French Sugar

sugars

Many people who tackle French recipes get stumped by the sugars, which don’t necessarily correspond to the sugars available elsewhere. All supermarkets in France carry white granulated sugar and there’s often unrefined sugars, such as cassonade, which grocers stock and are widely-available. In America and elsewhere, bakers often have to do a bit of hunting around to find the corresponding sugar.

French brown sugars are quite varied and don’t always neatly fit into substitutions. In general, if you have a recipe that calls for brown sugar, you can use moist cassonade, vergeoise, or any unrefined amber-colored sugar that’s not granulated. For the sake of these descriptions, moist brown sugar is sugar that clumps together easily if you pinch it. Crystallized sugar is granulated, or free-flowing, and pours easily.

For caramelization, you need to use refined white sugar; impurities in unrefined sugars will cause crystallization. There’s some controversy in the pastry community that sugar refined from beets, which the majority of the sugar in France is, will give you difficulty if you try to caramelize it. But I haven’t experienced any problems.

I’ve listed a few places outside of France where these sugars, and others, are available at the end of the post. Depending on where you live, your best bet is to search online or find a store that specializes in baking ingredients for professionals or dedicated home bakers. There are also links to various sugar companies and websites where you can learn more about these sugars.

Sucre cristallisé or sucre cristal

This is plain white sugar, whose crystals are a bit larger than what’s considered granulated sugar in the United States. You can use this sugar for almost all baking and cooking applications.

Sucre semoule and Sucre en poudre

This is sugar whose crystals are very fine. In America, this would be similar to what is called superfine or baker’s sugar. In other countries it’s called castor or caster sugar. Its fine texture means it melts quickly and will give a finer crumb to many cakes, meringues and cookies.

You can make your own by pulsing granulated sugar in a food processor or blender a few times until it’s in smaller crystals.

Sucre glace

To Americans, this is known as powdered or confectioner’s sugar, and elsewhere it’s called icing sugar. Up to 3% cornstarch is added to keep it free-flowing. (In France, silica is used.) You can make your own powdered sugar by whizzing granulated sugar in a food processor or blender until it’s powdered. It’ll keep in a jar indefinitely, but will tend to clump together, so it is best made in small batches or as you need it.

Some bakeries use non-melting powdered sugar, which doesn’t dissolve when sifted over cakes and tarts, even after several hours. This is difficult to find and can be located in shops that cater to professionals. King Arthur carries one, called white topping sugar. It has a slightly odd mouth feel.

Sucre pour confitures or sucre gélifiant

This specialty sugar has apple-based pectin added and citric acid added, and is used as a quick-cooking sugar for jelly and jam-making, although some use it for fruit-based sauces, too. Dr. Oetker makes one, as does Saint Louis. As far as I know, this isn’t available in the United States.

Sucre vergeoise

This brown sugar is made from beet sugar and is white, refined sugar that’s sprayed with a darker sugar syrup to re-brown it. Some have vanilla added. Sucre vergeoise is available in blonde (light) or brune (dark). It can be used in any recipe where brown sugar is called for and the crystals are more uniform than cassonade, although I prefer true cassonade.

This sugar is a bit harder to find. It’s more popular in the North of France, close to Belgium. The most widely-available brands are Béghin Say and Saint Louis.

If an American recipe calls for brown sugar, you can use this in its place.

sugar

Cassonade

This is a natural brown sugar, slightly-refined from cane sugar, so it’s moist and lumpy and may have small imperfections. It’s very easy to find the large, granulated crystals, but it’s harder to find moist, softer varieties; the most widely-available moist cassonade is sold by the brand Daddy. It is sold as cuivrée (light) or ambrée (dark).

Granulated versions of cassonade are similar to coarse demerara, Hawaiian Washed Sugar, Sucanat, and Sugar in the Raw, available outside of France.

Like sucre vergeoise, above, moist cassonade can be used in in American recipes that call for brown sugar.

Sucre de canne complet

This is unrefined brown sugar and is sometimes lighter in color than cassonade and vergeoise, which is available as free-flowing or slightly-sticky. It’s sold in natural foods and specialty stores and can be used in place of brown sugar in all recipes, and in place of white sugar in most. (Not for making caramel, for example.) Partially-processed sugars, such as sucre roux, demerara, and muscovado fall into this category, although this is kind of a no-man’s land, and many naturally brown cane sugars are lumped into this category.

