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What is Raw Sugar?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Raw sugar is cane sugar which has been minimally processed. The precise definition varies, depending on who you talk to. Adherents to a raw food diet, for example, may have very specific definitions which involve temperature and handling, while others may view any sort of lightly refined sugar as raw sugar. In all cases, raw sugar is the product of the first stage of the cane sugar refining process, and as a result it has some very distinctive characteristics.

Sugarcane is a type of grass which grows in the tropics. People in India and parts of Asia realized that sugarcane was naturally very sweet thousands of years ago, and they started pressing it for the sweet juice and refining the result. Given that raw sugar requires minimal processing, the raw sugar we consume today is probably very similar to that made in India hundreds of years ago. When Europeans started to explore Asia, one of the first products they were introduced to was sugar, and it proved to be a big hit; it was also one of the first crops established in the Caribbean colonies, demonstrating how readily people took to it.

In order to extract regular table sugar from sugarcane, two steps are required. In the first stage, the raw sugar is extracted from the canes, processed to remove major impurities, and then dried. The dried sugarcane juice can be further refined in a second step, which purifies the sugarcane even further, removing the residual molasses and concentrating the sucrose to turn it into light brown, dark brown, and white sugars.

To make sugar, sugarcane is cut and then run through a press to extract the juice. Once the juice has been extracted, it is boiled and then cooled, allowing it to crystallize. Depending on how it is handled, the sugar may crystallize into a very fine, granular sugar with a high molasses content which can be sold as-is or further refined into brown and white sugars, or it can form large pale golden crystals, which are sold as raw sugar.

Because raw sugar is not heavily refined, it has a higher molasses content than table sugar, which lends the raw sugar a rich, complex flavor. The large granules are also delightfully crunchy, which is why raw sugar is often used as a topping for pastries and various desserts. There are some cautions involved in using raw sugar in cooking, however, as it has a higher moisture content than regular sugar, and this can throw delicate recipes off. It can also dry out, causing it to harden; keeping raw sugar in an airtight container is highly advised.

Some well known examples of raw sugar include demerara sugar and turbinado sugar. Products like Rapadura and Sucanat™ are also made from raw sugar.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon300770 — On Oct 31, 2012

Please note that sugar from cane or beet is completely different then corn sugar, fructose corn sugar or syrup. I advise you to research the latter.

By anon284231 — On Aug 09, 2012

Generally, how much is the sucrose content in the raw sugar?

By anon280594 — On Jul 18, 2012

@anon170047: All forms of table sugar are sucrose, raw or refined -- it is still the same thing.

By anon170047 — On Apr 24, 2011

My daughter is sucrose and fructose intolerant. Is the raw sugar sucrose? and if so is it any better than refined white sugar?

By anon125624 — On Nov 10, 2010

can sugar made from other than sugarcane?

By anon125623 — On Nov 10, 2010

can sugar be made from rice? if yes, please tell the process.

By anon120707 — On Oct 21, 2010

The CRA, Corn Refiner's Association, is a self-serving group that is trying to tell us that sugar is good for us. It is not and it contributes to obesity. It rots teeth and has no nutritional value. High fructose corn syrup is said to be metabolized differently and causes other sugars to be metabolized and converted directly to fat.

I thought that this website was free of political influence. Obviously it is not. That makes everything about this website suspicious.

By anon105371 — On Aug 20, 2010

Is caster sugar the same as raw sugar?

By anon82206 — On May 05, 2010

"I have a recipe calling for raw sugar, but I only have refined. What is the conversion, it calls for 2 tablespoons raw, so how much refined should I use?"

1.98 tbs aprox. and you probably need to increase your water by 0,4 tbs :-)

By anon73581 — On Mar 28, 2010

Does anyone have or know where to get a conversion chart for white sugar to raw sugar? Thank you!

By anon49598 — On Oct 21, 2009

I have a recipe calling for raw sugar, but I only have refined. What is the conversion, it calls for 2 tablespoons raw, so how much refined should I use?

By anon48350 — On Oct 12, 2009

No. Raw sugar is the first useable product from the initial sugar syrup. Brown sugar is just refined white sugar with a small amount of molasses added back in to give it color. Nutritionally, it's pretty much exactly the same as white sugar.

By anon42667 — On Aug 23, 2009

is raw sugar the same as brown sugar?

By anon26282 — On Feb 11, 2009

I would like to ask why raw sugar that was packed in a sack w/ plastic liner became wet and now has a foul odor?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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