Although it has got a bad wrap, sugar still plays a major role in cooking, food culture, and eating behaviours. Sugar is processed, but it rarely has anything added to it and is a natural product (not quite the same as something that is plucked straight from the ground though). There are a huge variety of sugars, and they can serve a different variety of roles.
White sugar: white sugar is made from sugar cane juice that has been extracted from the cane, evaporated, cleaned, and then bagged up for the supermarket. White sugar can be more refined into products such as caster sugar (smaller crystals), or icing sugar (very finely ground, and can also have small amounts of other flours added for consistency). Sugar plays a role in both flavouring, which is why it is added to many products through manufacturing, but plays is most major role in baking. Sugar aids with the colouring of baked products, giving cakes, biscuits and other products their brown colouring. White sugar only contains carbohydrate and energy, and has limited other nutritional value.
Raw sugar: it is extracted from processing before it is refined enough to become white, but it can also have some molasses added back into it. It has a very small variety of vitamins and minerals in it, but you would need to eat a lot of sugar to have any health benefit. Therefore it remains the same as white sugar in a nutritional sense (is 100% carbohydrate). Raw and white sugar tend to be used interchangeably, but white sugar is primarily used in cooking.
Brown sugar: is white sugar which has had differing levels of molasses added into it to provide different degrees of darkness. Brown sugar has a distinctive caramel flavour, which makes it best for cooking (think caramelised foods, like onion), and is used to bake foods that need moistness as well as sweetness. In terms of nutritional value, it is very similar to the other sugars.
There are other varieties of sugar that do not come from sugar cane, and these can include palm sugar (84g of carbohydrate and sugar), and coconut sugar (has slightly less sugar, but just as much carbohydrate, and a lot more sodium), which have similar nutritional properties to cane sugar. So if you are looking for a healthier alternative to white sugar, chances are what you may be trying to use instead has a bigger difference in the price tag than anything else.
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