Turbinado sugar, also known as raw sugar, is a coarse brown sugar that retains some of the natural molasses from the sugar cane. It has a light brown color and consists of large crystals that have a subtle molasses flavor. Turbinado sugar is often used as a replacement for white sugar in recipes, adding both sweetness and texture.
What is Turbinado Sugar?
Turbinado sugar is made from the first pressing of sugar cane and then spun in a centrifuge to remove surface molasses and impurities. It contains more minerals than refined white sugar, including small amounts of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. The large golden crystals provide a delicate crunch and allow more air to incorporate into baked goods. Turbinado sugar has a lower glycemic index than white sugar.
The name “turbinado” comes from the centrifugal machines (turbines) that are used to process the cane juice and raw sugar. These machines spin at high speeds to separate the molasses from the sugar crystals. In comparison to brown sugar, turbinado sugar has less overall molasses content since it comes from the initial pressing. Brown sugar consists of white sugar with added molasses.
Common Names for Turbinado Sugar
Turbinado sugar is known by several other names, including:
- Raw sugar
- Natural brown sugar
- Evaporated cane sugar
- Demerara sugar
- Muscovado sugar
“Raw sugar” refers to the fact that turbinado sugar is less processed than white sugar. It retains more of the natural compounds from the sugar cane juice. “Natural brown sugar” describes its light brown color and origin from sugar cane rather than white sugar with added molasses.
“Evaporated cane sugar” points to the processing method – sugar cane juice is boiled and evaporated to form crystals. Demerara sugar is a variety of raw sugar named after the Demerara region of Guyana. It has large, pale golden crystals like turbinado. Muscovado sugar is an unrefined brown sugar with a strong molasses flavor that is commonly used in the Philippines.
Substituting Turbinado for White Sugar
In most recipes, turbinado sugar can be substituted 1:1 for granulated white sugar. However, there are a few differences to keep in mind when using turbinado in place of white sugar:
- Flavor – turbinado has a slight molasses taste.
- Texture – the large crystals provide crunch.
- Moisture absorption – turbinado retains more moisture.
- Color – turbinado lends a light golden brown color.
Baked goods made with turbinado sugar tend to be moister and chewier in texture. Turbinado works especially well in recipes where you want the sweetener to add flavor and crunch, like cookies, muffins, coffee cakes, and crumbles. For lighter cakes or meringues, white sugar is a better choice since turbinado can make the texture dense or heavy.
Since turbinado absorbs more ambient moisture, you may need to reduce any liquids slightly in a recipe – around 1-2 tablespoons per cup of sugar. Check for doneness earlier, as baked goods made with turbinado often cook faster. The brown sugar hue also gives a rich golden tone to glazes, biscuits, pie crusts, and other desserts.
Nutrition Comparison to White Sugar
One teaspoon of turbinado sugar contains around 16 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrates, similar to white sugar. But since turbinado is less refined, it retains a small amount of the nutrients present in cane juice. One teaspoon provides:
- 0.7 mg Potassium
- 0.5 mg Calcium
- 0.1 mg Magnesium
- 0.1 mg Phosphorus
While the mineral amounts are minimal, turbinado does have a slightly lower glycemic index of 35 compared to 65 for regular table sugar. The molasses content present slows down its absorption in the bloodstream. Turbinado has a slightly higher antioxidant capacity than white sugar.
Using Turbinado Sugar in Drinks
The large crystals and molasses notes of turbinado make it an excellent sweetener for coffee, tea, and cocktails. It adds body and a rich flavor. The crystals will not fully dissolve, leaving a pleasant sweet crunch. Turbinado works well in either hot or cold drinks. Some ways to use it include:
- Sweetening coffee, lattes, and iced coffee
- Sweeten and rim cocktail glasses
- Sweeten iced tea or lemonade
- Blend into smoothies
- Rim glasses for margaritas or mojitos
Keep in mind that the molasses flavor comes through more strongly in liquid applications. For a very clean sweetness, white sugar is a better choice for drinks. But the brown sugar notes of turbinado can complement and enhance certain flavors, like chai tea, tiki drinks, or fall-inspired lattes.
