How Are Turbinado And Demerara Sugar Different?

All novice bakers have probably had the experience of staring down a wall of sugar, feeling like they need an encyclopedia to identify everything that falls between delicate superfine sugar and thick cones of Mexican piloncillo.

In the broad category of cane sugar, there are two types of sugar that often get confused: Demerara sugar and Turbinado sugar. Because they look similar to brown sugar, you would be forgiven for grabbing a box of one of these instead, but you would definitely notice a difference in your cooking.

Demerara sugar and Turbinado sugar are actually very similar and generally used for many of the same dishes. They are both types of raw cane sugar. Both have thick grains that work well as sprinkling sugar, but don't dissolve as easily as white or brown granulated sugar. They can also both add a caramel flavor to baked goods and beverages. But there are a few key differences between Demerara sugar and Turbinado sugar, which will affect the way you use them.

What is Demerara sugar?

Demerara sugar is minimally-processed raw sugar extracted from sugarcane. It has a golden-brown color and a chunky texture that doesn't dissolve as easily as Turbinado sugar, but adds a wonderful crunch as a topping for baked goods. It's not quite as sweet as other sugars, like confectioner's sugar, but it adds a note of toffee or caramel to dishes.

Over time, the large sugar crystals and sticky texture of Demerara sugar will cause it to clump, but it can be stored indefinitely and broken apart when needed. Though not ideal for baking, Demerara sugar dissolves easily in hot drinks like coffee or tea, so it's a great beverage addition. 

Cocktail nerds will probably recognize Demerara sugar as a common ingredient in tropical cocktails or bourbon-based drinks. It is generally turned into a simple syrup, with the high heat breaking down the tough crystals, or doused with Angostura bitters for an Old Fashioned, adding additional texture to the simple cocktail.

What is Turbinado sugar?

Turbinado sugar is also a minimally-processed raw sugar extracted from sugar cane, with large grains and a golden-brown color. The main difference from Demerara is that Turbinado sugar contains a small amount of natural molasses, which lends a rich caramel flavor to food and drinks. This is because Turbinado sugar is made from the first pressing of sugarcane, so it has a slightly finer texture than Demerara and isn't as sticky. It also contains small amounts of calcium and potassium, though not enough for it to be called a healthy sweetener.

Turbinado sugar can be used in the same way as Demerara sugar, as a crunchy topping for muffins or crème brûlée, or as a sweetener for drinks. It also makes for a delicious barbecue sauce. If used for baking, Turbinado sugar can't be swapped one for one with granulated white sugar — you will likely need to use more to make up for the coarse texture and lower levels of sucrose. It can, however, be subbed in for brown sugar, though it won't offer as much of a molasses taste and won't blend as easily.