Different Kinds of Sugar

White and brown sugar with spoons.
Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Though many a good coffee connoisseur takes their brew strong and black, adding a bit of something sweet is a practice enjoyed by many. What exactly is the difference between white and brown sugar, and what the heck is "turbinado" sugar?

White Sugar

White sugar is the most common sweetener used in tea or coffee. You can get white sugar in regular granulated form, or finer ground as icing sugar or confectioner's sugar. Powdered sugar isn't typically used for simple beverage sweetening. White sugar is processed from sugar cane to have the molasses removed, and then it's filtered, crystallized and dried.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is made by adding the molasses back to regular white sugar, which makes it much more moist and prone to clumping than white sugar. It is speculated that a piece of white bread in the container will keep your brown sugar soft.

Raw Sugar

Raw sugar is very similar to brown sugar, except this is sugar that hasn't been processed into white. So it has its natural molasses content intact. It's lighter than brown sugar in flavor, but the texture is more coarse (almost like kosher salt).

Turbinado Sugar

Another name for raw sugar mentioned above. Other names for raw sugar are Muscovado and Demerara sugar. These are not literally identical, but they are the products produced at different stages of sugar processing. The differences between them are slight.


Of course, honey isn't a kind of sugar, but it's a popular sweet touch nonetheless. Produced by bees, it's a very natural form of sweetener that requires next to no processing before use. Liquid honey will crystallize over time, but whipped honey will remain soft (like butter) indefinitely.


This less-common sweet selection is actually an herbal product that is far sweeter than sugar. The botanical name is Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. Stevia sweeteners can be found in many health food stores, or even grown in your own garden.

Some people choose one form of sugar over another for various health or nutrition reasons. Any added benefit from the extra molasses in either brown or raw sugar is pretty negligible, considering the small amounts added to your drinks.

Flavored Sugars

Occasionally, flavored sugars become trendy. These include vanilla sugar, rose sugar, coffee sugar, and other flavors. They can be flavored with flavor extracts, with added ingredients or by simply placing a dried flavoring (such as a vanilla bean) into a closed jar with sugar. Here are three recipes for homemade flavored sugars.

Artificial Sweeteners

There are also lots of artificial sweeteners out there. These are typically low-calorie or calorie-free. However, they may have health side effects and potential dangers.