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How Sugar is Made - the Different Types

There are a bewildering number of sugars and syrups available in the shops while other types are available for the industrial user. Some of the basic differences are discussed below.

White Sugars

White sugar is essentially pure sucrose and there is no difference between that derived from cane and that from beet. Different manufacturers produce crystals of different sizes however and this leads to some apparent differences. Smaller crystals dissolve more readily and might therefore appear to be sweeter because none is left at the bottom of the cup and they seem sweeter on the tongue if eaten alone. Similarly smaller crystals have more surfaces per spoonful and appear whiter than larger crystals. [Having said that, some white sugars are less white than others: it depends on how much processing the manufacturer applies.]

There are several speciality white sugars:

  • caster sugar is just a very small crystal size white sugar
  • icing sugar is ground up white sugar, essentially sugar dust
  • sugar cubes are lumps of sugar crystals "glued" together with a sugar syrup
  • preserving sugar is a special large crystal
Brown Sugars

Brown sugars come in many different styles but are essentially one of two types: sticky browns and free-flowing browns. The sticky browns were originally the sort of mixture that comes out of a cane sugar crystallising pan. The extreme of this, still made in India today, is "juggeri" or "gur" which is essentially such a mixture boiled until dry.

In modern refining practice both of these types are made by mixing a refined or at least purified sugar with a suitable syrup. The colour of the sugar and the syrup determines the colour of the final product and the ratio of syrup to sugar plus any drying applied determines whether the product is sticky or free-flowing.


Syrups, of which there are again an enormous range, range from pure sucrose solutions as sold to industrial users to heavily treated syrups incorporating flavours and colours. Refiners or "Golden" syrup is a sugar solution which has been carefully treated to invert some of the sucrose. Inversion is a chemical process which breaks down the disaccharide sucrose to its constituent sugars: glucose and fructose. This helps ensure that crystallisation does not occur during storage. Treacle is a similar product made from molasses rather than a pure sugar solution.

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