What is Turbinado Sugar?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Turbinado sugar is a sugar cane-based, minimally refined sugar. It is medium brown in color and has large crystals. It's often mistaken for traditional brown sugar because of its light brown color, but it's made in a different way. Many people consider it to be healthier than both white and brown sugars, since it is generally less processed and refined.

Turbinado sugar.
Turbinado sugar.

Uses and Storage

Recipes that call for turbinado sugar tend to use it as a replacement for traditional brown sugar. It contains more moisture than regular white or brown sugars, which can be beneficial in things like cookies or muffins. In contrast, one should not replace table sugar with turbinado in recipes that already have several ingredients providing moisture, to avoid making the end product soggy. It is sometimes possible to use turbinado sugar in recipes like these by reducing the amount of another moisturizing ingredient or using less sugar than is called for, but it may take some experimentation to get the final product to come out correctly.

Turbinado sugar is made with sugar cane.
Turbinado sugar is made with sugar cane.

Turbinado sugar is a popular topping for cinnamon cookies and toast, and is commonly used in graham cracker piecrusts. Chefs may also use it on creme caramel, since it melts and caramelizes well. Given its higher moisture content, it can harden if exposed to too much air. Manufacturers recommend storing it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.


Turbinado sugar is made by taking the first pressing of juice from sugar cane and slowly heating it to evaporate the water out of it. This causes it to crystallize. To complete the drying process, the crystals are then spun in turbines or centrifuges. In contrast, white sugar is often much more heavily processed, and is generally made white by using a decolorizing filter like bone char to remove its natural color. Likewise, much brown sugar is actually white sugar with molasses added back into it to color it.

Health Benefits

Some believe that turbinado sugar is a healthier alternative to other sweeteners because it undergoes less processing, and so retains more of the nutrients found in sugar cane juice. In addition, its method of production makes it suitable for vegans, since no animal byproducts are used. A teaspoon (about 4 grams) contains about a fair amount of calcium and potassium in addition to a negligible amount of iron. A cup (250 g) of this sweetener also contains magnesium, phosphorus, and sodium.

Similar Products

Other products that are similar to turbinado sugar include demerara and muscovado sugar. Both are unrefined and lightly processed, but demerara is much lighter in color than muscovado, and slightly less moist. All three can generally be substituted for each other in recipes, although muscovado has a lot of moisture and a very strong flavor, and so can sometimes be used in smaller amounts to achieve the desired effect. If going the other way, from turbinado or demerara to muscovado, then cooks need to add a little bit of molasses to the sugar to make it moist enough.

Because demerara sugar is unrefined, it has a molasses-like flavor that can enhance cookies and other baked goods.
Because demerara sugar is unrefined, it has a molasses-like flavor that can enhance cookies and other baked goods.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Wow. I was enlightened by these posts. Please start a fb group so we can keep the discussion going


So why is the Turbinado sugar, "Raw Sugar" so much more expensive than refined sugar? Does it all come from Hawaii?


I use regular sugar and Splenda, switching off of both for turbinado.


@anon308888, Post 28: When nutritional civilians (a.k.a.: most people) refer to sugar, they mean white, refined sugar, not sugars. There are people who remember a little of chemistry and confuse the term "sugars" as used in the biochemical context with table sugar.

Thus, "we need sugars to survive, so we actually need sugar" is just nonsense. Refined sugar will kill you.

I am a member of one of the groups most affected by the history of the sugar industrial complex. I would much rather we had an illogical fear of anything termed sugar than the current passive addiction to it.


Turbinado sugar is great for use in a BBQ rub. It really helps bring out the color in your BBQ also.


Anon 86502 has it right: The sucrose content is statistically the same, so it has the same effect on the body as regular sugar. Anon 171681 is only partially right about what the liver does. It's not just sugar but most carbs that will become fatty acids once the liver becomes saturated with carbs. Excessive carb consumption, particularly of grains/cereal, pasta, bread and potatoes, has a devastating effect on alanine aminotransferase, one of the liver enzymes, and causes many people to start not only getting fatty livers, but then gaining significant weight.

Protein does not affect ALT. Fat does not affect ALT. Calorie intake does not affect ALT. Carbs do affect it.

Worse, elevated ALT levels turn the liver into mush, a.k.a. liver derangement syndrome.

This is why chronic, excess alcohol use causes so much damage to the liver. It's not the intoxicating factors that do it, but that alcohol is a simple sugar and the liver is overwhelmed when trying to process it.


For those of you saying sugar is killer, give me a break. What do you think your body breaks vegetable and fruits down into? Sugar! Your body has three fuel sources: sugar, fat and protein. Sugar is the most easily used by your body and should be the main source of energy. The important detail isn't to avoid sugar, but to limit simple carbohydrates.

Simple carbs are ones that generally digest fast, like table sugar. Avoid processed garbage like white bread, pasta and sugar. Limit drinks to which you add sugar. Stick to water for the most part.

