What is Refined Sugar?

Updated: Jun 24, 2019



Refined sugar is the favorite sweetener among home cooks, bakers, and chefs. It has more than half of the world sweetener market and competes with an enormous variety of sweeteners. The main component in any refined sugar is sucrose, from 91 to 99.96 percent when in solid form, and from 50 to 80 percent when liquid.


Sourced from sugarcane and sugarbeet, refined sugar is a term that may be attributed to about twenty different sweeteners. This blog post explores how refined sugars are made and all the types of sweeteners that may be produced from cane and beet.


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Who Competes with Refined Sugar?

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How Is It Made?

  • Sucrose is in most fruits (7 percent in bananas, 5 percent in oranges) but to produce sugar in concentrated form on an industrial scale, cane and beet plants are used for having a higher content.

  • Cane and beet have a similar amount of sugar (12 to 15% and 16 to 18%, respectively). Cane sugar is produced in two different facilities, a Sugar Mill and a Sugar Refinery. Beet sugar is made in a Sugar Factory.

  • Put simply, beet sugar and cane sugar are made essentially the same way. Juice is collected, its water is boiled off, and sugar crystals are separated from everything else.

What does 'refined' really mean?

Although the term ‘refined’ carries a negative connotation, it means ‘to purify’. During removal of impurities, aka the refining process, sucrose is not chemically changed. Instead, sucrose crystals are physically separated from impurities naturally present in the cane or beet.


The methods and the chemicals used to refine vary with the producer, but after cane or beet juice is collected, four essential steps summarize the refining process:

  1. Clarification of the juice: Use of chemicals, such as lime and carbon dioxide gas, result in precipitates which are removed by filtration

  2. Boiling: Concentration on the juice is through multiple evaporators, under vacuum, which boil the juice (syrups) at reduced pressure and so, at mild temperatures

  3. Crystallization: Seed sugar crystals are added to supersaturated syrups in evaporators to start forming larger crystals

  4. Centrifuging: Centrifuges look like a salad spinner and separate the sucrose crystals from the syrup (refiners syrup or molasses) that surrounds it.

The refining process results in white sugar (99.95% sucrose) going out as the final product and nonsugars (impurities) accumulating in thick dark syrups, aka molasses or refiners syrup, which are separated by centrifugation.


Cane molasses are sold to consumers, but beet molasses are not palatable. In the U.S., cane sugar accounts for 45% of the refined sugar consumed each year; the remaining is for beet sugar. About ¾ of the total sugar produced worldwide is from cane and ¼ is from beet.


Learn more about cane and beet sugar in a previous post: Cane vs. Beet Sugar: A Difference?


Refined Sugar From Cane


Almost forty-five types of cane sugar are sold 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 facility located close to cane fields, a Sugar Mill. Refined sugars (granulated, confectioners, brown sugars) are produced in a Sugar Refinery, which are usually located close to a waterway and areas of heavy sugar consumption.


  • As opposed to raw and unrefined sugars, refined sugars are not produced directly from the cane juice. Refined sugars are made from crude raw sugar. Sugar refineries process raw sugar, shipped from domestic Sugar Mills or foreign sources.

  • Raw sugar is remelted, followed by boiling, re-crystallization, and centrifuging resulting in an astonishingly pure sucrose, 99.95%! A variety of sweeteners in solid and liquid form come out of a refinery, as we see next.

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What Is Crude Raw Sugar?

Crude raw sugar is a non-food-grade raw sugar produced in a Sugar Mill. It is off-white, looks a lot like sand, and is sold only to Refineries, not to consumers.


According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is unsuitable for human consumption due to its high level of impurities.


It is not to be confused with raw sugars you find in stores (also referred to as demerara, turbinado or evaporated cane juice) which are refined under strict sanitary conditions. The main difference in the production of these two raw sugars is in the way cane juice is clarified. Food-grade sanitary standards are not followed with crude raw sugar. Crude raw sugar contains 90-99% sucrose and is the principal 'sugar' shipped in world trade.

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Types of cane sugar

Almost twenty types of refined cane sugar are available in stores nationwide, with many crystal sizes, molasses, and moisture content. Refined sugars in solid form contain from 91 to 99.96% sucrose. Trace amounts of invert sugar (glucose plus fructose) may also be present. The most common refined cane sugars in store shelves are granulated, powdered, and brown sugars.


White cane sugars are produced in a variety of crystal sizes, from coarse (0.75 - 0.6mm), to medium (0.5-0.3mm) to small-size (0.3 - 0.02mm). From largest to smallest: sparkling > sanding > granulated > fine > extra fine > superfine > ultrafine > powdered 6X > powdered 10X > powdered 12X > fondant. Here a a list of all solid refined sugars:

  1. Granulated sugar

  2. Fine granulated sugar

  3. Extra fine granulated

  4. Superfine (quick dissolve) sugar

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

  6. Powdered (confectioners) sugar +3% starch

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

  8. Sparkling sugar

  9. Sanding sugar

  10. Light (golden) brown sugar

  11. Dark brown sugar

  12. Pourable brown (Brownulated) sugar

  13. White sugar cubes, tablets, gourmet sugar

  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.

  1. Simple syrup

  2. Invert syrup (medium invert, golden syrup)

  3. Full invert syrup

  4. Light molasses (mild or Barbados molasses)

  5. Dark molasses (full or medium molasses)

  6. Blackstrap molasses

Refined Sugar From Beet


Beet sugar is refined sugar produced from beet in a Sugar Factory. Beet sugar is sold as refined sugar only, contrary to cane sugar, which is available in unrefined, raw, and refined forms. In the U.S., beet sugar is the dominant sugar, accounting for 55% of the total refined sugar consumed each year.


Only genetically modified (GM) varieties of sugar beets are planted in America and as a result, there is no farming of organic beets and no production of non-GMO sugar, nor certified organic beet sugar. You will find in stores beet sugars that carry the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which are usually imported from Europe.

Types of Beet Sugar

Sugar Factories may produce the same types of sugar in solid form obtained in a Sugar Refinery (see list above). Granulated, brown and confectioners sugars from beet are the most commonly available. A variety of beet sugars imported from Europe are commercialized in America.

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* Note About Crystal Size *

An important stage in sugar production is the crystallization of sucrose. The crystal size of sugars is expressed here in mm and may vary from producer to producer. What one manufacturer calls granulated sugar, may be called extra fine granulated by another, depending on the producer designation.


Granulated sugar is typically the starting point for the production of white sugars with finer crystals and brown sugars. Sugars with fine crystals may be produced by grinding granulated sugar and then passing them through specifically sized screens. Crystal size affects how sugar dissolves. Fine crystals dissolve faster than coarser.

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Unboxing Video


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

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Copyright © 2020  WhatSugar Blog by Adriane Mulinari Campos 

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

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