What is Sugar? Part 1

Updated: a day ago


The most commonly used sweeteners are produced from cane or beet, have 'sucrose' as main component, and are called simply 'sugar'. Sugar is available in stores in a variety of forms, ranging from unrefined to raw and refined. They differ by their crystal size, moisture, molasses, and sucrose content.


Amazed by the large amount of sweeteners on store shelves referred to as 'sugar', I went on a quest for all caloric sweeteners from cane and beet I could possible find in the United States. I found forty five different sugars and eighty brand names. Let's explore them here. But first, what exactly is sugar?


What Is Sugar, Anyway?


The term sugar can cause confusion as it has many definitions. For consumers, the word sugar is commonly associated with one caloric sweetener, the familiar granulated white sugar. By law, sugar is defined to mean sucrose obtained from cane or beet only, and comprises more than 40 different caloric sweeteners. On the other hand, chemically speaking, sugar encompasses almost 70 caloric sweeteners derived, not only from cane or beet, but from other sources too.


PART 1: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration


The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the place you can find the laws that have been passed concerning sweeteners. The CFR is divided in 50 titles based on the subject. Each title is divided into chapters (issuing agency, i e, FDA or USDA), subchapters, parts, section, section, and subpart.


Title 21, which is the the portion of the CFR that governs food and drugs, contains most laws concerning sweeteners. Title 7 of the CFR, related to agriculture, contains honey regulations as it is derived from animal sources. The citation of a regulation is as follows: 21 CFR 101.4(b)(20), which means Title: 21, Part: 101, Section: 4, Subparts: b, 20.


Here are the laws that define 'sugar':


  • Only sweeteners derived from cane and beet should be declared on food labels as 'sugar' (21 CFR 101.4(b)20). Therefore, producers of cane and beet sugar are not required to mention the source of their product, as the image below shows.

  • As defined by 21 CFR 184.1854(a), sugar shall refer to sucrose obtained from cane and beet only. If you see 'sugar' in the ingredient list of any sweetener or food, it must be from cane or beet, and not from any other source.

  • As in 21 CFR 101.4(a)(1), some cane and beet sweeteners may be called by a name established by common usage, such as molasses, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, muscovado sugar, demerara sugar, and cane syrup.

  • In FDA's view, evaporated cane juice, dried cane syrup, and dehydrated cane juice should not be used in place of 'sugar' as they are false and misleading because they suggest the sweetener is liquid.

  • Takeaway: By law, sugar is defined to mean sucrose obtained from cane or beet only, and comprises more than 40 caloric sweeteners.




PART 2: According to any food science book

  • Chemically speaking, the term sugar means any single simple carbohydrate.

  • Glucose, fructose, and sucrose are simple carbohydrates, and so, each one is a sugar.

  • Alone or combined, sugar is what caloric sweeteners are made of.

  • The term sugar is used in this blog to indicate caloric sweeteners.

  • Honey is a sugar. Maple syrup is a sugar. So are agave nectar, coconut sugar & date syrup.

  • Sugar encompasses a wide array of caloric sweeteners from many different sources.



What is a caloric sweetener?


  • Is sugar in concentrated form produced from plant saps (include flower nectar extracted by bees), cereals, or fruits.

  • Sources include cane, beet, flower nectar in the case of honey, agave, coconut and maple trees, sorghum, corn, barley, brown rice, dates, fruit juices.

  • Caloric Sweeteners contain two major portions: sugar and water; i.e., is a solution of one or more sugars in concentrated form.

  • Honey is about 80% sugar. Maple syrup has about 66% sugar. Table sugar is 99.9% sugar. The remainder is mostly water.

  • The sugar portion is mainly composed of glucose, fructose and sucrose, no matter where it comes from.

  • Sugar provides 4 cal/ gram. Solid caloric sweeteners (CS) have over 90% sugars and provide about 16 cal/ teaspoon. Liquid CS, have over 50% sugars and about 22 cal/tsp.


Sugar is Sugar


  • There is a general consensus in the scientific community that Sugar Is Sugar. Once sugars (caloric sweeteners) are absorbed, the body cannot distinguish between them. Sugars are harmless in small amounts but can be harmful in large amounts. They are energy-dense, 4 to 13x more than fruits. High intake of sugars significantly increase your risk for dental caries, weight gain, obesity, and other chronic diseases.



  • Some caloric sweeteners may have trace amounts of nutrients other than simple carbohydrates, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, they are not a significant source of any nutrients, other than calories from sugar. Cane molasses is one exception. Some nutrients are present in such small amounts that you would have to eat a truly unhealthful amount (100g or a cup) to get the health benefits from them. The calories and sugar content in caloric sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, and unrefined sugar, outweigh the advantages of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.


What is the takeaway message?​


  • Chemically speaking, sugar encompasses almost 70 caloric sweeteners derived, not only from cane or beet, but from other sources too.

  • Caloric sweeteners = sugar in concentrated form; a good source of energy; not a significant source of micronutrients.

  • Most solid caloric sweeteners contain over 90 percent sugars and provide about 16 calories per teaspoon.

  • Most liquid caloric sweeteners have over 50 percent sugars, and provide approximately 22 calories per teaspoon.


This blog post 'What is sugar: Part 1' explores sugar from cane and beet only, i.e, only sugar as defined by law. Please refer to What is sugar? Part 2 to learn more about sugar from other sources.




