Did you know there are at least 61 different names for sugar? While there are 61 terms used to label sugar in food, not all sugars are equal. Some are natural, some processed and others are refined. It’s helpful to learn all about sugar and the different names for sugar.
This is the perfect post to bookmark for later so you can reference it whenever you’re in the grocery store and getting confused reading those pesky nutrition labels.
You’ll learn the definitions of 32 types of sugar and sugar terms. If there are multiple names used for the same ingredient, those alternative names for sugar are bolded (bringing our total to over 61!).
Some of these are definitions for how people classify sugar (ex. processed, refined) and aren’t actually terms used on ingredient labels. These classifications don’t count towards that total of 61 which is just for the names of sugar seen on nutrition labels. Each type of sugar is classified as being processed and/ or refined.
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Definitions of Common Sugar Terms
Here’s a comprehensive list of all the terms for sugar and what they mean. If there are synonyms used for the same type of sugar, I’ve bolded those terms under each heading. This list covers 32 types of sugar; with the alternative terms bolded, there’s over 61 different names for sugar used on nutrition labels.
Sugars are a type of carbohydrate molecule. Technically speaking, sugar is a biochemistry term and refers to the molecular structure of certain organic molecules. Sugars naturally occur in a variety of plant foods. When people think of sugar, they often envision white crystals. This is table sugar (see definition below) and primarily consists of sucrose.
Glucose is a monosaccharide. Monosaccharide is a biochemistry term that means the molecular structure cannot be broken down further to create a smaller sugar molecule. Therefore, monosaccharides are the smallest sugar molecules.
Glucose is the primary sugar humans use for fuel. Humans break down carbohydrates to create glucose which fuels most reactions that keep us alive!
Fructose is a second type of monosaccharide found in many foods and the human body. Humans convert fructose into glucose to provide energy to cells. Its primarily metabolized (ie. converted into glucose) by the liver. Fructose is commonly found in fruits, honey and many of the other types of sugar on this list.
Galactose is a third monosaccharide and is mainly found in lactose (a disaccharide). Galactose can be converted by the body into glucose to provide energy for cells. Galactose is primarily metabolized by the liver.
Lactose is the primary sugar found in dairy products. It is a disaccharide, meaning it is made up of two monosaccharides; in the case of lactose, it is made from glucose + galactose.
Sucrose is the primary type of sugar found in human diets. When you think of white sugar crystals, they are technically sucrose. Sucrose is another disaccharide and is made up of glucose + fructose.
Maltose is another disaccharide found in certain plant foods, mainly grains, some vegetables and fruits. Maltose is composed of two glucose molecules.
Using maltose as a sweetener in processed foods has become common as certain people (and manufacturers) move away from using fructose. However, there’s really no research on the health impacts of maltose in humans, or in replacing fructose-containing sugars with maltose.
Natural sugar refers to sugars that are naturally present in a food. Technically, all sugars are naturally occurring, but much of the sugars in food are refined or processed in some way.
Fruit sugar is the sugars found in whole fruits. These are a type of natural sugars which can be refined. Typically when talking about fruit sugar, people mean the sugars in whole fruit (and not sugars from fruit that have been processed/ refined).
Refined sugars are sugars that have undergone a refining process. Refining means something is removed from the original food.
For example, refining a sugar beet into white sugar removed fiber, molasses and other compounds, leaving a “pure” sugar. Refined = something has been removed and is not present in the final product.
Unrefined sugar is any sugar that hasn’t undergone a refining process. All of the compounds and nutritional value remain because nothing has been removed.
Processed sugars are any sugars that have undergone some type of process. Pretty much all sugar undergoes processing of some kind.
However, when people refer to processed sugar they typically mean the same thing as refined sugar. In other words, a sugar that has had something removed from it, to refine it down into a more “pure” form of sugar.
I don’t like to interchange the words processed and refined, and make the distinction that refined implies something has been removed whereas processed simply means the products has undergone some transformation (which could be virtually anything).
All refined sugars are processed (refining is a process) but not all processed sugars are refined (you can process something without removing anything from it). Processed = has undergone a process.
