Demerara sugar is a type of unrefined sugar with a large grain and a pale to golden yellow color. It is suitable for a number of cooking and baking projects, and tends to be very popular as a sweetener for tea and coffee. Many grocers stock demerara sugar along with other specialty sugars, often in small packages for consumers who simply want to experiment with it. It is also ubiquitous in coffee houses, often in single serving packets along with other sweeteners.
The sugar is named after a once-colonized area in the now-independent country of Guyana, which first began producing and selling the sugar in large volume. The bulk of demerara production now takes place on the island of Mauritius, but the name appears to have endured. It is extracted primarily from sugar cane, rather than sugar beets, and tends to be more expensive than refined sugars as a result. The minimal processing gives demerara sugar a unique flavor and texture.
To make demerara sugar, sugar producers press sugar cane and steam the juice of the first pressing to form thick cane syrup. The cane syrup is allowed to dehydrate, leaving behind large golden brown crystals of sugar. Demerara sugar is not refined, so it has a rich, creamy, molasses-like flavor which enhances baked goods. The large grains also remain crunchy through cooking, which makes demerara sugar a great choice of sprinkled topping on scones and similar dishes which might otherwise have a uniform texture.
Another version of the sugar, known as London demerara, is actually refined sugar with added molasses, rather than raw sugar. London demerara retains the crunchy, big grain of demerara sugar, but the flavor tends to be less complex, and it is not always safe for vegetarians, since bone meal is sometimes used in the refining process.
Although demerara makes an excellent textural addition to recipes, it should not substitute for certain sugars. Recipes which call for confectioner's or caster sugar should not be made with demerara, since the sugar will have a negative impact on the end texture. In addition, the sugar will discolor meringues and other pale, fine foods, and it tends not to make terribly good caramels. If a more molasses-like flavor is desired in baked goods without the crunch of demerara sugar, pure molasses can always be added to a recipe, as long as cooks remember to cut down on the sugar so that the dish will not be too sweet.