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.
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 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.
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.