What is the Best Substitute for Demerara Sugar?

by Charlie
Spoon of Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is a large raw grain sugar. Due to their large grains, they have a crunchy/crispy texture with a pale brown color. And no, they’re not the same as typical brown sugars.

Demerara sugars are not only uncommon amongst sugar lovers in the United States; they could be rare to come by even in the largest grocery stores. It’s one reason it is commonly substituted in many meals and recipes by more common/available products. 

So what is the best substitute for demerara sugar? The best substitute for demerara sugar is turbinado sugar. Turbinado sugar has a strikingly similar method of production, exact color, and texture as demerara sugar.

Don’t even think twice about it: if you can’t use demerara, use turbinado!

Overview of Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is produced directly from sugar cane. Once sugar cane is pressed and its juice extracted, it is boiled at high temperatures to form a thick syrup. After this syrup is allowed to evaporate, whatever remnants in the dish cool and harden as large, brown crystals.

They contain a fair amount of molasses, which give them a light brown color and a caramel flavor. Some demerara sugars are darker than others. The darker they are, the higher the molasses and minerals they contain.

Demerara sugar was first discovered in Guyana. And guess Guyana’s former name…Demerara!

It’s a historical region in South America. Though discovered there, most demerara sugar available today comes from Mauritius in Africa. Still, somehow someway, demerara sugars are most common in England. They’re great for coffee, tea, hot cereals, and baked foods (especially when sprinkled on cakes and muffins). 

Compared to the more common table granulated sugars, demerara sugars retain more minerals and nutrients. Some of these include iron, magnesium, and vitamins (commonly B3, B5, and B6). These nutrients, and more, are present because it contains molasses. To this end, demerara sugars are considered healthier forms of sugar.

Despite its healthier nature due to little processing, demerara is still considered an added sugar (it is no longer in its natural form. Truly, raw sugar cannot even be consumed, and you’ll see why soon). Consequently, you should only take demerara occasionally since added sugars have been recognized as risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. 

Hence, demerara is still sugar. And excess sugar is bad (don’t allow the vitamins these contain to deceive you.). If you need nutrients, take food, not sugar.

Why Replace Demerara Sugar?

  • Unavailability: Demerara sugars might simply not be available in your pantry or at the grocery store. Remember, they’re quite uncommon in the United States too.
  • Preference: Some people are so used to the common white granulated sugars, they never want to try anything else. If demerara contains vitamins and minerals granulated sugars don’t contain, they’re ready to go and buy supplements.
  • Curiosity: In sharp contrast, some people are so used to demerara, they want to try other sugars.

Best Recommended Substitute for Demerara Sugar: Turbinado Sugar

Here’s a distinction that isn’t even a distinction: Demerara is to the UK while Turbinado is to the US. And that’s almost all that there is to them. Even we are not so sure of any major physical or chemical differences between these two.

Why?

Turbinado is also a half-refined sugar obtained from sugar cane in the same way demerara sugar is gotten (press, extract, boil, then evaporate. That’s some good summary, by the way).

Many times, turbinado sugar is referred to as raw sugar. But this isn’t true. Not even by a long shot. This is only a marketing strategy to indicate that the sugar is minimally refined. Nobody even consumes raw sugar (produced in the first stages of sugar processing) because it is contaminated by soil and impurities.

Here’s the major difference between demerara and turbinado:

Demerara sugar has distinctively larger crystals than turbinado and has a lesser brownish intensity. The latter is because they generally contain lesser molasses (1-2%) than turbinado (<3.5%).

Though turbinado can be used for general sweetening purposes, it’s best used to top foods because of its large crystals; it can hold up well under heat. They are commonly used for muffins, scones, quick bread, baked sweet potatoes, and hot cereals, to name a few. 

Other Substitutes for Demerara Sugar

Light Brown Sugar

If you’re unable to find demerara at the store, you can always use light brown sugar.

You could buy it or make it.

Brown sugars are made by simply adding molasses to white sugars. Light brown sugars contain about 3.5% molasses and are therefore very similar to demerara.

Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado is one of the richest brown sugars you’ll ever find and arguably the least refined. In contrast, other brown sugars manage 1-3.5% molasses, muscovado singlehandedly scores a whooping 8-10%!

Because of this high concentration in molasses, the muscovado sugar has a slightly bitter aftertaste with a lace of toffee flavor. It has very similar preparation methods to demerara and turbinado, but a slight yet significant difference. Before boiling the extracted sugarcane juice, lime is introduced into the dish.

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