Muscovado sugar is unrefined cane sugar that contains natural molasses. It has a rich brown color, moist texture, and toffee-like taste.
It’s commonly used to give confections like cookies, cakes, and candies a deeper flavor but can also be added to savory dishes.
Often considered an artisanal sugar, muscovado sugar is made with more labor-intensive methods than commercial white or brown sugar.
This article reviews muscovado sugar, including how it differs from other types of sugar, how to use it, and which sugars make the best substitutes.
What is muscovado sugar?
Muscovado sugar — also called Barbados sugar, khandsari, or khand — is one of the least refined sugars available.
It’s made by extracting the juice of sugar cane, adding lime, cooking the mix to evaporate the liquid, and then cooling it to form sugar crystals.
The brown syrupy liquid (molasses) created during cooking remains in the final product, resulting in a moist, dark brown sugar that has the texture of wet sand.
The high molasses content also gives the sugar a complex flavor — with hints of toffee and a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Some companies that produce muscovado remove a small amount of the molasses to also create a light variety.
Muscovado is often called an artisanal sugar, as the production methods are relatively low tech and labor intensive. The number one producer of muscovado is India (
According to muscovado nutrition labels, it has the same number of calories as regular sugar — about 4 calories per gram — but also provides trace amounts of minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron due to its molasses content (2).
While these few minerals and antioxidants make muscovado slightly more nutritious than refined white sugar, it’s still sugar and should be limited for optimal health (
Eating too many added sugars has been linked to the development of heart disease and diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and 37.5 grams per day for men (
However, some researchers argue that since many people consume white sugar in large amounts, replacing it with a natural brown sugar like muscovado could improve the nutrient content of their diet (3,
Muscovado sugar is a natural form of sugar made by evaporating the liquid from cane juice without removing the molasses. It has a dark brown color and contains small amounts of minerals and antioxidants.
How it differs from other types of sugar
Here’s how muscovado sugar compares with other types of commonly used sugars.
Granulated sugar — also known as table or white sugar — is what most people think of when they hear the word “sugar.”
This is the type of sugar most commonly found in sugar packets and used in baking.
White sugar is made like muscovado sugar, except that machines are used to speed its production, and the molasses is completely removed by spinning the sugar in a centrifuge (11).
The result is a clump-resistant white sugar with a texture similar to that of dry sand.
Since it contains no molasses, granulated sugar has a neutral sweet taste and no color. It does not contain minerals, making it less nutritious than muscovado sugar (
Unlike muscovado sugar, granulated sugar can be made from either sugar cane or sugar beets. You can determine the source by reading the ingredient section of the nutrition label.
Brown sugar is simply white sugar with molasses added back in after processing.
Light brown sugar contains a small amount of molasses, while dark brown sugar provides more. Still, the amount of molasses is usually less than that of muscovado sugar.
Like muscovado sugar, brown sugar has the texture of moist sand — but a milder caramel-like taste.
Turbinado and demerara sugar
Both have large, light brown crystals and a dryer texture than muscovado sugar.
These coarse sugars are most often used to sweeten warm beverages like coffee or tea, or sprinkled on top of baked goods for extra texture and sweetness.
Jaggery, rapadura, panela, kokuto, and Sucanat
Sucanat is a brand name of unrefined cane sugar that stands for “sugar cane natural” (
Production methods can vary between manufacturers. For example, panela is often sold in solid blocks, while rapadura is frequently sifted through a sieve to create a loose, grainy sugar.
Out of all the sugars listed above, these five are the most similar to muscovado.
Muscovado is most similar to other minimally refined cane sugars like jaggery, rapadura, panela, kokuto, and Sucanat.
The rich toffee-like flavor and burnt undertones of muscovado pair well with darker baked goods and savory dishes.
Some popular uses for muscovado sugar include:
- Barbeque sauce. Use muscovado sugar instead of brown sugar to enhance the smoky flavor.
- Chocolate baked goods. Use muscovado in brownies or chocolate cookies.
- Coffee. Stir it into hot coffee for a complex sweetness that pairs well with the beverage’s bitter taste.
- Gingerbread. Swap brown sugar with muscovado to create an even stronger molasses flavor.
- Glazes. Muscovado adds a wonderful toffee flavor to glazes used on meats.
- Ice cream. Use muscovado sugar to create a bittersweet caramelized taste.
- Marinades. Mix muscovado sugar with olive oil, acid, herbs, and spices to marinate meat before grilling or roasting.
- Oatmeal. Sprinkle it on warm oatmeal with nuts and fruit for a rich flavor.
- Popcorn. Toss warm popcorn with butter or coconut oil and muscovado for a salty-smoky-sweet treat.
- Salad dressing. Use muscovado sugar to add a caramel-like sweetness to dressings.
- Toffee or caramel. Muscovado creates deep molasses-flavored confections.
Muscovado sugar should be stored in an airtight container to reduce moisture loss. If it becomes hardened, place a damp paper towel over it for a night, and it will soften.
Muscovado sugar has a high molasses content, so it lends a toffee-like flavor to both savory and sweet dishes.
Since muscovado sugar is an unrefined brown sugar, the best substitutes are jaggery, panela, rapadela, kokuto, or Sucanat. They can be substituted in equal amounts.
The next best substitute would be dark brown sugar. However, it has a finer texture, lower molasses content, and milder taste.
In a pinch, you could mix 1 cup (200 grams) of white sugar with 2 tablespoons (40 grams) of molasses for a homemade substitute as well.
Granulated white sugar is the worst substitute, as it doesn’t contain molasses.
Other unrefined cane sugars make the best substitutes for muscovado sugar. Brown sugar is the next best option, either store bought or homemade.
The bottom line
Muscovado sugar — also called Barbados sugar, khandsari, or khand — is unrefined cane sugar that still contains molasses, giving it a dark brown color and texture similar to that of wet sand.
It’s most similar to other unrefined cane sugars like jaggery and panela, but brown sugar can be used as a substitute as well.
Muscovado adds a dark caramel flavor to baked goods, marinades, glazes, and even warm beverages like coffee. While less refined than white sugar, muscovado should be consumed in moderation to minimize your added sugar intake.