When in the supermarket, have you ever been puzzled about the meaning of evaporated cane juice, demerara, and turbinado in food labels? If so, this blog post is for you. Keep reading to learn about a type of cane sugar that is only slightly less refined than white sugars but is perceived as healthier, the so-called raw sugars.
How is Raw Sugar Made?
A highly refined sugar extracted straight from the cane juice: Raw sugars are made close to cane fields in a sugar mill, by crushing the freshly harvested cane. The resulting cane juice is clarified and filtered to remove impurities. The juice's water is then evaporated, and a single-crystallization process results in sugar crystals covered with molasses. Refined sugars are different for 2 reasons: do not come straight from the cane juice and go through a series of crystallization.
A centrifuge removes most of their original molasses: Molasses, the thick dark syrup formed when cane juice is boiled, is separated from the sucrose crystals by a centrifuge. Picture a salad spinner, where the sugar crystals stay on the basket wall, and the thick syrup (molasses) is forced through the holes of the perforated basket. Raw sugars generally have less than 2% molasses, which gives a nice subtle flavor. Refined sugars are different as they do not retain any of the original cane molasses.
Raw cane sweeteners = sugar + water: Just like any other sweetener derived from cane, raw sugars are a blend of sugars (mostly sucrose, but also fructose and glucose) and water. The beautiful sparkly crystals of raw sugars usually contain 97 to 99% sucrose, and the remaining is mostly moisture. They are not much different than table sugar in terms of composition. Table sugar is in fact, much more processed as it goes through a series of crystallization/centrifugation cycles that result in an extremely pure 99.95% sucrose.
How to Recognize Raw Sugars in Stores?
When in the supermarket, look for terms such as those listed below:
Raw cane sugar
Natural cane sugar
Evaporated cane juice
Dried cane syrup
Dehydrated cane juice
Less processed cane sugar
You should know that evaporated cane juice, dried cane syrup, and dehydrated cane juice are terms that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends not to be used on food labels. In FDA's view, sugars derived from sugarcane should be listed in the ingredient list as "sugar", as terms that include "juice" and "syrup" are false and misleading because they suggest that the sweetener is liquid. Nevertheless, I see those terms being still widely used.
Raw sugars are produced in several crystal sizes and molasses content. Medium-size crystals are slightly larger than table sugar and have a blond color. Coarse crystals do not readily dissolve, have pale brown to brown color, a crunchy texture, and an attractive sparkle.
Raw sugars generally have a hint of molasses flavor and are slightly more moist than white sugars, but dry enough to be free-flowing and not clump like brown sugars tend to do. They are easy to scoop, spoon, and pour. Raw sugar is also available in cubes and liquid forms such as Gilway Demerara Sugar Cubes and Sugar In The Raw Liquid Turbinado Sugar.
The most widely available raw sugar in stores is labeled simply as "organic sugar" (see C&H Organic Sugar image below). It is made from organic sugarcane and is processed, handled, and packaged following a set of strict rules - the USDA's Organic Standards. It has medium size crystals, blond color, and delicate molasses flavor. Learn more about it in another blog post titled What Is Organic Sugar?
Raw Sugar vs "Crude" Raw Sugar
Raw sugars, such as demerara, turbinado, or evaporated cane juice, should not be confused with another raw sugar, referred here as "crude", which is also produced in a Sugar Mill but is non-food-grade.
Crude raw sugar is off-white, looks a lot like sand, and is sold only to sugar refineries, not to consumers. According to the Food and Drug Administration, it is unsuitable for human consumption due to its high level of impurities.
The main difference in the production of those two raw sugars is in the way the cane juice is clarified. Besides, one follows strict food-grade sanitary standards, and the other (the crude raw sugar) does not.
Crude raw sugar is 90-99% sucrose and the principal "sugar" shipped in world trade. Sugar refineries buy crude raw sugar for further purification through melting, filtering, evaporating, and centrifuging to extract the remaining impurities and leave what is called a refined sugar (99.9% sucrose).
Raw sugar could be defined as any cane sugar refined by a single crystallization process, retaining trace amounts of the original cane molasses.
Raw sugar does not mean an unrefined, unprocessed, or 'in its natural state' sugar. They, in fact, go through a great deal of processing but much less than white sugars. To compare, a typical demerara sugar (97 to 99% sucrose) is only slightly less refined than table sugar (99.9% sucrose).
Often promoted as healthier than refined sugars because they are less processed and have a tiny amount of molasses, the truth is raw sugars do not have more nutritive value than table sugar.
Choose raw sugars for reasons relevant to you, such as their delicate molasses flavor, their crunchiness, or for your satisfaction, but not based on their nutritional value, as they are not much different than white sugar.
Explore Some Options
Find below the image of some raw sugars I purchased. If you value environmentally friendly and socially responsible products, there is one American company (no affiliation) that sells a variety of raw sugar products.
Wholesome Sweeteners Inc. (Sugar Land, TX) owns the Wholesome brand, and specializes in organic and non-organic, fair trade certified, and non-GMO Verified Project raw sugars. The company sources its sweeteners from isolated farmers in seven countries around the globe, including Mexico, Austria, Malawi, Costa Rica, and Paraguay. They claim to be the leading U.S. brand of organic, fair trade and non-GMO sugars and sweeteners.
For your convenience, I listed below all Wholesome raw sugars I have found on Amazon. I show USDA's organic seal displayed on the lower-right corner of organic options and the fair trade seal on the lower-left corner of fair trade options.