You’ve likely seen them at the coffee shop: those brown packs of turbinado sugar, sometimes also labeled raw sugar. We have to admit we love stirring them into whatever java drink we ordered. There’s something about the chunky, molasses-colored grains that make it feel fancy. But what is turbinado sugar exactly? Is it better for you than regular ol’ sugar? And when should you use it? We went straight to the pros for answers, and here’s what nutrition experts and chefs had to say about turbinado sugar.
What is turbinado sugar?
Even if you’ve never heard of turbinado sugar by name, you’ve likely encountered brown packets containing it at restaurants and coffee shops. It’s often packaged as Sugar in the Raw® Turbinado Cane Sugar. But what is turbinado sugar exactly? “Turbinado sugar is a type of minimally processed cane sugar,” says Chef Nathaniel Lee, creator of Meal Prepify. “It is made by crushing freshly harvested sugar cane and extracting the juice. This juice is then evaporated and spun in a centrifuge [or turbine] to separate the sugar crystals from the molasses, resulting in turbinado sugar.”
Turbinado vs. refined sugar
Standard refined sugar also starts with juice extraction and separation, but it is further processed, dried and filtered after these steps. This extra processing results in a difference of texture, color and flavor. “Unlike regular granulated cane sugar, which undergoes significant processing to become highly refined, turbinado retains some of its natural molasses content,” explains food expert Amanda Biddle, founder and editor of Striped Spatula. “This gives it a distinctive golden-brown color and a more coarse, textured grain compared to standard white sugar.”
Sure, turbinado sugar looks and feels different than the refined kind, but they come from the same exact plant. How different could they actually taste? As it turns out, quite different, according to Biddle. “The molasses it retains provides it with subtle caramel-like flavors and a more complex, nuanced sweetness profile,” she says. “For example, when I used it to make peach cobbler last weekend, it added lovely buttery, toasted notes that beautifully accentuated the fruit.”
The health benefits of turbinado sugar
Since turbinado sugar is minimally processed, that makes it healthier than regular refined sugar, right? Not necessarily. “Turbinado sugar is commonly perceived as being healthier than granulated sugar because it undergoes less processing and retains some trace minerals from the molasses,” says Catherine Gervacio, RND, registered dietitian and nutrition expert at Living Fit. “However, the nutritional differences between the two are quite minimal. Turbinado sugar does contain small amounts of nutrients like calcium, potassium, and iron that are removed from regular granulated sugar during the refining process, but the amounts are too small to make a significant difference to your health.”
Gervacio explains further that, at the end of the day, turbinado sugar is basically the same in terms of carbohydrate and calorie content as any other sugar and is best consumed in moderation. “Despite the fact that turbinado sugar has a rustic, natural image, it’s still sugar and offers the same health effect when consumed in excess,” she notes.
What is turbinado sugar used for?
Because their textures and flavors are different, turbinado and refined white sugar aren’t completely interchangeable. White sugar granules are smaller and melt more easily, making white sugar a great option for simply adding sweetness to dishes, with no additional flavor notes or textures. It’s versatile but more one-note.
Turbinado sugar has coarser, larger grains, and it tastes richer and more buttery than refined sugar, so it tends to shine in more specific scenarios. “Turbinado sugar’s coarser texture and slight molasses flavor make it ideal for sprinkling over baked goods to add a crunchy texture and a touch of caramel sweetness,” says Chef Lee. “It is also a great choice for sweetening hot beverages like coffee or tea, where the subtle molasses flavor can enhance the overall taste.”
A hot tip from Biddle: “One of my favorite tricks is blending cinnamon and turbinado sugar to coat French toast or churros; the caramel-cinnamon combination is a match made in heaven!”
Turbinado sugar recipes
Now that you know all about turbinado sugar, put that knowledge to the sweetest use possible! Here are some of our favorite recipes that use the sweet stuff.
Peach Almond Torte
Straight from the kitchen of the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten whips up this cake filled with juicy fruit and a kiss of almond.
Servings: 6 | Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 2 hours
- ¾ lb. ripe peaches (2 large), unpeeled, cut into 8-10 wedges
- 2 Tbs. Grand Marnier
- 4 oz. unsalted butter, at room temp.
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp. pure vanilla extgract
- ¼ tsp. pure almond extract
- 2 extra-large eggs, at room temp.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 2 Tbs. turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw (Buy from Amazon, $7.38)
- 2 Tbs. sliced blanched almonds
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 8” round springform pan. In bowl, combine peaches with Grand Marnier; set aside.
- In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, add vanilla, almond extract and eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Stir with rubber spatula.
- Transfer batter to pan; smooth top. Arrange peaches, cut sides up, in concentric circles on top. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and almonds. Bake 45-50 minutes, until top is browned and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool slightly. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or at room temp.
For more recipes from Ina, check out her cookbook, Modern Comfort Food (Buy from Amazon, $19.19).
Vanilla Coffee Contentment
What’s better than vanilla and coffee? Vanilla and coffee drinks that feel as good as they taste. This sweet sipper gets an extra health boost from turmeric and black pepper, which reduce inflammation. (Click through for even more vanilla coffee drinks that are good for you.)
Makes 1 serving
- 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
- 2 tsp. turbinado sugar
- ½ tsp. instant coffee
- ¼ tsp. ground turmeric
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
Simmer ½ cup milk and remaining ingredients until hot. Whisk remaining milk until frothy and spoon over drink.
Ready for more sweet knowledge? Check out our sugar stories below.
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