Turbinado sugar has a golden-brown color and consists of large crystals.
It is available in supermarkets and natural foods stores, and some coffee shops provide it in single-serve packets.
You may wonder if this rustic-looking sugar is better for you and can replace white sugar.
This article explains what turbinado sugar is and how to use it.
Turbinado sugar is partially refined sugar that retains some of the original molasses, giving it a subtle caramel flavor.
It’s made from sugarcane — a non-genetically modified crop, some of which is organically grown.
Sometimes, turbinado sugar is called raw sugar — a marketing term implying that it’s minimally processed. However, despite this name, the sugar is not really “raw.”
According to the FDA, the initial stages of sugar processing yield raw sugar, but raw sugar isn’t suitable for consumption as it’s contaminated with soil and other impurities. Turbinado sugar has been cleaned of this debris and is further refined, meaning that it isn’t raw (1).
Another reason that turbinado sugar isn’t raw, is that the production includes boiling sugarcane juice to thicken and crystalize it.
Notably, turbinado sugar comes with a higher price tag than white sugar — generally costing two to three times more.
Summary Turbinado sugar is partially refined sugar that retains some of the original molasses from the sugarcane and has a subtle caramel flavor. It may cost up to three times as much as white sugar.
White sugar and turbinado sugar each have 16 calories and 4 grams of carbs per teaspoon (about 4 grams) but no fiber ().
Turbinado sugar contains trace amounts of calcium and iron, but you won’t even get 1% of your reference daily intake (RDI) for these minerals per teaspoon (, 3).
It also provides antioxidants from the molasses left behind during processing — but the amounts are relatively small ().
For example, you would have to eat 5 cups (1,025 grams) of turbinado sugar to get the same amount of antioxidants as in a 2/3 cup (100 grams) of blueberries (, ).
Health organizations advise limiting your intake of added sugars to 10% or less of your daily calories — which equals 12.5 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar if you need 2,000 calories a day. However, the less sugar you eat, the better ().
A higher intake of added sugars is linked to negative health effects, such as an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and worsening memory — not to mention its role in promoting tooth decay (, , ).
Therefore, consider turbinado sugar a flavor enhancer to use occasionally in small amounts, rather than a source of nutrition.
Summary Turbinado sugar matches white sugar for calories and carbs. The small amounts of minerals and antioxidants it provides are relatively insignificant. Like other types of sugar, it’s best used only in small amounts.
Sugar goes through many processing steps.
This includes pressing juice from the sugarcane, which is boiled in large steam evaporators to form crystals and spun in a turbine to remove liquid molasses ().
Whereas white sugar has virtually all of the molasses removed and goes through further refining to remove traces of color, only molasses on the surface of turbinado sugar crystals is removed. This generally leaves less than 3.5% molasses by weight.
In contrast, brown sugar is typically made by adding molasses in precise amounts to white sugar. Light brown sugar contains 3.5% molasses, while dark brown sugar has 6.5% molasses ().
Both types of brown sugar are moister than turbinado sugar due to the additional molasses and have smaller crystals ().
Two other types of brown sugars are demerara and muscovado, which are minimally refined and retain some of the original molasses.
Demerara sugar has crystals that are larger and lighter in color than turbinado sugar. It generally contains 1–2% molasses.
Muscovado sugar is very dark brown and has fine, soft crystals that are sticky. It contains 8–10% molasses, giving it a stronger flavor.
Summary Brown sugars — including turbinado, demerara, muscovado, and light and dark brown sugar — vary in their degree of processing, content of molasses, and the crystal size.
You can use turbinado sugar for general sweetening purposes, but it is an especially useful topping for foods, as the large crystals hold up well under heat.
Turbinado sugar works well to:
- Top hot cereals, such as oatmeal and cream of wheat.
- Sprinkle on whole-grain muffins, scones, and quick bread.
- Mix in a dry spice rub for smoking or grilling meat or poultry.
- Sprinkle on baked sweet potatoes or roasted carrots and beets.
- Make candied nuts, such as pecans and almonds.
- Dress up baked fruit, such as pear, apple, or peach halves.
- Mix into a graham cracker pie crust.
- Decorate the tops of pies, apple crisp, and crème brûlée.
- Sprinkle on top of whole-wheat sugar cookies for a natural look.
- Mix with cinnamon and use on whole-grain toast.
- Sweeten coffee, tea, or other hot beverages.
- Make a natural body scrub or face exfoliant.
You can buy turbinado sugar in bulk, in single-serve packets, and as sugar cubes. Store it in an airtight container to prevent it from hardening.
Summary Turbinado sugar is commonly used to top hot cereals, baked goods, and desserts since the large crystals hold up well to heat. It’s also a popular hot beverage sweetener.
Though you can generally substitute an equal amount of turbinado sugar for white sugar in recipes, each lends itself to certain applications.
For example, if you want a pristine white color and smooth texture — such as in whipped cream — or if you’re making a citrus flavored dessert — such as lemon pie — white sugar is the better choice.
On the other hand, the slight molasses flavor of turbinado sugar works well in bran muffins, apple pie, and barbecue sauce.
Notably, the larger crystals of turbinado sugar don’t dissolve as well as smaller white sugar crystals. Therefore, it may not work as well in some baked goods.
A test kitchen experiment found that turbinado sugar easily replaced white sugar in baked goods made with moist, pourable batters, such as cake. However, it didn’t work as well in drier mixtures, such as for cookies, since the sugar didn’t dissolve as well.
You may also use turbinado sugar in place of other brown sugars and vice versa. Here are a few tips for substitution:
- To make a turbinado sugar substitute: Blend half brown sugar and half white sugar to replace the full amount of turbinado sugar.
- To replace brown sugar with turbinado: Adjust the recipe to add moisture, such as with honey or applesauce — otherwise, your baked goods may become dry.
- To use demerara in place of turbinado sugar and vice versa: You can generally substitute one for the other in recipes without making special adjustments since these are similar in texture and flavor.
- To replace muscovado with turbinado (or demerara) sugar: Add a small amount of molasses to turbinado sugar to replicate the flavor and moistness of muscovado sugar.
Summary You can generally replace white sugar in a recipe with turbinado, though it may slightly alter the color, flavor, and texture of the final product. Using turbinado sugar in place of other brown-colored sugars may require adjustments for moisture.
Turbinado sugar is a less processed option than white sugar that retains small amounts of molasses.
However, it does not contribute significant nutritional value and is rather expensive.
Though it can be a flavorful ingredient, sweetener, or topping, it’s best used in moderation – like all types of sugar.