Blanc pure canne or sucre mi blanc

If you’re looking to use cane sugar in a recipe, this is white or off-white (partially-refined) granulated cane sugar. Since most sugar in France is made from beet sugar, this isn’t available in most supermarkets. Cane sugars can be found in natural food stores.

Sucre vanillé

These are small (8 gram) packets of vanilla-scented sugar, which you’ll see called for in French recipes. Vanihé and Dr. Oetker are well-known brands. Packets of European vanilla sugar are available on Amazon.

You can substitute 8 grams of sugar along with a teaspoon of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (or to taste) in recipes for each packet of vanilla sugar called for in recipes.

Sucre en morceaux

This refers to sugar cubes, or sugar molded into various shapes. You likely won’t find them used in recipes, although some people like to crush them on top of tarts, cakes, and cookies prior to baking to give them a crackly topping. There are available made from either white and dark (unrefined) sugar.

Sucre en grains

This is large-grained pearl sugar, used for texture and decorating (necessary for chouquettes) and does not melt under heat.

In America, you can find this sugar at King Arthur and at ChefShop. Sucre en grains can be hard to find in France, but is available in shops that specialize in baking goods and Scandinavian épiceries. In Paris, you can buy pearl sugar at G. Detou.

More information about sugar and related links

What’s the Difference Between Brown Sugars? (Chow)

Demerara sugar (Wikipedia)

Turbinado sugar (Wikipedia)

Muscovado sugar (Wikipedia)

Sucanat (Wikipedia)

Wholesome Sweeteners (Natural sugar & sweeteners)

Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

Saint-Louis (French Sugars)

King Arthur Baker’s Store (Baking sugars)

Ethiquable (Fair-trade sugars, in French)

Alter Eco (Fair-trade sugars)

Why and When to Use (and Not Use) Corn Syrup

Daddy (French sugar company)

How to Make Caramel

Béghin Say (French sugar company)

Sucre (Wikipedia France)

Sugar (Cook’s Thesaurus)

India Tree Sugars (Amazon)

53 comments

  • Thank you so much for this! I always wonder what to use in place of brown sugar and usually spend a fortune buying it imported. Putting regular sugar in a blender is also a great pointer as I have a hard time finding powdered sugar here.

  • Thanks SO much for this info. I live in France and only figured out about half of these sugars so far. The carmelization part was especially helpful. Now could you do one on creams? Since there’s no such thing as half and half in France, Im left to make my own witches’ brew. Thanks again for the info. Cynthia

  • Thanks again for posting this — your blog was a lifesaver for me when we first arrived in France, as yours is the only place I could find things like which sugar was which and which flour would work well in US recipes.

    Viergoise is now pretty commonly available out here in the wilds of the Ile de France (that’s changed in a year)– most stores carry either blonde or brune — rarely both — but at least either one will work. (Chocolate-chip cookies with cassonade just don’t work.)

    I now have a regular stream of questions from expat friends who are trying to figure out what to use…and yes, I point them here as the source of my answers.

  • Thanks so much..I often question myself!!

    Great informative post.

  • This is such a useful post, thank you.
    It is difficult to grasp the different varieties unless you are lucky enough to have spent time in the different countries. We are so lucky now to have access to cookery writing from all over the world but without this kind of translation we can often struggle to replicate the amazing recipes we discover.

    I had no idea that white granulated cane sugar was so difficult to get hold of in France. In English supermarkets you almost invariably get a choice of brands – Tate & Lyle or Billingtons for cane sugar and British Sugar for beet. Beet sugar production is still subsidised (I think) but prices are very similar in retail.
    On the wholesale market this year, we were offered French beet sugar cheaper than English beet sugar. Crazy when you think about haulage prices.

  • Kate: According to a few articles I read, Napoleon insisted that the French plant sugar beets in response to a blockade of French ports bakc then, which prevented cane sugar from coming into France. Hence the proliferation of beet sugar here. If you drive around outside of Paris, there’s tons of farms growing sugar beets today.

    However cane sugar is revered and you often see yogurts and such pointing out on their packaging that the product is made with “cane sugar.” I don’t think there’s all that much difference when it’s so highly-refined, but fortunately it’s very easy to get cassonade and other dark, flavorful sugars here.

