Sugar, glucose syrup, honey, invert sugar, icing sugar, pearl sugar, cane sugar, muscovado sugar, demerara sugar… So many options to chose from! I did some research and have put together a guide for the most common types of sugar and how to use them in baking.
Did you know that the type of sweetener you are using can make a huge impact not just on the sweetness of the final dessert but also on texture, flavour, freezing point, moisture retention, colour, even shelf life? Therefore, it’s worth to keep in mind that sugar can’t be reduced or removed from any food product without total reformulation of the recipe in order to keep balance in flavours as well as in functions.
I do not aim to list sugar substitutes in this article nor go into which one is “healthier” but this summary should help you to learn the fundamentals about sugar as such and its usage in baking.
Sucrose, is the chemical name of sugar that is extracted either from sugar cane or sugar beets. When the ingredient “sugar” appears in recipes in most cases it refers to caster sugar or standard granulated white sugar.
“Through slight adjustments in the process of cleaning, crystallizing and drying the sugar and varying the level of molasses, different sugar varieties are possible. Sugars of various crystal sizes provide unique functional characteristics that make the sugar suitable for different foods and beverages. Sugar colour is primarily determined by the amount of molasses remaining on or added to the crystals, giving pleasurable flavors and altering moisture.”
Most common types of sugar used in baking:
I personally use all of the above for different desserts and I suggest to check the sugar aisle and make your own little exploration in your local supermarket when you are next shopping.
Beyond the above I also use some other types of sweeteners:
Glucose syrup, is typically made of cornstarch and widely used by pastry chefs when making ice cream or candy. It is less sweet than sugar however has some practical advantages e.g. supports a softer and moister texture in desserts and does not crystallise when cooked. I use glucose syrup for e.g. for mirror glaze and marshmallow or even for sweeten drinks. Some sources refer to corn syrup as glucose syrup which is briefly correct only. Although corn syrup is a glucose syrup, glucose syrup is not always corn syrup. They can be interchanged however in most of the recipes.
Invert sugar, is the mixture of glucose and fructose and made by heating up sucrose with water adding cream of tartar or lemon juice. The end result is slightly sweeter than sugar. Pastry chefs often use it as desserts that contain invert sugar retain moisture better and it also crystallises less easily. As a substitute home bakers can use honey which is natural invert sugar however honey flavour (some has very strong flavour) as well as texture (some more runny others more creamy) can vary greatly which makes it difficult to give precise instructions in recipes.
Is there any other type of sugar you typically use and not covered in this summary? Let me know! Also feel free to suggest below any, other topics you would like to learn about in the future.