Turbinado Sugar vs. Granulated

Reader Chana asks:

What is the difference between Turbinado sugar and “regular” brown sugar (either light or dark brown). Moisture content? Texture? Can brown sugar be used instead of the Turbinado sugar in the Golden Lemon Almond Cake? Can one replace the other in general?

Good question(s). Turbinado sugar differs from brown sugar in that it’s a larger crystal. It also has less moisture and less molasses. If you recall some of my older posts on molasses manufacturing (right here if you don’t), you know that sugar is crystallized out of cane syrup in a series of steps called “strikes.” Turbinado sugar comes from the first “strike”, before the cane syrup has been reduced down to a thick goo (as a result of removing the sucrose). That means that while the turbinado sugar does have molasses in/on it, that molasses is light and mild tasting.

Turbinado sugar is also processed to a lesser degree than regular white granulated sugar. It’s the simple product of the first strike. That’s in contrast to granulated sugar, which is essentially made by dissolving turbindo (or later strike) sugar, filtering it, then “seeding” the mixture with smaller, more consistent crystals. It’s interesting to note here that “real” brown sugar isn’t much made anymore. Once, it was the granulated sugar that came from a late stage in the manufacturing process, when there wasn’t much sucrose left in the cane syrup mixture and the molasses was thick and chewy. Today most of our table sugar is made from beets, which don’t yield molasses (or none that you’d want to eat at any rate). These days, brown sugar is made by simply adding a second or third-strike sugar cane molasses to regular white beet sugar.

And to (finally) answer your question, while turbinado sugar does have more moisture than white sugar, brown sugar has still more. It also contains more — and stronger tasting — molasses. All of which means that the two are not interchangeable.

RLB adds:

Turbinado sugar may also have a different granular shape. For example, Sugar in the Raw has a rectangular grain whereas C & H has a more square shape. But they are both far more granular than a typical brown sugar, and they have less moisture. Sugar in the Raw has far less molasses than light brown sugar but C & H has at least as much. That’s the whole story!

Mexico Bob adds:

If you want really rich brown sugar you should go to a Mexican grocery and by mascobado sugar or piloncillo sugar. These are made from crystallizing sugar that doesn’t go through a centrifuge. Sometimes mascabado is spelled mascavado.

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