Everybody knows that sugar is the enemy in the tireless struggle toward healthy eating. But even the most health-conscious consumers can’t deny their instinctive love for sweets, which is why, given the option, you might reach for more healthy-looking sugars with packaging labelled with buzzwords like “raw,” “pure,” and “natural.” And while Sugar in the Raw is the most recognizable brand of turbinado on shelves, the exact same product is made by many other companies.
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What you probably think of as “raw” sugar is actually a processed food that goes by the name turbinado sugar, and it’s distinct for its caramel color and larger crystal size. The chunkier size of the grains results from the length of the crystallization process, but the same sugar cane plant is used to produce white sugar, brown sugar, and “raw” sugar. Inside of each sugar cane stalk, you’ll find 30 teaspoons of sugar, 6 teaspoons of molasses, and 1 quart of water.
Now here’s where the biggest distinction lies. A coating of natural molasses is left around the grains of sugar after they crystalize (think dark brown sugar). In some cases, the majority of the molasses is left on. To create light brown sugar, more of the molasses is washed off. For white sugar, the crystals are washed until they are 99.5% sucrose, the purest form achievable.
No matter what type of sugar you’re using, it all comes from the sugar cane plant, one of the most sustainable crops in the world. Your body processes all forms of sugar cane in the exact same way. And when it comes down to it, the health benefits of the “micronutrients” preserved in the (trace amounts of) molasses don’t outweigh the sugar intake you consume from eating, well, sugar. If you are after the antioxidants, calcium, and magnesium said to be stored in blackstrap molasses, you’d need to opt for a jar of the real-deal, syrupy stuff itself, not crystalized baking sugars.
Buy It: Plantation Organic Blackstrap Molasses, Unsulphured, $10.02, amazon.com
If you think I’ve ruined all of your previous assumptions about “healthy” sugar, there might be one left that actually holds true. Turbinado and other brown sugars are, in fact, less-processed than white sugar because they aren’t washed completely.
The way you use these less-processed sugars in baking should differ too. The larger, chunkier crystals won’t dissolve or perform the same way in your recipes because they have a different structure. In the same way you wouldn’t swap in a cup of moist, sticky dark brown sugar for a cup of white in many baking applications, use caution when incorporating turbinado sugar into recipes that call for granulated. However, those coarser crystals can make a delicious, crunchy topping on muffins, cookies, cobblers, and more.
If you don’t want to alter your favorite recipes for a totally different sugar type but still want your baking to involve less-processed ingredients, you do have options. For example, a new product from Domino Sugar, called Golden Sugar, is less-processed than white sugar, but still has the same sweetness level, granule size, and baking performance as the regular stuff.
Buy It: Domino Golden Sugar, $9.98, amazon.com
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