  • Finally! Sugar info all in one place. Since I discovered the wide world of blogging and how far it extends, I have run into several recipes that call for “a packet of vanilla sugar.” and the various other sugars listed here, I’ve been stumped by some, but the vanilla sugar packet was the biggie, I felt like someone in a group conversation who was outside of an inside joke! I have found loose definitions but not measurement, so this is really helpful. Thanks for gathering this info and presenting it.

  • I would love to get my hands on that dark brown sugar (cassonade) and use it in/on a pork roast.

  • David thanks for this informative piece. I miss all those sugars since I moved to Canada. Fortunately, in 4 weeks I will be in Paris and staying on the same street at G.Detou!!! Will be stocking up!

  • David,

    I just learned so much. I had no idea these sugar types even existed. I’m passing this onto my American friend living in France.

    Laura

  • This will be incredibly useful for when I use French recipes, thank you!!!

  • thanks so much for this article. I reposted it on my Ning community, Luane’s Cookies http://luanescookies.ning.com/ and on facebook.

  • I have to second Cynthia’s request for a posting on creams. Being Austrian I often want to run amok in our Monoprix because I can’t figure out what is what. (And why there is so little choice.) I end up using creme fraiche almost every time.

  • Sigrid and Cynthia: Thanks, and will think about it. Part of it is that many of the dairy products don’t list their fat percentage (like the fromage blanc in the supermarket, sometimes) and they vary, so it’s hard to give absolute answers. Interestingly, a few years back a friend was surprised when I said there was little heavy cream available in France, seeing as the cheese and dairy are so spectacular.

    I think it might have something to do with they use crème fraîche much more, which is readily available, and pretty delicious. You just need to be careful; since it’s cultured, it can cause certain things to break, like custards, if added when warm.

  • Fabulous guide! Its good to know all about the substitutions and comparisons =D.

  • Thank you, David! I often find myself hesitating when I get to the store when I need brown sugar. It wasn’t until recently too that I realized scure semoule and sucre en poudre are the same thing. I wonder why they have two different names for this???

  • Little Miss Cupcake: I don’t know why they have two names, but in French, there are often various names for the same thing. (I went into that in my Paris book!) There are about fourteen names for baby squid, which I had to memorize so I wouldn’t actually order them by accident ; )

    But in the states, we have powdered and confectioner’s sugar, which are the same thing. And we call beet and cane brown sugars the same thing, whereas the French have words for each one. Which is nice since I prefer the unrefined cassonade sugar.

  • Fantastic post, what a reference page ! I’m sure I’ll refer to this many a time in my upcoming baking adventures here in Switzerland. Knowing more equivalents will lighten my loads too… Zoom in on my suitcases full of this and that ingredient on the TGV back from Paris, or on my transatlantic flights back from NY. Thank you !!

  • I have always chuckled when I see the French sugar, Daddy.

  • Thanks. I’m bookmarking this for future reference and to share with the next crop of newly arrived expats. Your American Baking in Paris post is a link I share frequently. The photos make it extra helpful.

  • We just arrived in Paris in time for Thanksgiving, can anyone tell us if and where we might be able to find light corn syrup for pecan pies or tarts?

  • Erin — welcome to Paris! Last year was my first Thanksgiving here.

    Try substituting Lyle’s Golden Syrup (British, but a pretty close match).

    I used to use cane syrup in the southern US for my pecan pies — a far better, cleaner flavor than corn syrup, and an amazing rum/vanilla flavor, too.

    David — I’ve seen “cane syrup” on the liquor shelf here, in both clear and darker versions…can it be substituted?

  • David — a question for you. Years ago, I learned how to make these delicious yeast-raised waffles. They had these large uneven chunks of sugar in them (maybe 1/3″, slightly off-white), tossed onto the batter right before you close the lid on the waffle iron. The sugar turns into little melty, caramelized pockets during the baking process — totally yummy. I no longer have the recipe and have no idea how to find that sugar. Ever heard of these types of waffles and/or the sugar?

  • Thanks for the very interesting post. You could add the liquid cane sugar that is very useful to make drinks but also all the mousses or espumas.
    FIY, Mr G. Detou might not like it but IKEA sells pearl sugar.

  • Thanks for a very informative post – especially for the American sources for sucre perle! I’ve tried making my own when I make chouquettes (mixing a very little bit of water into a few teaspoons of granulated sugar), and it’s haphazard at best. So glad I won’t have to do that anymore (although it would have been nice to have yet another excuse to go back to France)…

  • Hi, your book is mentioned in Chubby Hubby’s blog in an interview with Bill Granger.

