What's the difference between white sugar and (pure) refined sugar and which one is better for baking?
These are technical terms that are meaningful only in the original Thai. The English translations are meaningless and have no relevance to cooking.
So you should say 'น้ำตาลทรายขาว' ('white sugar') and 'น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ' ('refined sugar')
น้ำตาลทรายขาว is further divided into 3 classes.
This results in 4 grades:
- น้ำตาลทรายขาว grade 3 99.0% sucrose by ISS standard, 0.2% max reducing sugars
- น้ำตาลทรายขาว grade 2 99.5%, 0.1% max reducing sugars
- น้ำตาลทรายขาว grade 1 99.5%, 0.1% max reducing sugars
- น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ 99.8%, 0.04% max reducing sugars
Max humidity and conductivity ash each then then 0.1% for น้ำตาลทรายขาว, and 0.04% for น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ.
These numbers are almost certainly useless to the cook.
The FAO has more useful standard names:
- white sugar - 99.7% pure sucrose
- Plantation or mill white sugar - 99.5% pure sucrose
- icing sugar - white sugar which has been finely powdered
- soft white sugar - Fine grain purified moist sugar, white in colour with a sucrose plus invert sugar content of not less than 97.0%
- Soft brown sugar Fine grain purified moist sugar, light to dark brown in colour with a sucrose plus invert sugar content of not less than 88.0% m/m
- Raw cane sugar Partially purified sucrose, which is crystallised from partially purified cane juice, without further purification, but which does not preclude centrifugation or drying, and which is characterised by sucrose crystals covered with a film of cane molasses.
Both น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ and น้ำตาลทรายขาว are in fact highly refined.
Tesco Lotus charges 22THB for น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ and 21THB for น้ำตาลทรายขาว
However if you refer to
น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ this is 22THB/kg
and this is 34THB/kg
I believe that legally this is also 'น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ' under Thai classification
Caster sugar may also be referred to as 'superfine' sugar. This is quite different from powdered/icing sugar as it is a process of making small crystals, not of grinding sugar to a powder. The smaller crystal size makes it very good for baking as it blends with butter etc. more easily than larger crystals.
Highly refined sugars as all those mentioned here are not necessarily good in that there are lots of flavours in sugar cane (all Thai sugar is obviously cane sugar), and personally I prefer to make for example banana bread (which is cake, not bread) using completely unrefined aren sugar made from arenga pinnata, which is around 0.5% ash, typically slightly fermented, and contains numerous impurities. The taste of the cake is far better than using highly refined sucrose. I'd probably use dark brown sugar if it were cheaper, but where I live aren is the cheapest so I use that.
In Thailand, Indonesia and probably quite a few other neighbouring countries sugar prices are highly regulated, and the terms น้ำตาลทรายขาว and น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ are likely to reflect political issues both as a key grower and exporter, but also consumer prices. Unregulated sugars for rich consumers could be much more expensive.
It does follow that น้ำตาลทรายขาวบรสิทธุ is slightly higher quality than น้ำตาลทรายขาว, in that the goal of both is simply to be pure sucrose (which actually varies slightly because cane sugar and beet sugar, due to different carbon isotopes), and if you were to choose only one, you might as well have the one with the smallest crystals and highest purity (in that order). But the purity is much less important than crystal size.
Interestingly Tesco don’t seem to have any white sugar under their own label in UK stores.
They sell a white British beet sugar and a white cane sugar under the brands ‘Silver Spoon’ and ‘Trade Aid UK’ respectively, but as both of the packets you show are illustrated with sugar canes that is unlikely to be the distinction here.
In the UK market white sugar comes in three types by grain size: ‘granulated’, ‘caster’ and ‘icing’.
Of those, ‘caster’ is generally recommended
Caster sugar has more finely ground crystals than granulated sugar, which means that it can dissolve faster than granulated sugar in creamed mixtures, whips, and more. Caster sugar is often called for in recipes for delicate baked goods like meringues, souffles, and sponge cakes.
Because of its ability to dissolve easily, caster sugar is also frequently used for sweetening drinks. Many bartenders use caster sugar in place of simple syrup when making cocktails. Source
There is not enough detail in your images for us to tell if grain size is the difference between these two sugars, but if it is, the smaller would be better for baking. Remember however that if you are measuring by volume rather than weight, you may need to adjust as finer granules will pack tighter.
Tesco in the UK are usually quite good at answering customer’s queries via Twitter or email and should be able to answer more definitively.