Storing Turbinado Sugar
Turbinado sugar should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Like other sugars, it can absorb moisture and odors from its environment. Stored properly, it will keep for 2-3 years at room temperature. Signs of spoilage include solid clumping, visible mold, or an off odor.
To soften solidified turbinado sugar, place the sealed container in a low oven for a few minutes until the crystals separate. Allow to cool completely before using. For long term storage, consider freezing turbinado sugar to preserve freshness.
Cost Comparison to White Sugar
Turbinado sugar is more expensive than traditional white sugar. On average, it costs about 1.5 to 2 times more per pound. The higher price reflects the lesser degree of processing and the retention of some nutrients from the sugar cane juice. Here is a side-by-side cost comparison of turbinado sugar versus granulated white sugar (based on retail pricing as of November 2023):
|Sugar Type||Average Price Per Pound|
|Granulated White Sugar||$1.89|
As you can see, turbinado sugar runs about $1.40 more per pound than regular white sugar. Cost often comes down to availability – prices are lower when turbinado is readily available at local markets. Purchasing larger bags (5-10 lbs) also helps lower the cost per pound. Couponing or buying turbinado in bulk quantities can improve the savings.
For most home recipes, turbinado works as an equal substitute for white sugar at a moderately higher price point. The extra cost may be worthwhile for its unique flavor, texture, and appealing golden hue. But for large batches of cookies or other recipes needing cups of sweetener, white sugar is likely the more budget-friendly choice.
Popular Brands of Turbinado Sugar
Some top brands producing turbinado sugar include:
- Sugar In The Raw
- Whole Foods 365 Organic Turbinado Sugar
- Trader Joe’s Turbinado Sugar
- Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Turbinado Sugar
- Florida Crystals Natural Turbinado Sugar
- Imperial Sugar Dixie Crystals Turbinado Sugar
“Sugar In The Raw” is one of the most widely available and recognizable turbinado sugar brands. They package it in blue boxes or packets for retail, restaurants, and food service. Many grocery chains offer their own organic turbinado sugar at affordable prices, like Whole Foods’ 365 brand. It can also be found under natural sweetener brands like Wholesome.
Is Turbinado Sugar Healthier Than White Sugar?
While turbinado sugar retains slightly more nutrients, it is only marginally healthier than white sugar. It has nearly the same number of calories and carbohydrates per teaspoon. The difference lies in a lower glycemic index and a small amount of minerals. But one would need to consume extremely high amounts of turbinado to obtain substantial nutrients.
For most people, turbinado offers minimal health advantages over conventional white sugar. Its lower glycemic impact may benefit diabetics, but it is not considered a diabetic-friendly sweetener. As with any sugar, turbinado should be used in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. It provides sensory benefits through its flavor and texture more so than nutritional benefits.
Is Turbinado Sugar Processed?
Yes, turbinado sugar does undergo processing, but less so compared to white sugar. The main steps include:
- Sugar cane stalks are crushed to extract raw cane juice
- The juice is boiled and evaporated to form crystals
- A centrifuge spins the crystals to separate molasses
- Crystals are dried to produce turbinado sugar
The key difference from white sugar processing is skipping the charcoal filtration or bone char bleaching steps. This retains more molasses and minerals from the natural cane juice. But turbinado still undergoes multiple stages of production, including boiling, spinning, and drying. So while it has fewer steps than white sugar, turbinado sugar is still processed to some degree.
Turbinado sugar offers a tasty alternative to traditional white sugar. Its light molasses flavor, golden hue, and large crunchy crystals give it versatility as a sweetener. Turbinado works especially well for brewing coffee, tea, and cocktails or for use in baked goods where texture is a priority. Though only slightly more nutritious than white sugar, it does have a lower glycemic impact. Overall, turbinado sugar brings more benefits in sensory experience than nutrition. While moderately more expensive, it can be an indulgent upgrade over regular refined sugar.