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What is Demerara Sugar?

What is Demerara Sugar?

Without question, we all have a pretty good idea of what sugar is. White refined sugar, which is the most common form of sugar commercially found, is usually made from either sugarcane (a perennial grass) or sugar beets (a sort of tuber). The products are then sufficiently refined and made into the granular white sugar we all know so well.

There are, of course, countless sugar alternatives and substitutes, from the highly artificial (Equal) to the natural (Stevia, which also comes from a plant). But lately, over the last few years, we have been hearing more and more about something called Demerara sugar, which some erroneously assume is just brown sugar.

Unlike brown sugar, which is just refined white sugar lightly bathed in a bit of molasses (this is a good thing to know, as you can just substitute brown sugar for white sugar with a bit of molasses added), Demerara sugar is a large-grained, somewhat crunchy, raw sugar with origins in Guyana (a colony formerly called Demerara). Because of the rising popularity of Demerara over the years (with the European market being the early adopters, and the U.S. market slowly following behind) this particular type of sugar is now produced in Mexico, India, Hawaii, among other countries.

Demerara is a light brown, partially refined, sugar produced from the first crystallization during processing cane juice into sugar crystals (this process is similar to what happens with naturally evaporated cane juice). Unlike brown sugar, which has the added molasses flavor, Demerara has a natural caramel-like flavor that hasn’t been refined out. This lends warm caramel notes to whatever you add the sugar. Also, Demerara sugar is also referred to as Turbinado sugar in many markets, which has more to do with how the sugar is processed in turbines, than where it originates.

Some claim that Demerara (as well as Turbinado) sugar holds more nutritional value, with an elevated mineral content that hadn’t been lost to the refining process (it is important to note that sugar, in any form, is not a health food by any stretch of the imagination and has been linked to everything from obesity to diabetes). The jury still out on these claims. But to be sure, Demerara sugar is actually far more delicious than your run of the mill white sugar, and lends complexity and depth to recipes, baked goods, and even tea. Its crunchy, large crystals are a nice addition (added sparingly) to the tops of muffins, cakes, and even cookies.

Have you had firsthand experience with Demerara sugar? Do you love it, or find it much ado about nothing?

Related: 19 Sugars & Sweeteners: Which Are Healthy?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

77 comments

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3:15PM PDT on Oct 15, 2014

good to know

1:58PM PST on Feb 25, 2014

I have grown to love it in my Nancy's yogurt! I love the crunch and the touch of carmelly sweetness (sparingly )

10:33AM PST on Jan 30, 2014

Still looks like brown sugar to me!

11:50AM PST on Dec 5, 2013

I really love using coconut palm sugar. It will give that nice caramel flavor and not the sugar crash of other sugars due to it being lower on the glycemic index.

3:34PM PST on Nov 3, 2013

I use demerara sugar in my coffee and love the flavor it adds. I have never tried it in other foods.

8:04PM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

I love learning new things! I can't wait to use Demerara for my baking this holiday season! Until then, I'll use it in my marinates!

9:44AM PST on Jan 16, 2013

"...Mexico, India, Hawaii and other countries..." Last I heard, Hawaii isone of the 50 United States, not a separate country. Appreciate the other info however. Saw several recipes calling for Demerara sugar in a cookbook written by a formerly British Israeli. I'd never heard of it.

1:09PM PST on Nov 17, 2012

...my preference next to natural honey...

10:56AM PST on Nov 17, 2012

ty

10:58AM PDT on Aug 17, 2012

A slight correction: Guyana is not a colony. It's an independent country that was formerly called British Guiana. Demerara is a "county" in Guyana, and also a great river -- it's still called Demerara. In early days, the colony itself was called Demerara.

It's a real pity, for the Guyanese economy, that the name Demerara is not protected, so that only Demerara sugar from Demerara could use that name! However, if it continues to grow in market value, perhaps Guyana will profit in the end by having the REAL Demerara sugar. Thanks for helping to spread the word!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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