Caloric Sweeteners from Cane and Beet



A list of caloric sweeteners derived from cane and beet with various crystal sizes, molasses, sucrose, and moisture content is presented below. Sucrose is the predominant component in all of them. They are grouped based on the degree of refining process: refined, raw and unrefined.

To learn more about the different cane and beet sugars, please refer to previous posts:

Cane Sugar: unrefined, raw and refined

Cane vs Beet Sugar: A difference?



Refined Sugars from Cane or Beet


About twenty types of refined sugar from cane or beet plants are sold in stores. The most common are granulated, brown and confectioners sugar. The crystal size of white sugars vary from the largest to the smallest in the following order: sparkling > sanding > granulated > fine > extra fine > superfine > ultrafine > powdered 6X > powdered 10X > powdered 12X > fondant.


Liquid sweeteners are listed last in bold letters. All molasses are from cane, as beet molasses are not palatable. Learn more about all types of refined sugar here. To find out how refined sugars are produced refer to two of my previous blog posts:

What is Refined Sugar?

Cane vs Beet Sugar: A difference?


  1. Granulated sugar

  2. Fine granulated sugar

  3. Extra fine granulated

  4. Superfine sugar (quick dissolve sugar)

  5. Ultrafine sugar (baker’s special, baker’s sugar, caster sugar)

  6. Powdered sugar (confectioners sugar) + 3% starch

  7. Fondant sugar (icing sugar, frosting sugar) + 3% starch

  8. Sparkling sugar

  9. Sanding sugar

  10. Light (golden) brown sugar

  11. Dark brown sugar

  12. Pourable brown sugar (Brownulated)

  13. White sugar cubes, tablets, gourmet sugars

  14. Rock sugar (sugar swizzle sticks, sugar crystals)

  15. Brown rock sugar (sugar swizzle sticks, sugar crystals)

  16. Simple syrup

  17. Invert syrup (cane syrup, beet syrup, medium invert, golden syrup)

  18. Full invert syrup (cane syrup, beet syrup)

  19. Light molasses (mild molasses, Barbados molasses)

  20. Dark molasses (full molasses, medium molasses)

  21. Blackstrap molasses



Raw Sugar from Cane


Fifteen different types of raw sugars are listed below with various crystal size, molasses and water content. Liquid sweeteners are listed last in bold letters. With the exception of one brand (Florida Crystals), raw sugars are imported from other cane growing countries, such as Paraguay, Brazil, Malawi and Mauritius.


Raw sugars are produced in cane-growing areas from the first batch of sugar crystallized from the cane juice. They are slightly less refined than the sweeteners listed above, but much less processed, and typically contain less than 2% molasses. Learn more on a previous blog post: What is raw sugar?

Organic sugar is a type of raw sugar made from organic sugarcane and processed, handled and packaged according to the very strict USDA's National Organic Program (NOP). It retains trace amounts of the original cane molasses, consequently having a hint of molasses flavor and a pale blond color. Organic Sugar is the starting point for organic powdered, organic light brown and organic dark brown sugars. Learn more here: What is organic sugar?

  1. Raw sugar

  2. Washed sugar

  3. Turbinado sugar

  4. Demerara sugar

  5. Evaporated cane juice

  6. Dried cane syrup

  7. Dehydrated cane juice

  8. Natural cane sugar

  9. Organic sugar

  10. Organic powdered (confectioners) sugar

  11. Organic light brown sugar

  12. Organic dark brown sugar

  13. Raw sugar cubes

  14. Raw cane syrup (organic cane syrup, organic invert syrup)

  15. Organic blackstrap molasses

Unrefined Sugar from Cane


I found almost ten different types of unrefined sugars and list them below. They are sourced in Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Japan, and Mauritius.


Liquid traditional unrefined sugars - syrups and molasses - are produced in the United States. Liquid sweeteners are listed last in bold.


Organic unrefined sugars are made from organic sugarcane and processed, handled and packaged according to the very strict USDA's National Organic Program (NOP).

The so-called unrefined sugars are in fact partially refined sugars from cane and contain 8 to 14% molasses. Please refer to my previous post What is unrefined sugar, anyway? for more information.

  1. Unrefined sugar (Whole cane sugar)

  2. Light muscovado sugar

  3. Dark muscovado sugar

  4. Jaggery

  5. Piloncillo

  6. Panela

  7. Sucanat

  8. Traditional cane syrup

  9. Traditional molasses (open kettle or home style molasses)​

Look for my upcoming blog post 'What is sugar? Part 2' to explore sugar from other sources.

For a glimpse on more than twenty types of refined sugar, watch the following video. Visit the WhatSugar Channel for more!





Share the sweeteners you love here, and most importantly, why!

If you are a user of any of those sweeteners, take a minute (really - just one!) to say something about it.

#beetsugar #glutenfree #naturalcanesugar #tablesugar #organicsugar #sucanat #canesugar #turbinadosugar #brownsugar #refinedsugar #rawsugar #unrefinedsugar #demerara #evaporatedcanejuice #sweetenerreview #bestsweetener

Copyright © 2020  WhatSugar Blog by Adriane Campos 

Everywhere in the USA | Based in Richmond,VA | Email me at info@whatsugar.com

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