Turbinado Sugar Vs. White Sugar: SPICEography Showdown

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Turbinado sugar and white sugar are just two of the many types of sugar that you may see on grocery store shelves. Both are sweeteners and different versions of the same thing, but what exactly are the differences? Can they be used in the same applications? Those questions are answered in this installment of SPICEography Showdown.

How does turbinado sugar differ from white sugar?

The most obvious difference between the two relates to appearance. Turbinado sugar has a yellow-brown color slightly paler and more yellow than light brown sugar. White sugar is obviously colorless. That color difference signals a difference in molasses content.

Turbinado sugar is minimally processed and has its color as a result of some natural molasses content being retained. White sugar has no molasses content as it has been processed to remove all of it. The molasses affects not only the color of the sugar, but the flavor as well. Turbinado sugar will have a light butterscotch flavor note that is absent in white sugar. White sugar’s flavor is simply sweet with nothing else to enhance or detract from that sweetness.

A third difference has to do with the size of the crystals. Turbinado sugar has relatively large, coarse crystals while white sugar has fine crystals. Turbinado sugar is often marketed as being healthier than white sugar. It does contain some minerals that you won’t find in white sugar as a result of its molasses content, but only in trace amounts. So nutritional value is a difference, but not a big one.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Turbinado sugar offers sweetness, just like white sugar. This means that it can do the same job in many cases; however, you will have to be mindful of the differences noted above. Consider the fact that turbinado sugar is different in color. If you use it as a white sugar substitute in lighter colored desserts or beverages, you can expect the sweetened items to have a brown or brownish color. This may not be a problem in some recipes or beverages, it may be an issue with others.

Similarly, there is the matter of the flavor note from the molasses. The molasses flavor may complement some recipes, but may not work in others. The large crystal size can also be a problem in some baked goods where butter and sugar are creamed together. If you use turbinado sugar in a recipe that requires white sugar, the creaming together of butter and sugar will take longer.

White sugar can be used in place of turbinado sugar in most applications, but you will lose the light molasses flavor and the brown color.

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

Use turbinado sugar in recipes that will benefit from its flavor. For example, turbinado sugar is often used in sugar cookie recipes where it is one of the sources of flavor. It is also often sprinkled on oatmeal where it provides a subtler version of the brown sugar flavor. Use it in apple pies or cobblers. Use white sugar in applications where you want to avoid the molasses flavor and color. For example, you can use in beverages like lemonade and in pale or white desserts like angel food cake. It is the preferred option in recipes that are simply flavored and where you want only sweetness and nothing else.


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