Raw or Turbinado Sugar Versus White Sugar

Posted on 14 Nov 2013 02:17

What is raw sugar?

There are some products on the market now being sold as raw sugar and of course, that sounds like sugar that is not fooled with, but that is not really the case. Using the term, as far as I'm concerned, is nothing more than marketing, because, as far as food labels are concerned, there is no standard definition as to what raw sugar is. I can tell you what it is NOT, however.

The use of the term raw varies. If you asked an expert on sugar production what raw sugar is, they might tell you it is sugar that is extracted from sugar cane juice, but not refined any further. Not washed, and not decolored. This true raw sugar is banned for sale to the public. It contains dirt, insect parts, yeast, molds, and many other potential contaminants. Other might tell you it is the final product of the sugar cane mill, before being shipped to sugar refineries. Generally, refined sugar is produced in facilities away from the raw cane sugar mills. The FDA defines raw sugar thus:

"Raw sugar" is the term generally applied to the intermediate food product as it leaves the sugar factory mill for further refinement in sugar refineries before use as food. In general, raw sugar is unsuitable for human food use because it contains extraneous impurities which are removed in the refining process. On occasion the agency has taken action against raw sugar intended for human food use without further refinement which was found to contain impurities rendering it unsuitable for food use. The only practical process for freeing raw sugar of such impurities such as filth, dirt, and decomposition is the usual refining process of sugar refiners.

The raw sugar products being sold look simply like a light brown sugar with large crystal sizes. And again, they could be anything. One product does not have to be the same thing as another. But what they probably are is a cruder stage of the sugar production process, before "white sugar" is completely refined.

Turbinado Sugar Definition

In the United states, this is called turbinado sugar, named after the centrifuge it is spun in, and in the U.K. a similar sugar is called demerara sugar, but this is larger grained and it is made on Mauritius, an Island off the coast of Madagascar, where the sugar cane is grown in volcanic soil. It's still refined, not raw.

This sugar has been centrifuged (spun and washed in the presence of steam) so that most all of the outer coating of molasses is removed from the large sugar crystal. It retains a light brown, amber color due to the leftover molasses content. It is not truly "raw" however, it is simply partially refined, with larger crystal size. You can also find turbinado sugar at the grocery store, and you'd find, most likely, there is no difference between this and any raw sugar product. The term raw just sounds so good and natural. Again, it's marketing.

closeup photo of turbinado, demerara, or raw sugar showing texture

Turbinado, demerara, or raw sugar.

closeup photo of turbinado, demerara, or raw sugar showing texture

Turbinado, demerara, or raw sugar.

Now, if you look up information on these raw sugars, you might find claims that it is unrefined sugar. This is absolutely untrue. It is almost, but not quite, completely refined. The term raw is used often in the food industry to fool people into thinking that something has been completely unadulterated. That it is in its natural and most wholesome form. As you can see, though, the real raw sugar, in terms of the technical definition, would not be a desirable product. So, although you'll find products that are lighter or darker brown, you can expect that a sugar sold as raw sugar is the same as turbinado sugar. As well, expect the same for any products being called "natural sugar." It is almost completely refined, but not bleached. The idea that not bleaching a refined sugar makes it raw, is ridiculous, by the way.

As you can guess, then, "Sugar in the Raw," is not raw sugar.

There is only a little molasses left in these sugars and they should NOT be expected to be a lot more nutritious than regular white sugar. They may have a very small amount of minerals, but nothing to a significant degree and it will certainly not enhance your micro-nutrient status compared to other common mineral-rich foods. The same thing goes for brown sugar, by the way.

Now, I do like the taste of turbinado sugar in my coffee. However, I can get much the same taste from a light brown sugar. If you do want to try some, though, just get a package of turbinado sugar, which will save you money. Consider raw sugar turbinado sugar that you pay more for because it has the word raw on it.

Difference Between Turbinado and Brown Sugar

Although the two may look similar, turbinado sugar and brown sugar are a bit different. Brown sugar is refined white sugar to which some amount of mollases has been added.

1. Affairs, Office Of Regulatory. "Compliance Policy Guides - CPG Sec. 515.400 Raw Sugar." U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Office of Regulatory Affairs
2. Brown, Amy C. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011 Christian, Elizabeth W. Essentials of Food Science( Food Science Text Series). Springer, 2013
3. Baikow, V. E. Manufacture and Refining of Raw Cane Sugar. Amsterdam: Elsevier Scientific Pub., 1982.
4. Kent, James Albert, and Emil Raymond Riegel. Kent and Riegel's Handbook of Industrial Chemistry and Biotechnology. New York: Springer, 2007
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