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What Is Turbinado Sugar?

What Is Turbinado Sugar?

Do you have a recipe calling for turbinado sugar and now you are wondering exactly what is turbinado sugar?

If you have a sweet tooth and a knack for cooking and baking – your favorite recipes may call for different types of sugars.

White sugar and brown sugar are the go-to sweeteners for most people. 

However, did you know there’s another kind of sugar that can add a sweet, delicate taste to your favorite dishes? 

We are talking about none other than turbinado sugar!

But seriously, what is turbinado sugar anyway?

Also known as raw sugar, turbinado sugar is essentially partially refined sugar made from sugar cane. Sugar cane juice is boiled once, thickened, and finally crystallized to produce turbinado sugar. 

The crystals retain some of the original molasses.

As a result, the taste of turbinado sugar is somewhat caramel-like. It has a subtle golden-brown color, but lighter than brown sugar. 

The crystals are generally more defined and bigger as compared to white or brown table sugar. The coarse grains make turbinado sugar one of the best finishing sugars that can be sprinkled on top of pastries and other baked goods.

Turbinado sugar vs. brown sugar

Turbinado sugar, which is often called raw sugar, is quite different from brown sugar. They are different visually, they taste different and have different textures. 

They also behave differently in cooking so you don’t want to confuse the two. Turbinado would not be a good substitute for brown sugar in baking. 

Since turbinado sugar is so coarse, it will not mix into batters well. So imagine if you used coarse sugar in a cake, it would be very grainy. 

Brown sugar has a much higher molasses content as compared to turbinado sugar. This means that it will taste richer and nuttier than turbinado sugar. 

The two sugars also differ in terms of moisture. Brown sugar retains more moisture as compared to turbinado sugar. As a result, the crystals are not sticky and flow freely.  

If you have ever tried to mix raw sugar into your iced tea you have likely found the experience a bit frustrating. Since the crystals are larger and dry they don’t mix well. 

Turbinado sugar is larger than brown sugar. Brown sugar is quite fine and turbinado has a much larger grain size. 

Turbinado sugar is much lighter in color than brown sugar. Now, brown sugar comes in light brown and dark brown but turbinado is even lighter than light brown sugar. 

If you struggle to visually tell the difference between the two, consider the grain size. Remember that turbinado sugar is large and grainy and brown sugar is moist and fine.

Turbinado sugar substitution

As discussed above, turbinado sugar is closely related to plain white sugar. Does this mean you can use turbinado sugar instead of plain sugar in recipes? 

Well, while the crystals vary in size and texture, it is possible to substitute turbinado sugar in place of granulated white sugar in a 1:1 ratio. 

Similarly, you can also use ordinary table sugar as a turbinado sugar substitute.

Here are some other substitutes that you can consider using in place of turbinado sugar.

1. Demarara sugar

Demerara is raw, unrefined sugar from sugar cane. It is very similar to turbinado, but usually has a larger grain, doesn’t melt, and makes an ideal “finishing” sugar for crispy muffin tops. Demerara looks like those seed beads you might find when making a friendship bracelet. Mm, delicious friendship bracelet.

2. Brown sugar

Brown sugar is a great substitute for turbinado sugar. It is best to use light brown sugar in place of turbinado sugar to ensure the same color. 

Use a 1 to 1 ratio as a substitution. If the recipe calls for one teaspoon of turbinado sugar, use one teaspoon of light brown or dark brown sugar as a substitute.

Also, keep in mind that brown sugar has more molasses and moisture as compared to turbinado sugar. 

Therefore, avoid using ingredients that may add more moisture, such as honey or applesauce, in baked goods.   

Note: This is a one-side substitution suggestion. In other words, don’t substitute turbinado sugar for brown sugar if you can at all avoid it. This is because the turbinado is dryer and coarser.

3. Swedish Pearl Sugar

Just discovered a nifty finishing sugar that isn’t brown, amber or golden, and it really is snow-white pretty. It’s not cheap either, but apparently you can color these “pearls” of sugar and add them to baked goods like you would Turbinado sugar. It says the pearls will caramelize but not melt in high heat.

