What Is Turbinado Sugar and How Can You Use It?

Updated: Nov. 10, 2023

This minimally processed sugar is good for more than just sweetening that cup of coffee! Learn why you should add it to your pantry today.

Brown sugar cubes and crystal sugar in bowl on wooden backgroundShutterstock / Africa Studio

Turbinado sugar (also known as raw sugar) is an ingredient you might have only seen at the condiment bar at your local cafe just waiting to be dusted over your morning oatmeal or stirred into a latte. Darker and less fine than regular granulated sugar, this ingredient definitely differs from the classic. But those differences are all the more reason that you should start incorporating turbinado sugar into your baking.

What is turbinado sugar?

Turbinado sugar differs from more common sugars because it comes from the first pressing of sugar cane and therefore retains more of the plant’s flavor and natural molasses. The syrup that’s released from this pressing is boiled to form crystals, which are then spun to separate them from any remaining liquid. These crystals are coarser, darker, and more well-rounded in flavor than granulated or brown sugar because they’re less processed. This slightly rich, molasses flavor is what makes this option so appealing and has many people reaching for turbinado over granulated sugar.

You can find out a few more differences between turbinado and its other sugar cousins (like brown and muscovado) here.

Can it be used in the place of traditional sugars?

The minimal processing of turbinado sugar is appealing to many people—as is that extra bit of rich flavor—and some wonder if and how it can be used in baking. The answer: yes but you’ll have to take a few things into account. Most importantly, you have to consider the amount of moisture in turbinado sugar versus the sugars we use most: brown (lots of moisture) and white (little moisture).

Overall, swapping in turbinado for brown sugar can lead to drier, more crumbly results since you’d essentially be getting rid of some moisture, so it’s not the best substitution. However, if you’re looking to use turbinado in place of traditional granulated sugar, it depends on the recipe. Moist, pourable batters welcome the trade. That little bit of extra moisture certainly won’t do your next batch of brownies any harm and it can help make cakes a bit more rich and tender. However in doughs—like a pastry dough or cookie dough—it might not be the greatest idea to substitute one for the other. The extra moisture could throw off the recipe.

Also keep in mind that because turbinado sugar has larger crystals, so a cup of sugar and a cup of turbinado isn’t exactly equal. For this exchange be sure to weigh your ingredients.

How else can you take advantage of turbinado?

That all being said, turbinado sugar is most often and most effectively used as a crunchy topping on muffins, quick breads, and even some cookies. It will give your baked goods a special texture since it doesn’t melt or dissolve into the batter like brown and granulated sugar. Because of its coarseness, turbinado sugar isn’t ideal for smooth applications like whipped cream or mousse, but it’s perfect for spice rubs.

This deeply flavored, lightly processed sweetener is the ingredient you didn’t know you needed, but you do!

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