demerara vs. turbinado sugars: similarities and differences

demerara vs. turbinado
Demerara and turbinado sugars are similar, but with two differences — demerara sugar crystals are slightly larger than turbinado sugar crystals, and demerara is stickier than turbinado. However, both are great as toppings for baking recipes and creating syrups for cocktails.

What is demerara sugar?

Demerara sugar is a cane sugar that is light tan. It is a brown sugar type with a mild caramel and toffee flavor. This type of sugar has been crystalized only once, unlike white sugar, which is crystalized twice. The traditional way to make demerara sugar is to chop sugar cane into pieces, extract the juices, and boil the liquid to form molasses.

The syrup is crystallized with seed crystals and a centrifuge to separate the crystals from the molasses. It’s then filtered to ensure the crystals have the same coarseness. Demerara sugar feels slightly sticky to the touch due to trace amounts of molasses.

This sugar originated in the Colony of Demerara, known today as the Republic of Guyana. England has been utilizing this sugar since the 19th century.

What is turbinado sugar?

Turbinado sugar is a type of brown sugar that has a larger surface area than most granulated sugars. Turbinado sugar is golden-brown and has a subtle caramel flavor.

Turbinado sugar is made by pressing sugar cane to extract the juice. The sugar cane juices are evaporated, leaving behind large sugar crystals. It is then spun in a centrifuge, or turbine, which separates more liquid and molasses from the sugar. Turbinado sugar retains some natural molasses from the sugar cane juice, making it moist and flavorful.

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Turbinado sugar got its name from the Spanish word “turbina,” which means the centrifugal process of making sugar. Although turbinado sugar does not have a specific place of origin, most historians believe that it originated in the Americas sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries.

What are the differences between demerara and turbinado sugars?

Demerara Sugar vs. Turbinado Sugar
Demerara Sugar vs. Turbinado Sugar
Demerara Has slightly larger crystals, has more of a toffee-caramel flavor
Turbinado Sugar crystals are slightly but noticeably finer, has a stronger molasses flavor

Demerara and turbinado sugars are “raw sugars” that look similar because of their light brown colors. The main difference between them is that turbinado sugar crystals are slightly but noticeably finer than demerara sugar crystals due to the differences in how the sugars are made.

While both sugars have bigger granules than standard white or brown sugars, demerara has slightly larger crystals, giving it a more distinct crunch.

Another difference between these two sugars is in taste. Turbinado sugar has a stronger molasses flavor compared to demerara sugar. Demerara has slightly less molasses content, and because of this, it has more of a toffee-caramel flavor.

An additional difference between turbinado and demerara sugar is its texture. Demerara sugar is stickier than turbinado sugar.

demerara and turbinado compared to other sugars

Demerara and turbinado compared to other sugars
Demerara and turbinado compared to other sugars
DemeraraTurbinadoWhite granulated sugarBrown sugar
Less processed than white and brown sugarLess processed than white granulated sugarHas fine crystalsFiner than demerara
Has molasses flavorHas a butterscotch flavorHas no molasses content, tastes sweetHas delicate and light flavor

Demerara sugar is less processed than white granulated sugar. It has trace amounts of minerals and vitamins. Both types are composed of sucrose, equal in calories, and have a similar effect on blood sugar levels.

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Demerara sugar has a coarse and crunchy texture, while brown sugar has a soft texture. Brown sugar is finer than demerara sugar in crystal size. Demerara sugar is less processed than brown sugar. Brown sugar has a delicate and light flavor, while demerara sugar has a molasses flavor.

Turbinado sugar is less processed than white granulated sugar. White sugar has no molasses content, unlike turbinado sugar. White sugar tastes sweet, while turbinado sugar has a butterscotch flavor. Turbinado sugar has coarse crystals, while white sugar has fine crystals.

Turbinado sugar has larger and coarser crystals than brown sugar. Both sugars have a molasses flavor, but brown sugar has a stronger molasses flavor than turbinado sugar. Turbinado sugar is less processed than brown sugar.

How to use demerara sugar?

Demerara sugar is most often used in baking to create a crunchy topping. It is used as a garnishing sugar on the top of baked goods because of its large grains. It is also popular for sweetening coffee, tea, and other drinks.

It can also act as a brown sugar substitute. Because of its large crystals, demerara sugar is best as a topping. However, it can be used as a sweetener in cooking or baking. You can top your sweet potatoes with it or mix it into your barbecue sauce.

How to use turbinado sugar?

You can use turbinado sugar for baking. It adds flavor and texture to baked goods (especially if mixed with some lemon zest). Sprinkle it on top of muffins, oatmeal, or bread to create a crunchy topping.

Turbinado sugar is used as a topping since it won’t melt when heated. Additionally, it can be a substitute for white sugar. Spruce up your cookies with turbinado sugar instead of white sugar to give them an extra crunch.

It is also popularly used as a sweetener for drinks such as coffee. Turbinado sugar is great as a sweetener and a topping, but just like demerara sugar, you can use it to top any sweet recipe.

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Which is better, demerara or turbinado sugar?

Even though demerara and turbinado sugar are similar, you will want to decide which one to use when the subtle differences might stand out in a recipe.

Turbinado sugar is a good replacement for granulated sugar, while demerara sugar is mainly used as a topping for baked goods. Demerara sugar has larger crystals than turbinado sugar, so it doesn’t dissolve easily in batters.

Can I substitute demerara sugar for turbinado sugar?

You can use demerara and turbinado interchangeably, but the result depends on how you use them. For example, demerara sugar may be more difficult to sprinkle since it has a sticky consistency.

On the other hand, turbinado sugar can work as a substitute for demerara sugar and will dissolve faster due to its finer crystals, so keep that in mind when baking. Generally, you can substitute one for the other without making adjustments to the recipe since the sugars are similar in flavor and texture.

Can you use demerara or turbinado for cocktails?

You can use demerara and turbinado for cocktails as syrups or sweeteners. Both are commonly used in cocktails to lend warm, caramel notes to whatever drink you add them to. 

Brief demerara syrup recipe

  • Add equal parts of demerara sugar and water to a small saucepan to make demerara syrup. 
  • Place the saucepan on the stove over medium-low heat. 
  • Stir until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. 
  • Let the syrup cool and pour it into an air-tight container to store.

Demerara syrup pairs well with barrel-aged spirits such as whiskey, brandy, and rum. Whiskey cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, and Manhattan are popular drinks that people add demerara syrup. It also goes well with rum cocktails, including Mojitos and Daiquiris. You can substitute the demerara sugar with turbinado sugar to make the syrup.

Using turbinado to decorate glasses

Sugar on glasses
Sugar on glasses

Granulated sugar is often used to rim glasses, but using specialty sugar such as turbinado sugar will jazz up your cocktail. The sugar grains along the rim will sweeten the cocktail as you drink it. Use syrup or fruit to wet the rim to stick the sugar onto the glass. You can also try out other specialty sugars on your cocktail glass rim, such as coconut sugar and muscovado sugar!

Where to buy these sugars?

You can purchase turbinado and demerara sugars at almost any market or grocery store. They are commonly sold and located on the shelf next to popular sugars such as confectioners and powdered sugar. Remember that turbinado and demerara sugars will be more expensive than typical sugars since they contain more flavor.

Whitney Faulconer

Whitney Faulconer lives in Kentucky and loves to write. She also enjoys cooking and trying new flavors and spices. She combines her passion of writing and food to create information to share with others.

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