12 April 2012

White, Raw, Brown - Sugar: What are the Differences?

Despite sugar being one of the most important and commonly used items in a kitchen, most people are not aware of the fact that apart from the white sugar they use, there are two other varieties of sugar, called raw sugar and brown sugar, available in the market. But what are the differences?

White sugar (also called table sugar)
Pure sucrose naturally found in many fruits and vegetables. In nature, it can be found in either sugar cane or sugar beets, but by the time it has been refined to a white crystal, the two are chemically identical.

Raw Sugar
To make sugar, machines are used: sugar cane (or sugar beet) is initially pressed and the juice is then mixed with lime to achieve the desired ph balance and to help settle out impurities. Reduction of this solution through evaporation produces a solid mass that is passed through centrifuge to get sugar crystals. It is then dried further to produce granules. This sugar is light brown in color and is termed raw sugar. The brown color of raw sugar is due to presence of molassesRaw sugar is the most natural sugar you can hope to lay your hands on.

Brown Sugar 
Do not confuse raw sugar with brown sugar. Brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with a molasses syrup mixed in, then dried again.

What is the difference between raw sugar and white sugar?
To make white sugar, sulfur dioxide is added to cane juice before it gets evaporated. This gas does the bleaching of the juice so that it does not turn brown and produces white sugar. At later stages, phosphoric acid, calcium hydroxide or carbon dioxide is added to absorb impurities. This juice is then filtered through a bed of carbon and then crystallized in a vacuum many times. Finally the crystals are left to dry on their own to get paper white crystals of sugar.

Is raw sugar better?
In my opinion: yes, although nutritionally speaking, there is no meaningful difference between any of these types of sugar. Why I think it's better:

  • Environmentally speaking, the less processing required means the less energy used, less waste products and fewer chemicals: raw sugar is the more earth friendly option and brown sugar oddly enough is the worst choice.
  • As brown sugar contains some amount of water, it has a slightly lower caloric value by weight than white sugar: calorific value per teaspoon is 11 kcal for raw sugar, 16 kcal for white sugar.
  • Because of the presence of molasses in raw sugar, it has a distinct flavor that is missing in white sugar.
Although raw sugar is less processed, all types of sugar provide roughly the same number of calories, and when it comes to digestion and metabolism, your body cannot tell the difference. Excess intake of sugar can be bad for you no matter what kind you use. Too much sugar can be very calorific and cause many health problems (including diabetes and obesity).

What type of sugar do you use at home?

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