  • Erin: Yes, you can use Golden Syrup, although light corn syrup is available here, inexpensively, in Paris. You can check my posts linked at the end, American Ingredients and When to Use Corn Syrup, above.

    Sunny: That cane syrup is quite thin and is used for preserving fruits (if I’m thinking of the same one you are), and can’t be swapped out.

    Cupcake Queen: I know, was delighted he’s enjoying it!

    Barb, Rachel & Gaelle: That would most likely be the pearl sugar. You can approximate your own by crushing up cubes of coarse sugar in a bag with a rolling pin, but from an ease (and financial) standpoint, you’re better off getting your hands on a bag of real pearl sugar which is available in baking shops and online. And as Gaelle points out, some Ikea stores carry pearl sugar as well.

  • If you are in france but near belgium, you can also find some pearl sugar in any belgium grocery store. it’s way more common in belgium than in france, I don’t know why ( and it’s nearly 40% cheaper too !)
    I used to buy some there, and also some “corrin”, which is heavy dense marmelade of fruits, designed with a lot of sugar, to spray as a filling on shortbread-and-fruit thin tarts and inside double biscuits. it’s funny because both are often eaten in france but NO-ONE use them in their own kitchen, instead of belgium. We just usually buy chouquettes or sugar brioche, or mirtle tarts, or “les sablés à lunettes” (shortbread glasses-like biscuit with jam inside), from the bakers.

  • David-
    Thank you so much for solving the mystery of why, more often than not, my brown sugar doesn’t caramelize…. A fine and very helpful post.

    –haapi

  • Great blog and wonderful recipe ideas. I teach on a few cooking holidays around the world and I will definitely be recommending this blog to my students.

  • Many thanks for this info, David – useful even to us in Australia (I have a recipe which calls for packets of vanilla sugar – now I know what to sub!)

  • Very interesting. You’re missing the sucre candi though.

  • Salut Arnaud: You’re right, although sucri candi isn’t more of a ‘candy’ than a sugar you cook or bake with so it’s not something one would come across in a recipe. I’ve only rarely seen sucri candi sold as grains; it’s rock candy crstallized around sticks, for licking or for swirling in coffee or tea.

  • David,

    I delight in the amount of appreciation that is expressed for your excellent post.
    Your knowledge and research is valuable to us. I don’t take it for granted.

    Linda

  • What a helpful post! I really appreciate all the information you provided. I had just one more question. I’ve come across a couple recipes that call for sanding sugar and haven’t been able to find it anywhere.
    What is it, and is there a reasonable substitute?
    Thanks so much for the post, and by the way I LOVE reading about your life in France. I lived a bit in Aix-en-Provence, Paris and then Lille, and miss France terribly. It isn’t feasible for me to travel there for the time being, and your blog helps with the longing I have to return.

  • Hsin: Sanding sugar is medium-size crystals of non-melting sugar. They’re larger than granulated sugar. You can buy sanding sugar online, and can find it in shops that specialize in baking ingredients. Although since it’s not used much, it may be tough to locate.

    Crystal sugar, even those like the Hawaiian washed sugar mentioned in the post, are good substitutes, although it’s raw so it is brown.

  • We can only get cane sugar here in Australia…I don’t think I have ever seen beet sugar anywhere. I’m not sure if this is because beet sugar is sweeter, or because Americans like sweeter things, but I usually need to drastically reduce the amount of sugar in most American recipes I come across. Apparently, soda made with cane sugar is much sought after in the U.S too, where it’s usually made with high fructose corn syrup.

  • I loved this lesson on sugar! Thanks David! I’ve recently been introduced to coconut palm sugar which is used in some Asian recipes and it’s delicious. I picked up some of the pearl sugar at Grand Epicerie in September. I am excited to make les chouquettes with it!

  • ah! happy to have stumbled upon this blog! this clears it all up for me, thanks!

  • Note to the hungover: don’t add Sucre pour confitures or sucre gélifiant to your reviving coffee. Makes a bad morning worse. Discovered 15 July 2008.