Added sugar is any sugar, from any source, that increases food sweetness. Added sugars can be refined sugars, unrefined sugars and/ or fruit sugars.
Typically, if whole fruits are added to a food, they aren’t considered added sugars, because the whole fruit (and the nutrients it contains) are in the final product.
Pretty much every type of sugar on this list, unless consumed on its own, is an added sugar. Added sugar doesn’t define whether the sugar is natural, processed or refined. Added = the sugar source is added to another food.
Table sugar is also called granulated sugar or simply “white sugar”. This is the white sugar crystals that most people are familiar with. Table sugar is sucrose (aka 50% glucose and 50% fructose), and is a refined sugar.
Powdered sugar aka icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar is essentially table sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. It’s made of sucrose just like table sugar and is refined.
Caster sugar is a smaller crystal compared to table sugar, but larger than powdered sugar. It’s made up of the same sucrose molecules and is refined.
There are a few definitions of raw sugar, but it typically refers to the sugar extracted from sugar cane before refining. Essentially, the sugar cane is “juiced” and this juice evaporates, creating sugar crystals. Raw sugar is also called turbinado sugar.
Raw sugar is usually a golden or light brown color and this is due to the molasses naturally present in the sugar cane.
Raw sugar is processed but it’s debatable whether to consider it refined or not. Technically, extracting the juice from the sugar cane fits my definition of refined (removing something, in this case the fibrous parts of the sugar cane).
The word “raw” is also added in front of other types of sugars, for example “raw honey”. In these cases, the word “raw” is referring to the fact that the food/sugar hasn’t come in contact with heat (ex. raw honey vs pasteurized honey). Raw sugar/ turbinado sugar has come in contact with heat during processing.
Cane sugar is the sugar extracted from sugar canes. The sugar from sugar canes is primarily sucrose, as is the sugar from sugar beets. Cane sugar is typically considered a refined sugar.
There’s also “evaporated cane juice” which, as described above under raw sugar, is literally the juice of sugar cane where the water is evaporated, leaving the sugar crystals.
Demerara sugar is a type of raw cane sugar with a larger crystal size and more crunchy texture.
Brown sugar is table sugar/ granulated sugar with some molasses added. Dark brown sugar and light brown sugar are both available. The darker the brown sugar is, the more molasses added. Light brown sugar is also referred to as golden sugar, or golden brown sugar due to its light golden color. Brown sugar is a refined sugar.
Muscovado sugar is considered an unrefined sugar made from sugar cane. But based on my definition of refined, even muscovado sugar is refined because the fiber of the sugar cane isn’t present in the final product.
It’s dark brown in color; however, this is due to molasses never being removed from the sugar during processing (remember, processing is not the same as refining; refining = something getting removed). Some people refer to Muscovado sugar as Barbados sugar.
Muscovado sugar is commonly assumed to be a more “natural” version of brown sugar since the molasses is not removed then put back in.
Corn syrup is a sweet liquid refined sugar product made from corn starch. It’s also called glucose syrup because the majority of glucose syrup is made from corn (however, glucose syrup could be made from other ingredients).
There are light corn syrups and dark corn syrups available. Light corn syrup is clear in color. Dark corn syrup has molasses and some other ingredients mixed in.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are not the same product. Corn syrup contains primarily glucose (hence it’s often referred to as glucose syrup).
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a type of corn syrup where some glucose is converted into fructose. This creates a sweeter product (therefore less is needed to sweeten food). HFCS is a refined sugar product.
There are different types of high fructose corn syrup which indicate how much fructose is present. For example, HFCS 42 indicates that 42% of the syrup is fructose, with the other 58% being glucose. There is also HFCS 55, HFCS 65, HFCS 70 and HFCS 90.
Agave nectar is a liquid that ranges from golden to darker brown in color. It’s made from agave plants, which are native to southern USA, Mexico and Latin America. As with most items on this list, agave nectar is typically considered a refined sugar.
Agave nectar is also called agave syrup and is made by extracting the juice of the agave plant, then processing it into syrup. The final product contains glucose and fructose but larger amounts of fructose are present compared to glucose.