4. Date sugar

Date sugar is granulated sweetener processed from dried dates. Dates are super sweet fruits that are generally eaten as chewy if not downright gummy, rich football-shaped treats. 

Dates are often added to baked goods in the form of date paste, also. 

They make flavorful sugar and can be substituted because it is a brown, coarse-grained sugar. It does melt, but would make a great alternative to turbinado because of the flavor and color.

5. Coconut palm sugar

Also called just Coconut Sugar, this is made from the sap of the coconut palm, not from coconut meat, milk, or water.

While a bit closer to typical brown sugar in cooking, this is a versatile, deeply flavored with toffee and natural notes. It is a bit less sweet than table sugar, but can be used to top baked goods, rim cocktail glasses and add the “molasses” flavor with the sugar cane.

6. Large-crystal decorating sugar, or sanding sugar

This kind of processed, shiny, large-grain table sugar is created just for decorating baked goods. It comes in many colors and doesn’t have a flavor profile past what you might find in a spoonful of straight up Imperial White. 

To get the look of Turbinado, this might be a good substitute, it just won’t have the depth of flavor.

7. DIY turbinado sugar substitute

For the best result, it is advisable to make your own turbinado sugar substitute. 

All you have to do is blend one part white sugar with one part brown sugar to nail the taste of turbinado sugar. You can use this blend to replace turbinado sugar without making any special adjustments. This will melt, so it’s not good for finishing, but the flavor will be similar.

Tips for cooking with turbinado sugar

Here are some tried and tested tips on cooking with turbinado sugar.

  • Turbinado sugar doesn’t melt, even at high temperatures. Therefore, you can use it to add a crunchy, sweet texture to baked goods, like ginger cookies and blueberry muffins!
  • Turbinado sugar would make a great rim to sweet cocktails and mocktails for the kids, as well as sprinkled on top of latte froth! 
  • Avoid using turbinado sugar in recipes with a smooth texture, such as whipped creams and mousse. 
  • Turbinado sugar is an ideal candidate for preparing spice rubs for meats going on the smoker.

The bottom line

“Sugar in the Raw” is a brand name for Turbinado sugar. All sugars we would use in cooking have been processed to some level; the words “unrefined” or “raw” do not necessarily mean “untouched by human hands.” 

We were gifted a bag of Demerara sugar with a plate of ginger cookie dough, and it adds a delightful crunchy top without necessarily affecting the flavor of the cookie. 

Have fun experimenting with your favorite sugars and see what you think!

Easy Chestnut Latte With Turbinado Sugar

Easy Chestnut Latte With Turbinado Sugar

Yield: 24 oz
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

We’re using genuine chestnut spread and the deep flavor of Turbinado sugar for this rich latte!


  • 20 oz of strong espresso, either made fresh, using instant espresso, or leftover prepared coffee
  • 2 T of chestnut cream spread or chestnut puree
  • ½ c heavy whipping cream


  • 1 T finely chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1 T  Turbinado sugar
  • 1 graham cracker sheet, crushed into crumbs


  1. Prepare and heat your espresso until it’s very hot but not boiling. 
  2. In two large mugs, place 1 T of chestnut cream or spread in each mug.
  3. In a separate bowl, place graham cracker crumbs, finely chopped pecans and Turbinado sugar. Mix. If large pieces remain, remove from the bowl and crush with a mortar and pestle, or spin through a coffee grinder, pulsing once or twice. Set aside. 
  4. If you have a hot milk frother, add your heavy whipping cream but don’t overfill it. Froth the heavy whipping cream. Set aside. If you don’t have a frother, beat the whipping cream with a whisk until it reaches a soft peak.
  5. Assemble: Pour the hot espresso into large mug, and incorporate the chestnut cream into the hot coffee, stirring up from the bottom.
  6. Add half the frothed/whisked cream, top with half of the topping.
  7. Repeat for the other mug. Taste and add sweetener or more Turbinado sugar as desired.

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