  • I wanted to add in this post that I was in Naturalia in the 19th arr. this past Saturday and I saw dark brown and light brown 100% cane sugar, like the American-style “brown sugar” in the plastic bags with a very soft consistency. It looked just like the C&W brand back in the States (but this was certified organic, too). I am *kicking* myself as I did not think to write down the brand name! I will be shopping again there in a few days and will try to remember to do it. It was located back where the sweeteners are shelved in the store I go to, and where I can also find 100% maple syrup, agave nectar, stevia, and other alternative sweeteners. It was the first time I had ever seen such, other than the sucre vergeoise you mention, which reminds me more of “brown sugar” I used when living in China. The stuff from China was made from sorghum, and was very dark and sticky.

    But this stuff, dark and light in the bags, was just the stuff I would use in the States for cookies and so on calling for brown sugar! It is a recent addition, and I was happy to see it there! We’ll see if it stays on shelves or not…

  • There’s a French/American family in Paris that sells sugar derived from coconuts. It has a low glycemic index and is a cross between cassonade and brown sugar. It’s very tasty and will be certified bio within the next month or so.
    http://www.lamaisonducoco.com

  • Hi Jess: Their sugar looks interesting (as does their coconut molasses!) Will try to get my hands on some. Since they’re Paris-based, will check in my local natural food store.

    I wonder if the sugar is close to palm sugar, which is derived from palm trees and can be found in Asian markets (usually near the Thai foods) and in Indian markets as well.

  • Here is the link to the light brown and dark brown sugar brand I saw in Naturalia: HYGIENA (French language site)

    I decided to make an apple crisp for my boyfriend and his son’s birthdays, which are tomorrow and Monday, and I needed some brown sugar. I got the light kind, which is, in French, sucre de canne – semoule clair. A kilo was 2 € 31.

    I’m thankful to Jess up there, too, for placing the link to low-glycemic coconut sugar in her comment. I try to eat things very low in sugar and to have another alternative is wonderful! I will keep my eyes open for it.

  • Very interesting, thank you! :-) Just a note on vanilin sugar and vanilla sugar, which are actually two different types of sugar (your links to the Dr. Oetker sugars lead to two different products):

    “Sucre vanilliné” or (in German) “Vanillin Zucker” is not real vanilla sugar; it’s sugar infused with artifical vanilla aroma. The taste is distinctly different – sharper, not as subtly deep and rich. For some purposes, I prefer this variety to real vanilla sugar; sometimes it’s ideal to mix both vanilin and vanilla sugar.

    By contrast, “sucre vanillé” or (in German) “Vanille Zucker” is sugar infused with natural vanilla extract. It’s more expensive, darker in color (the artificial variety is usually white), and subtler, deeper and more nuanced in taste.

  • Sylvia: Thanks for pointing out the difference between the two. I don’t use either and prefer to make my own!

  • Oyster Culture referred me to this piece, since I am writing a piece on sugar soon. Glad to know what is available, as I was also disappointed to discover some hidden truths about sugar most are not even aware of…great post!

  • I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have unsuccessfully tried to find dark brown sucre vergeois in order to make authentic speculoos. I did find Soft Belgian Candi Sugar for beer making at https://morebeer.com/view_product/6947//Adjunct_-_Soft_Belgian_Candi_Sugar_Brown1lb

    Do you think this would work? India Tree sells Dark Muscovado, but I believe that is from cane sugar.

    Thanks for the informative post!
    Diane

  • hi Diane: In France, ‘Candi sucre’ is very large crystal sugar; each piece is roughly the size of a kernel of corn (or larger) and isn’t used in baking because it doesn’t melt. The photo at the link doesn’t show the sugar, what they’re calling ‘candi sugar’ in Belgium so I can’t offer advice, but here’s a picture of what they call it in France- Candi sucre.

  • Wonderfully informative post, but what I want to know is WHY I can’t (in the US) buy sugar that is packaged in those neat pourable cardboard milk cartons that they sell in France!?? I **love** those things! I had to buy some and stash it in my bag for the trip home and it’s all gone already!

  • Wonderfully informative post, but what I want to know is WHY I can’t (in the US) buy sugar that is packaged in those neat pourable cardboard milk cartons that they sell in France!?? I **love** those things! I had to buy some and stash it in my bag for the trip home and it’s all gone already!

  • Hi Kelly: C&H makes a #4 easy-pour white sugar in a milk carton, and on the East Coast Domino sells it in a pourable container as well. Perhaps check in a well-stocked supermarket where you live so you can save that luggage space for other things…like French chocolate : )

  • An American in the Cevennes loves your posts! All the questions I want to ask my old chefs are answered here.