SUGAR is one of the primary ingredients I use in baking. It is used to sweeten my cupcakes, cookies and brownies. Since sugar is very abundent, available, and inexpensive, most people use white or brown sugar when they want to sweetened food.
Sugar is sucrose; it comes from a cane OR beet. Most people cannot tell a difference between the two. Is there a difference? Yes: Cane sugar (from sugar cane) is grown above grown and in the tropics. Beet sugar is extracted from beets, underground. Where do they grow beet sugar? Most brands that use beets to make sugar do not give a source. Cane sugar contains different (and better) trace minerals than beet sugar. It also has a lower melting point, blends better with butter (important for creaming!), and asorbs less ordors. My personal perfence: always buy cane sugar. If a manufactuer does not advertise that it is "pure cane sugar," then it is beet sugar. Cheaper sugar will always be beet sugar.
Then, what is brown sugar? TRUE brown sugar is sucrose + molasses. It will have a slight, deeper flavor than white sugar. Cheap manufacturers will just "lightly" spray beet sugar with a molasses coating. GOOD manufacturers will combine real molasses with real cane sugar to create brown sugar. Always buy dark brown sugar, not light or golden brown sugar.
Since brown sugar contains molasses, it will create a moister and longer shelf-life sweet treat. Taste difference is minimal. I do like baking with brown sugar because it keeps the sweet treat more moist and tender. I love baking brown sugar shortbread, using brown sugar in a homeade BBQ sauce, or creating a brown sugar chocolate cake. So when do I bake with white sugar? When another flavor is dominate: like lemon cupcakes, raspberry frosting, or orange shortbread.
Sugar has recieved some bad press for increasing health risks, rising obesity and causing tooth decay. My advice: portion control! Real sugar, in small doses, will not cause your health to go downward. Consult your medical professional to help you manage your sugar intake. Want a more natural way to sweetened treats? Try agave nectar or raw honey.
Happy Baking! -Kimm