Turbinado Sugar Vs. Brown Sugar: SPICEography Showdown

Turbinado sugar is a brown sugar, technically speaking; however, it is not the same product as brown sugar. If you are trying to decide which to use and especially if you plan to replace one with the other, you will want to learn what factors make each of them unique. Our turbinado sugar vs. brown sugar SPICEography Showdown below can help you to make an educated decision.

How do turbinado sugar and brown sugar differ?

To understand how these sugars differ, we first have to look at how each of them is made. Turbinado sugar is similar to what is called Demerara sugar in Britain in that it is a raw sugar. It is also marketed as Sugar in the Raw in the US. It is a minimally processed sugar that has been spun in a centrifuge to get rid of most of the natural molasses but not all of it.

Brown sugar is sugar that has been processed to remove all of the molasses content to make it into white sugar. At that point, molasses gets added back to the white sugar to make it brown again. Adding the molasses after processing ensures a consistent, pure product. In both cases, it is the molasses that provides the color of the sugar. The main difference is in how much of it there is in the final product. In the case of turbinado sugar, it provides a yellow tint that is paler than brown sugar.

Both sugars have a molasses flavor that has notes of butterscotch or caramel, but turbinado sugar has less molasses so it is milder than that of brown sugar. The two sugars also differ in terms of crystal size, with turbinado sugar crystals being larger than brown sugar crystals.

Moisture is yet another area in which the two differ. Turbinado sugar has less moisture than brown sugar. As a result, its crystals are less sticky and flow freely. You can measure turbinado sugar simply by scooping it up in a measuring cup and leveling it off; brown sugar has to be packed down because it tends to clump.

Can you use turbinado sugar in place of brown sugar and vice versa?

Turbinado sugar can make an excellent substitute for brown sugar as long as you make allowances for the differences, which are relatively minor. You will not be getting the deep brown color that brown sugar would provide so the food or beverage that you are sweetening will be paler. Turbinado sugar will also not provide the rich molasses flavor of brown sugar; instead, you will get subtler caramel/butterscotch notes.

Another important factor to note is crystal size. The coarse crystals of turbinado sugar take longer to break down than the fine ones of brown sugar. You will have to take this into account when making barbecue rubs or creaming the sugar with butter for cake batter or cookie dough.

When should you use turbinado sugar and when should you use brown sugar?

Use turbinado sugar when you want a mild caramel note that does not have the intensity that brown sugar brings. It works well as an alternative to refined white sugar when sweetening oatmeal or beverages like coffee and tea. Use brown sugar for the deeper flavor from its higher molasses content. It works well in those applications where you want a strong molasses note. Use it in barbecue sauces, dry rubs, and cinnamon rolls.