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.
What is Turbinado Sugar?
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.
Turbinado Sugar Uses and Storage
Recipes that call for turbinado sugar tend to avoid using it as a replacement for traditional brown sugar. It contains more moisture than regular white or brown sugars, which can be detrimental in recipes for cookies or muffins. 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 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.
If you choose to mix turbinado sugar into baked goods, the texture of the sweetener will give the baked item a crunchy texture. Because of its coarse texture, turbinado sugar typically isn’t a good substitute for brown sugar or white sugar in recipes, but there are other uses for the sweetener.
Turbinado sugar is a popular topping for cinnamon cookies and toast, and is commonly used in graham cracker pie crusts. Chefs may also use it on creme caramel, since it caramelizes well. Turbinado sugar can also add a crunchy texture to the tops of muffins or loaves of bread. Turbinado sugar also makes a great addition to spice rubs or mixed into toppings of crumbles for fruit tarts or fruit desserts. You can also sprinkle turbinado sugar onto your lattes and coffee drinks for a bit of texture and sweetness. Given its higher moisture content, turbinado sugar can harden if exposed to too much air. Manufacturers recommend storing it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
Can You Substitute Turbinado Sugar for Brown Sugar?
Because the process to make turbinado sugar results in the crystallization of the sweetener, the texture of turbinado sugar is rough compared to other sugars. Brown sugar is often used in baked goods and recipes that require a smooth texture, like cakes or muffins. Turbinado sugar typically doesn’t melt well into baked goods and will leave you with small, crunchy bits throughout your cakes or cookies. Because of turbinado sugar’s texture, it won’t typically make a suitable substitute for brown sugar in recipes. Again, turbinado sugar is better suited as a topping for certain baked goods. Turbinado sugar’s crunchy texture lends itself well to a crunchy topping to desserts like banana bread or blueberry muffins.
Is Turbinado Sugar the Same as Raw Sugar?
Turbinado sugar is often referred to as raw sugar. Turbinado sugar goes through minimal processing and maintains some molasses through the refining process, unlike white table sugar. Turbinado sugar is often referred to as raw sugar, though this is somewhat misleading. Turbinado sugar has to be refined enough to remove impurities and inedible substances that could be harmful, like soil. So while turbinado sugar is often called raw sugar, it goes through a refinement process, like other sugars, and therefore isn’t exactly in a raw state.
Is Turbinado Sugar Healthy?
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.
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.
Where to Buy Turbinado Sugar
Turbinado sugar can typically be found in most grocery stores alongside other sweeteners like white sugar, powdered sugar, or agave sweeteners. Because of recent shifts toward organic, healthy eating, foods that are minimally processed are becoming more prevalent and easily accessible. Turbinado sugar can be found in the aisles of your local grocery store, but it can also be found online. Several companies produce varying sizes and varieties of turbinado sugar online. Some turbinado products can be purchased in large plastic containers with airtight lids for easy storage, and some turbinado products come in small individual packets. This variety allows you to choose a form of turbinado sugar that best serves you and your needs.
My Favorite Turbinado Sugars
Here are a few of my top picks that you can get online: