Wondering what the difference between sugar and refined sugar is? Is refined sugar the same as white sugar? What are examples of refined sugar? If so, this post is for you as I list 25 facts about refined sugars.
• The term "refined sugar" is plural and may be attributed to over twenty sweeteners extracted from sugar cane & sugar beet plants.
• Their unmatched versatility makes them the favorite sweeteners among home cooks, bakers, and chefs.
• Refined sugars have more than half of the world sweetener market and compete with an enormous variety of alternatives, as you can see below.
Who Competes with Refined Sugar?
Unrefined sugars (Sucanat, jaggery) =>
Raw sugars (turbinado, organic sugars) =>
Sugars and syrups (honey, date sugar) =>
Sugar Blends (baking blends) =>
Polyols (xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol) =>
Rare sugars (allulose, tagatose) =>
Dietary fibers (inulin, FOS, IMO) =>
High–intensity sweeteners (stevia) =>
• The main component in any refined sugar is sucrose, from 91 to 99.96 percent when in solid form, and 50 to 80 percent when liquid.
How are Different Types of Refined Sugar Made?
• Sucrose is found in most fruits, including 7 percent in bananas and 5 percent in oranges (refer to Guilt-Free Sweeteners page for sugar content in various fruits). However, sugar cane and sugar beet plants offer the best sources of sucrose because they have a much higher amount—12 to 15 percent and 16 to 18 percent, respectively.
• The United States sugar production is shared between sugar cane (42 percent) and sugar beets (58 percent). Cane sugar is processed in two different facilities, a Sugar Mill and a Sugar Refinery. Instead of beet sugar which is refined in a single facility—a Sugar Factory. The image below gives an overview of the sugar industry in the United States.
Learn more about cane and beet sugar in a previous post: Cane vs. Beet Sugar: A Difference?
• The image below summarizes the refining process, which results in white sugar (99.95 percent sucrose) going out as the final product. Impurities accumulate in thick dark syrups, aka molasses or refiners syrup, and are separated by centrifugation. We can buy cane molasses but not beet molasses, as it's not palatable.
• Granulated white sugar—the familiar table sugar—is the starting material for the production of a variety of other refined sugars with different crystal sizes.
What is Refined Cane Sugar?
• You may buy cane sugar in unrefined, raw, or refined forms. Unrefined sugars (muscovado, jaggery) and raw sugars (turbinado, evaporated cane juice) are produced directly from the cane juice in a Sugar Mill, located close to cane fields. On the other hand, refined sugars are not produced directly from cane juice. Instead, they are made from crude raw sugar (see image below).
• Sugar refineries process raw sugar shipped from domestic sugar mills or foreign sources.
• Raw sugar is remelted, followed by boiling, re-crystallization, and centrifuging. A variety of sweeteners in solid and liquid form come out of a refinery.
Types of cane sugar
• Refined cane sugars in solid form are sold in a variety of crystal sizes and molasses content. They contain 91 to 99.96 percent sucrose with small amounts of invert sugar (glucose plus fructose). The most common refined cane sugars on store shelves are granulated, powdered, and brown sugars. Domino and C&H are the top brands of refined cane sugar in America.
• The crystals size of solid refined sugars vary from coarse (0.75–0.6 mm) to medium (0.5–0.3 mm), to small-size (0.3–0.02 mm). From largest to smallest: sparkling > sanding > granulated > fine > extra fine > superfine > ultrafine > powdered 6X > powdered 10X > powdered 12X > fondant. Here is a list of all solid refined sugars:
1. Granulated =>
2. Fine granulated =>
3. Extra fine granulated =>
4. Superfine (quick dissolve) =>
5. Ultrafine (baker’s, caster) =>
6. Powdered (confectioners) +3% starch =>
7. Fondant (icing, frosting) +3% starch =>
8. Sparkling =>
9. Sanding =>
10. Light (golden) brown =>
11. Dark brown =>
12. Pourable brown (Brownulated) =>
13. White sugar cubes, tablets, gourmet =>
14. Rock (swizzle sticks) sugar or sugar crystals =>
15. Brown rock (swizzle sticks) sugar or sugar crystals =>
• Refined sugars in liquid form contain from 50 to 80 percent sucrose, and 20 to 50 percent invert sugar (glucose plus fructose). Cane molasses is considered the only sweetener derived from cane with health benefits as it has 2 to 10 percent minerals.
16. Simple syrup =>
17. Invert syrup (golden syrup) =>
18. Full invert syrup =>
19. Light (mild) molasses =>
20. Dark (full) molasses =>
21. Blackstrap molasses =>
What is Beet Sugar?
• Beet sugar is sold in refined form only. In the U.S., it accounts for over 55 percent of the total refined sugar consumed each year, making it the dominant sugar.
• Only genetically modified (GM) varieties of sugar beets are planted in America. As a result, there is no farming of organic beets and no production of non-GMO sugar nor certified organic beet sugar. Beet sugars with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal on their label are usually imported from Europe.
Types of Beet Sugar
• Sugar factories can make the same types of refined sugar from cane (see 1 to 18 on the list above). Granulated, brown, and confectioners sugars are the most commonly available. As opposed to cane molasses, beet molasses is used mostly for animal feed. A variety of beet sugars imported from Europe are sold in stores across the country.
• GW and Pioneer are brand names of pure refined beet sugar (see images below). Colorado-based Western Sugar Cooperative—made up of over 850 sugar beet growers— owns GW Sugar. Michigan Sugar, a cooperative of nearly 1,200 growers, owns the Pioneer Sugar brand.
• As discussed in a previous post, blends of cane and beet sugars are common in stores. For those brands, portions of each in any given serving vary over time based on price from the producers—so that it can be cane one time, but beet another, or both cane and beet mixed. Blends are standard because many sugar producers do not sell their products directly to consumers. They have their products sold and distributed by sugar marketing organizations, which may blend beet and cane sugars based on price and availability.
• The leading marketers of refined sugars in the country are Cargill (owner of Café Delight brand name) and United Sugar Corporation (owner of Crystal Sugar brand name). They distribute both cane and beet sugars, as opposed to Domino Foods Inc (Domino, C&H, Florida Crystals brands), which is the largest marketer of refined sugar and sells only cane sugars.
For a glimpse of the refined sugars in stores, check out the following video:
Refined Sugar on Food Labels
I end this post with a question that I get all the time.
"Is it safe to assume that when a label lists sugar as one of the ingredients, it's refined white sugar?
Here's is what you need to know:
• According to the Food and Drug Administration law, about 40 sweeteners may be labeled as "sugar." I wrote extensively about the law in this post: "Sugar" Means 40+ Sweeteners From Just Two Plants, but I'll list here the takeaway.
• By law, the term "sugar" refers to sweeteners made from two sources—sugar cane or sugar beets— and have sucrose as the main component. They might be unrefined, raw, or refined—with different crystal sizes, moisture, molasses, and sucrose content.
• So, to answer the question, when a label lists "sugar" as one of the ingredients, it's usually refined white sugar [which can be from cane, beet, or even a blend of both]. However, it can also be a raw or unrefined sweetener from cane.
• If the label lists "cane sugar," it means refined, raw, or unrefined sugar from sugar cane. But, it's often refined white sugar. You can learn all about refined white sugar in this post Guide to Granulated Sugar: The Favorite and Most Versatile Sweetener of All.
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