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What is White Sugar?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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White sugar is sugar that has been refined and washed so that it has a white appearance and no molasses flavor. The flavor is relatively neutral, making it a popular choice for baking and sweetening drinks. Most markets sell white sugar, often in several different forms, and when recipes call for sugar, they usually mean this type of sugar, unless the recipe explicitly calls for another variety.

Sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. In both cases, the plants are crushed to exude their sweet juices, and the juice is allowed to crystallize into a loose crumble. This crumble can be sold as-is, but it is usually washed, allowed to crystallize, and then sold or refined as needed. In the case of white sugar, multiple washings are used, with some refineries even bleaching their sugar to get it as white as possible. After the sugar has been sufficiently refined, it can be allowed to dry before it is packaged.

Granulated sugar is the most readily available form of white sugar. It comes in a range of grades, including nib sugar, table sugar, and caster sugar. The sugar can also be finely ground to make confectioner's sugar, which is often blended with a small amount of cornstarch to keep it from clumping together. Producers can also mold it into sugar cubes, which are often used to sweeten drinks.

This type of sugar is the most processed form, but some people prefer less refined varieties or sugar alternatives, such as sweeteners made from agave nectar or honey. Many refineries that make white sugar also produce brown sugar, which has been blended with molasses. Light and dark forms of brown sugar are available. This type of sugar tends to be more sticky and clumpy because of the increased moisture, and it also has a very distinctive flavor that makes it unsuitable for some applications.

In contrast with heavily refined white sugar, some companies also sell “raw” or “minimally processed” sugar that has not been as heavily washed and bleached. This sugar has a light golden color due to the remaining molasses, and a flavor that is somewhere between brown and white. Some people view minimally processed sugar as a more natural and healthy product, especially if it is organically produced.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon280047 — On Jul 16, 2012

O.K., so white sugar is washed to free it of the molasses flavor and color, then molasses is added back to that washed sugar to make brown sugar? So which is more pure? Which is more natural?

By wecallherana — On Jul 19, 2010

@Kamchatka - You should think of brown sugar as a man made sugar even though it's kind of a collaboration between Mother Nature and Man. While the white sugar is bleached and processed, the molasses occurs naturally within nature. Even though it should be filtered and cleaned itself before added to white sugar to make the rich tasting brown sugar, it's still a product that can naturally be found from various places around the world.

So, in answer to your question: no, brown sugar does not occur naturally within nature and is a man made product. Hope that helps.

By Kamchatka — On Jul 19, 2010

So when the information on the article says that brown sugar is processed with white sugar and molasses added together, does that mean that brown sugar isn't a natural happening or that brown sugar can ONLY be processed and not naturally made?

By lmorales — On Jul 19, 2010

@gameaddicted - You are absolutely right. Many bakers make up for missing brown sugar in recipes. Brown sugar will give cookies a richer, sweeter taste whereas white sugar will give cookies a more neutral taste. Even though white sugar makes great chocolate chip cookies, I think that brown sugar makes them more interesting and works better with the flavor of the chocolate.

I've also found that even though that's the case with chocolate chip cookies, white sugar works -much- better in the Heath candy cookies I make.

By gameaddicted — On Jul 19, 2010

White sugar is good because you can actually make brown sugar from it - you just add the molasses back into it. This works really well if you are in one of those situations where you need brown sugar, but don't have it.

By anon70566 — On Mar 15, 2010

I just want to know how much is acontaine?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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