit are removed and crushed to collect the juice, which is dried into a concentrated powder. The powder is thought to be up to 250 times sweeter than regular white sugar. Monk fruit sweeteners are available in crystal, powder and liquid forms.

Monk fruit extract has been used as a sweetener and herbal remedy in traditional Eastern medicine for centuries. It is also stable at high temperatures, so they can be used in baked goods.

Agave Syrup

Agave is a plant native to Mexico and the southern United States. To make agave syrup, the plant is cut and pressed to extract the sugary sap, before being heat-treated to break down its components into a simple sugar called fructose. The liquid is then concentrated into a syrup. A popular sweetener with raw food enthusiasts as the syrup is not heat-treated above 45 degrees during processing. It also has a low glycemic index and won’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels. It is however very high in fructose and is heavily processed despite being marketed as a ‘natural’ sweetener.

Agave Syrup is sweeter than sugar and doesn’t follow the 1:1 ratio so you will need to do a taste test during your cooking. It can also be used as a vegan alternative to honey in dessert recipes and also works well drizzled over cereal and pancakes.

Maple Syrup

Pure maple syrup is made from the sap of a number of varieties of maple tree native to the US and Canada. The sap is boiled in open pans to evaporate the water to produce a sticky syrup. Mapleflavoured syrup is often sold alongside pure maple syrup. It’s a cheap substitute made from an artificially flavoured and coloured sugar syrup.

Maple syrup is versatile and can be substituted for sugar in baked goods, savoury dishes and sauces. When using as a sugar substitute in baking, reduce amount by 25 percent and also reduce the other liquid ingredients to keep your wet/dry ratio in tact. Maple syrup can also be used to flavour frosting and icing, drizzled over cakes, waffles and pancakes and whipped with butter for a sweet accompaniment to fruit loafs and muffins.


A thick, sticky and sweet liquid that is made by bees from nectar they extract from flowering plants. Honey is classified by the floral source of the nectar that it’s made from. Australia has the largest collection of single varietal honey in the world and they all differ in flavour, colour and texture. As a general rule the darker the honey, the more intense the flavour. Popular honey varieties in Australia include Yellow Box, Blue Gum and Ironbark.

Honey is a great substitute for sugar in baking, sauces and marinades. It’s sweeter than sugar so you’ll need to use less to achieve the same taste. When baking with honey in place of sugar you may need to remove a little liquid elsewhere in the recipe to balance the dry to wet ingredient ratio.

Golden Syrup

A thick, golden-coloured syrup made from cane sugar. It is very sweet, but doesn’t have the strong flavour making it an excellent sweetener in baked goods and desserts.

A key ingredient in ANZAC biscuits, golden syrup is extra sweet making it ideal for syrupy puddings and sweet loaf cakes. It can also be used as a vegan-friendly substitute for honey.


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