A teaspoon of raw and organic sugar in your coffee won't kill you. Large amounts of of it all day every day, coupled with genetically modified organisms and chemicals, which are found throughout the food industry, will kill you.


I bought organic turbinado raw cane sugar at Trader Joe. As far as calories go it has the same amount of calories as regular white sugar. 1tsp (4 grams) has 15 calories. It is suggested that it be used in the same amounts as white sugar.


@anon183952: I recently found on on a BBQ forum that people do use this in BBQ rubs because it doesn't burn up like white or brown sugar. Maybe because it has more moisture?

That's my ribs that turned too black. I think next time I'll try turbinado!


Can it be used in BBQ rubs?


Your liver processes refined sugar. The important elements for natural digestion are stripped from refined sugar through the refining process. Without the extra pieces, the sugar will be processed by your liver and turned into fatty acids and absorbed by the liver. Once your liver is as fat as it can get it will deposit the fatty acids in your "spare tires" and butt.

Switch or cut out added sugar entirely. You will thank yourself. For more info check out the Times article: "Is Sugar Toxic". (it is)


It's simply brown raw sugar. It's only called Turbinado after the centrifuges/turbines that are used in the process. If you want to make softer cookies, use normal brown sugar and add a spoon of molasses.


Firstly Turbinado sugar is processed earlier in the cane-sugar process and contains about 25 percent fewer calories. This alone should reduce (somewhat) the impact on glucose (blood sugar) and insulin production in the body (a good thing). Only 11 calories per tsp.

Furthermore, Turbinado sugar still contains molasses; a great tasting addition to coffee or baked goods.

I see no downside to using Turbinado sugar and if one is diabetic or sugar sensitive, I suggest using half and half mixture (or all) Xylitol (all natural sweetener) having 40 percent fewer calories and 70 percent fewer carbohydrates than sugar. Xylitol is also a health benefit, as it is antimicrobial (kills bad germs) and has essentially no effect on body insulin or glucose.


I've read that RAW sugar contains trace minerals including chromium which helps the body properly use the sugar. These trace minerals are processed out of refined white sugar. The inclusion of chromium may be the reason that a diabetic recipe calls for raw or turbinado sugar. I've also read that, teaspoon for teaspoon, raw sugar has a few less calories than refined white sugar.


Sugar is a killer. Look for alternatives or avoid it all together. Stay away from carbs too - they turn into sugar in the body. Get all you need from meat and vegetables, but not white vegetables.

Read Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes.


I found turbinado sugar at Costco. I am anxious to try it in my recipes.


One of my diabetes cook books calls for turbinado sugar. If sugar is sugar, why would they suggest turbinado sugar in a diabetic recipe book?


You can find Turbinado sugar at Wal-Mart of all places lol. It is a dark brown 500g cylinder labeled 'Sugar in the Raw', as mentioned earlier. The circle stamp next to this title says Turbinado.


Are turbinado sugar and demerara sugar the same thing?


"Raw" sugar is still 95-97 percent pure sucrose, as it still has to be refined for sale in the US, so the effect on blood sugar will be virtually the same as refined white table sugar, which is 99 percent pure sucrose.

The real reason to use this (besides the textural benefits in baking) is if you have environmental concerns. Sixty percent of sugar comes from cane; conventional sugar cane harvesting can be devastating on the local environment. The other 40 percent of sugar comes from sugar beets, of which 100 percent are grown from genetically modified seeds.

In terms of your health, it really doesn't make a difference.


You can find this sugar in most US grocery stores under the name "Sugar in the Raw"- a brown box usually set along side the other boxed sugars and the bagged brown and powdered sugars. There is also the Demerara version of sugar usually seen as "Florida Crystals" in bag or plastic jug type container in the same area.


Now I know what turbinado sugar is, but can you tell me where to find it?


I use the turbinado sugar in cookie recipes as I find it gives the baked cookie a more soft, crumbly texture. One must balance this convenience off against its greater expense.


What effect does it have on one's blood sugar? Same as regular refined sugar??


It's good to put Turbinado sugar with hot water to melt it..stir into your homemade pitcher of Tea. Helps to disolve it easier.I keep it in an air tight container then in the freezer.If this isn't good, please let me know? I put flour, cornmeal..etc. in the freezer.Also great to keep bugs/ants away.


what are the differences between pure sucrose and turbinado?


it goes great in smoothies also.


Very interesting. This sugar is a very attractive substitute when rimming glasses for cocktails.


I first encountered this sugar on the island of Vita Levu, Fiji in 1943. This was the only sugar on the table at the Naval Air Base. We just called it "raw sugar." Very informative article!


Turbinado sugar is definitely beautiful to use on baked goods, have out for tea, etc. It doesn't dissolve as well in beverages like tea and coffee because the crystals are so much larger, but it makes up for it by its taste and appearance.

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