Raw sugar is a term for sugar that has not been completely refined, which means that it still contains some molasses. The product branded Sugar in the Raw (as well as muscovado sugar) are both considered varieties of raw sugar despite having different characteristics. The molasses content in raw sugar is different from the molasses content in brown sugar. To make brown sugar, the molasses is added back to refined white sugar; in raw sugar, only some of it is removed in the first place.
Sugar cane originated in New Guinea and was first domesticated there. The plant would make its way across Asia until it reached India and that is where the first organized effort to cultivate it and produce sugar began.
Sugar would make its way to Europe and then the Europeans brought sugar cane into the New World once they realized that the Americas — especially the West Indies — were perfect for growing it. As the sugar industry in the West Indies grew, different colonies started exporting goods there to buy raw sugar so that they could bring it home and process it.
In the 18th century, raw sugar was imported to the US to be refined in many factories in the northeastern part of the country.
While the name might give the impression that raw sugar is completely unprocessed, that is not the case. It is simply less processed. To produce raw sugar, sugar cane juice is reduced and undergoes a single cycle of being centrifuged and crystallized. Raw sugar can then be further processed with more centrifuging to make refined white sugar or it can be used in its raw form.
When refined white sugar was introduced in the United States in the mid-19th century, there was a concerted effort to dissuade Americans from using raw sugar. They were encouraged to switch to the more expensive white sugar. The effort included misinformation about insects that supposedly infested raw sugar. The result is that white sugar quickly surpassed raw sugar in sales and is still the most popular type of sugar to this day.
Raw sugar flavor profile
The main flavor of raw sugar is the same as for any other type of sugar: sweet. Raw sugar is mainly just sweet with mild toffee and honey notes from its molasses content. The texture of raw sugar also impacts its flavor profile. Raw sugar tends to be more moist and sticky than refined sugar.
Health benefits of raw sugar
From a nutritional perspective, raw sugar is not any better for you than refined white sugar. It has about the same caloric value and doesn’t offer much in the way of vitamins or minerals. Because raw sugar retains some of its molasses, it does have some nutrients but they are present only in trace amounts.
The health problems associated with excessive white sugar consumption are well-documented. They include obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay. Too much sugar can also increase your risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
You can use raw sugar as an all-purpose sweetener for coffee, tea or oatmeal just like refined sugar. When baking with it, you may notice issues such as density and toughness in certain baked goods. The issues are sometimes caused by raw sugar’s large grains. You may be able to remedy the problem by grinding them in a blender or food processor.