Usually, when people think about sugar, they imagine the white granulated stuff that comes out of packets or appears in little jars on restaurant tables. Of course, this is the kind of sugar that most of us are familiar with, but white and granulated is not how sugar starts out. Raw sugar, or "sugar in the raw" actually differs from the sugar we are used to, but how? What is raw sugar? Is it really all that different from white sugar and even brown sugar?
Knowing the difference between the most common types of sugar should help you when it comes to cooking and finding healthy alternatives for your favorite recipes. In this article, we'll run through everything you need to know about what raw sugar is and how it differs from its white and brown counterparts.
What is Raw Sugar?
Though its name suggests it is sugar in its natural form, raw sugar is technically a processed food. It gets its name from the end result of processing sugarcane. When sugarcane is refined, it produces a well-known byproduct: molasses. Usually, the molasses is removed during the production of granulated sugar, which is what produces its white color, but this is not the case when it comes to raw sugar.
This is why raw sugar usually has a golden brown color and a sweet caramel flavor. In short, raw sugar is a type of minimally refined cane sugar. It is often referred to as turbinado or Demerara sugar, especially in the United Kingdom.
Raw sugar is also usually less fine than white sugar. The thicker crystals can change the overall texture of some foods as well as add more of a molasses flavor. Still, raw sugar can and has often been used as a substitute for granulated sugar in most recipes, especially for cakes, muffins, and other baked goods.
How is It Made?
Raw sugar is made from evaporated cane juice, much like white table sugar. It is made when boiling down the sap of sugar cane plants, spinning the mixture slightly to remove some of the molasses, and then purifying it slightly. Because it goes through less chemical processing than white table sugar, raw sugar is usually brown or yellow.
When unrefined, raw sugar does have some nutritional value because it contains the same vitamin and mineral consistency as sugarcane plant juice. In many instances, machines are used to grind and press sugar cane to produce and extract this juice. Sugar cane (or sugar beet) is pressed and the resulting juice is mixed with lime to achieve the best ph balance for settling out impurities.
The solution is then reduced using evaporation until a solid mass is left behind. The mass is then passed through a centrifuge in order to get sugar crystals. From here, the mass is dried even further to get the granules we are familiar with. Again, this sugar is usually light brown or yellow in color due to the production of molasses during the process. Though raw sugar is processed, it is technically the most natural sugar you can find and consume.
Generally, all sugars have the same number of calories per gram weight. With this in mind, the calorie count may vary according to teaspoon due to the texture. Raw sugar is often a little heavier and, because a teaspoon is a measurement of volume and not weight, it can equal out to a slightly higher calorie count. For example, a teaspoon of raw sugar weighs roughly 4.6 grams and contains 18 calories.
A teaspoon of granulated white sugar, however, only weighs 4.2 grams due to the smaller granules, averaging out to about 16 calories. Of course, the differences here are really just two to five calories at most, but this can make all the difference in some recipes. Keep this in mind when cooking with raw sugar!
All About Brown Sugar
Brown sugar is one of the most popular sweeteners used in baked goods, drinks, and other recipes, but what is it exactly? How is it made? We'll break down everything you need to know about brown sugar below.
What is It?
When white sugar crystals are mixed with molasses and then dried, the result is a soft, almost sand-like mixture known as brown sugar. We say sand-like because brown sugar can be fairly lumpy, like damp sand at the beach. Due to its texture, brown sugar mixes well and helps create a smooth texture in baked goods.
Some brown sugar is made using raw sugar. Molasses is added to raw sugar and then dried to create brown sugar, but this type is usually less soft and moist than brown sugar made using refined white sugar. On average, brown sugar usually contains about 5% of molasses by weight. The darker the brown sugar, the more molasses is present. There are several types of brown sugar that vary in color and have different names. These include:
Dark Brown Sugar
Dark brown sugar has about 6% molasses by weight, resulting in its dark color and strong flavor.
Light Brown Sugar
Light brown sugar has about half the molasses by weight of dark brown sugar (3%). Its flavor is slightly more subtle.
Muscovado is the darkest variety of brown sugar and has the strongest flavor. This is mainly due to the slow drying process, which is often carried out in full sunlight.
Natural Brown Sugar
Natural brown sugar is made when there is some residual molasses in the mixture after the sugar has crystallized. This sugar is usually sweet and has a caramelized flavor, giving it more of a kick than traditional white table sugar.
Benefits of Brown Sugar
Brown sugar comes with a number of unique health benefits. From boosting energy levels and helping to prevent colds, to treating uterine infections and improving digestion, brown sugar has a long list of benefits. In addition, brown sugar is known to reduce flatulence, aid in weight loss, and even soothe menstrual cramps. If that wasn't enough, brown sugar is also great for your skin too. It is often used in scrubs as an exfoliant and is perfect for removing dirt, grime, and dead skin cells from all over your body. What's more, it leaves you feeling soft and smelling great to boot.
All About White Sugar
White sugar is the most common type of sugar and is what is most likely found in restaurants and homes the world over. Though it is more generic than brown or even raw sugar, white sugar undergoes the most processing during production.
What is It?
White sugar, or granulated sugar, is 100% sucrose with all molasses removed. The sucrose in sugarcane and sugar beets is extracted using water, which is then evaporated to produce coarse crystals covered with a thin layer of molasses. This, of course, is raw sugar. So, how do we get from raw sugar to white?
How is It Made?
How it is made?
White sugar is made when sulfur dioxide is added to cane juice before it is evaporated. The sulfur dioxide bleaches the juice so that it does not turn brown, resulting in white sugar. Later on in the process, phosphoric acid, carbon dioxide, or calcium hydroxide is added to help absorb impurities. Once this is done, the juice is then filtered through a bed of carbon and then crystallized in a vacuum. When this is finished, the crystals are left to dry on their own, resulting in the white crystals of sugar we all know and love.
Unlike brown sugar, white sugar does not have different types or any real nutritional value or health benefits. It is mostly empty calories and should be consumed in moderation for optimal health. As mentioned, a single teaspoon of white sugar is about 16 calories, so be mindful of your daily intake!
How Raw Sugar Differs
from its White and Brown Counterparts
When it comes to how raw sugar differs from white and brown sugar, the main differences would be production and nutritional value. To recap, raw sugar is the least refined of the three sugar types, giving it a slight advantage in health and nutrition over the others. In addition, it is often used as a healthier alternative in some recipes for baked goods, as a sweetener in drinks and other foods. Due to being the least refined, it also has thicker crystals. These can change the texture of some foods and even provide more body in things like creams, frosting, and spreads.
In addition, raw sugar is also a top choice in body and facial scrubs, washes, and even some lotions. Due to the way raw sugar is produced, it also contains more molasses than white sugar and some brown sugars. The molasses is naturally left in this sugar type instead of added (like in brown sugar) or bleached out (like in white sugar). This gives raw sugar a more distinct flavor that sweet and caramel-y.
So, there you have it. If you have ever asked, "What is raw sugar?" we hope this article answered your question and more. Remember, while sugar does not really have much nutritional value, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. Keep your servings under a careful watch and do everything in moderation! When you take these precautions, you can enjoy all your sweet treats without the guilt.