The fructose content of agave nectar depends on the species of agave plant used and the type of processing. Estimates range from 56% up to about 90% fructose in agave nectar with the majority of the remaining percentage being glucose.
Maple syrup is made by boiling sap from maple trees. The sap itself is a thin and light colored liquid; after boiling it thickens and concentrates. It’s often considered a natural sugar (because maple sap naturally occurs in maple trees) and technically isn’t refined (as nothing has been “removed” from the maple sap) but it’s a processed product due to the boiling required.
Maple syrup can be golden, amber or dark in color, depending on how concentrated the sap is. Maple syrup is primarily sucrose (aka glucose and fructose).
Table syrup is typically made from corn syrup and/or high fructose corn syrup, often with flavors and other ingredients. Maple syrup and table syrup are not the same product.
The syrups that make table syrup are considered refined therefore table syrup is also considered a refined sugar product.
Honey is a thick golden colored product made by bees from plant nectar. Honey is not considered vegan as it is a by-product of bees.
While honey is technically a natural sugar, it may or may not be processed. There are countless varieties of honey, some are specific to the plants the bees drew nectar from.
Honey is higher in fructose compared to glucose (compared to table sugar which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose). It’s not typically considered to be refined and may or may not be processed (raw honey is not processed but pasteurized honey and creamed honey are).
Date sugar is made from dried, ground dates. Dates are a fruit that are typically sold dried (raw/ fresh dates are bright orange in color). Most people picture a dark brown dried fruit when thinking of dates, but these dark brown dates are dried.
Date sugar is thought to be a more nutritious option because it retains the fiber and other nutrients present in the dried dates.
Date sugar falls into the categories of natural sugar that is processed (but not refined). It won’t dissolve in liquid or melt like most other varieties of sugar; however, there is date syrup, which could be used in a similar way to other syrups on this list.
Coconut sugar aka coconut palm sugar, is made from coconut palm tree sap. The water is evaporated from the sap, creating a product that is similar in texture to granulated sugar, with a medium brown color.
Coconut sugar or coconut palm sugar is not the same as palm sugar, which is made in a similar way but from a different plant. It’s considered a natural sugar and often classified as unrefined but processed (can argue that it is a refined sugar).
Coconut nectar is made by taking the sap from a coconut palm tree and boiling it into a thicker and darker liquid. It can also be called coconut syrup and is made in a very similar way to maple syrup. It differs from coconut sugar because it’s a liquid.
Coconut nectar is the concentrated sap of a coconut palm tree whereas coconut sugar is the crystals remaining after the liquid from coconut palm tree sap is evaporated. It’s considered a natural sugar that is unrefined but it is processed (can argue that it’s refined).
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is a golden brown colored liquid sweetener made from brown rice. It’s made by breaking down starches in the brown rice into simple sugars (similar to how corn syrup is made from turning corn starches into sugar).
Brown rice syrup is primarily glucose, as opposed to many other “syrup” options that also contain higher amounts of fructose. It’s sometimes simply called rice syrup or rice malt syrup and can be both processed and refined.
Malt syrup aka barley malt syrup is made by extraction from malted barley. It’s very dark brown in color and thick, similar in appearance to molasses. It’s also less sweet compared to many other sugar and syrup options but provides a rich malt flavor.
Many other sugar and syrup options are primarily glucose, fructose or sucrose (which is just glucose and fructose together), but malt syrup is about 65% maltose (aka two glucose molecules).
Sticking with the classifications provided, this falls into the refined category (because the final product removes much of the barley) and is processed.
Molasses aka black treacle, is a very dark brown and extremely thick syrupy product that is created during the refining process of sugar cane. Molasses are used to create brown sugar and also used as a sweetener and flavoring product. It’s a refined and processed sugar alternative.
There are different types of molasses, depending on the type and extent of processing. Blackstrap molasses are known to be high in certain vitamins and minerals.
Summary: 61 Different Names for Sugar
What a long list! It’s unbelievable how many terms there are for sugar, not to mention all the ways people sweeten food.
This is a long list, so bookmark the page and come back to it whenever you need a refresher.
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