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The Difference Between White, Brown and Powdered Sugars

Get granular about these common types of sugars
Different Kinds of Sugar including Brown and White Sugar
Photo: Michelle Sun/Tasting Table

Sugar is a crucial player in the baking game. It adds flavor and color to cookies, provides sweetness for cakes, and gives bulk and structure to buttercream. Different recipes require different types of sugars, so if you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between white, brown and powdered, this one’s for you.

White Sugar
What it is: This is the most commonly found sugar in most households. Also called granulated sugar, this highly refined sugar is made from sugarcane and sugar beets.
When to use it: White sugar is used in baking, cooking and coffee—if you’re weak. (Kidding we add sugar to our coffee all the time.)

Brown Sugar (Light and Dark)
What it is: Simply put, brown sugar is white sugar with cane molasses added to it. The amount of molasses added determines whether it’s light or dark brown sugar.
When to use it: Light brown sugar can be found in recipes for baked goods, as well as some savory dishes, while dark brown sugar is used mostly in baking (think gingerbread cake). Brown sugar can be swapped for white in some recipes, however, since brown sugar contains molasses, it will affect the texture of the baked good, so other ingredient amounts might have to be adjusted.

Confectioners’ Sugar (Powdered Sugar)
What it is: Confectioners’ sugar, powdered sugar—different names, same stuff. It’s made by grinding granulated sugar into a powdered state. If you’re in a pinch, you can create your own confectioners’ sugar at home by blending granulated white sugar, adding some cornstarch then sifting it.
When to use it: This sugar is commonly used to make frostings and glazes, and dusted as a finishing touch over cakes and other pastries.


Although brown and white sugars can sometimes be used interchangeably when baking, depending on the recipe, confectioners’ sugar isn’t an equal trade. You never want to make buttercream with white granulated sugar, for example, or you’ll end up with a crunchy frosting.

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One more sugar myth to bust? Brown sugar is not healthier than white sugar. We repeat: Brown sugar is no healthier than white sugar, despite popular opinion. Don’t let the color fool you. The New York Times cites the United States Department of Agriculture saying, “Brown sugar contains about 17 kilocalories per teaspoon, compared with 16 kilocalories per teaspoon for white sugar.” Case closed.

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