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A sugarcane harvester at work in a sugarcane field

Cane sugar: everything you need to know

16/05/2024 By Ibrahim Belo in Products

Cane sugar is any sugar made from sugarcane, an ancient species of grass that is cultivated in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. An example of crystalline cane sugar is demerara sugar, while molasses is a cane sugar syrup.

Here, we explain what cane sugar is, how it is made, the different types of cane sugar, and explore common cane sugar applications.

What is cane sugar?

Cane sugar is any sugar derived from sugarcane, a grass with thick, fibrous stalks that is harvested and cultivated for its juice. Cane sugar always come from the sugarcane plant, while beet sugar comes from the sugar beet plant.

Cane sugar has many applications in food and beverage products. Used primarily as a sweetener, it can also enhance flavour, colour and texture, act as a bulking agent and improve mouthfeel.

Two men checking and tasting sugarcane in a sugarcane field

The sugarcane plant has thick, fibrous stalks. It is grown in tropical and subtropical parts of the world.

Types of cane sugar

Cane sugars can be refined or unrefined, and cane sugar does not need to be refined to be palatable. Unrefined cane sugar products like jaggery or panela are available on the market and are consumed as they come.

Sugar moulded into rounds

Panela is an unrefined cane sugar derived from sugarcane.

Cane sugars are also available as white or brown sugar. An example of an unrefined brown sugar made from sugarcane is demerara sugar, while white granulated cane sugar is an example of a refined white sugar made from sugarcane. Ragus processes demerara sugar, a crystalline, alongside other crystalline cane sugars, such as:
* Light cane muscovado sugar
* Dark cane muscovado sugar

An example of a sugar syrup derived from sugarcane is cane molasses, which is a by-product of the sugar-making process.

Other types of cane sugar include turbinado. Like demerara, turbinado is golden-brown in colour, has larger crystals and is minimally processed. Turbinado is sometimes called raw cane sugar simply because of minimal processing.

The cane sugar production process

Cane sugars may be processed in different ways. However, as a first stage, the mature sugarcane stalks are cut at ground level before the leaves are removed and the stalks trimmed. The harvested sugarcane is then transported to sugar mills for processing. At the mill, the sugarcane stalks are washed, cut, shredded and crushed to extract the raw juice from the pulp.

The exterior of a sugar mill (left), machinery at work in a sugar mill (right)

Sugarcane is processed at a sugar mill.

In the case of demerara sugar, once the juice is extracted it is purified and then boiled under vacuum until the water evaporates. This process leaves behind a thicker juice. This juice is then seeded with sugar crystals so it can transform into a super-saturated massecuite syrup. This syrup is spun in a centrifuge to isolate the sugar crystals from the molasses. The larger crystals are then dried, cooled, bagged and undergo quality control testing.

Three men standing by machinery in a factory (left), a man testing a sugar product in a factory (right)

Left: A horizontal drying drum used in the processing of cane sugar.
Right: Inspecting the newly made sugar crystals.

Like demerara, muscovado sugars can only be made from sugarcane. Muscovado sugar is produced in a similar way to demerara sugar, but the former contains more molasses, and this molasses gives muscovado its darker colour and wetter texture. To produce muscovado, the syrup will be spun a certain number of times in the centrifuge, depending on the desired molasses content and colour. The more spins, the lighter the colour of the final product, as more molasses is removed.

To make cane molasses, the sugarcane juice is boiled three times to produce raw molasses after it has been separated from the sugar crystals. To make white granulated cane sugar, the sugar is centrifuged to separate the liquid from the sugar crystals and processed further via ion-exchange columns to remove the raw brown colour.

Cane sugar applications

Cane sugars like demerara have their own unique attributes and uses. For example, demerara sugar is often used as a finishing sugar on desserts like crumble and baked goods like biscuits as it provides crunch, colour and additional sweetness. For the same reason, it is used as a table sugar.

Sugar-topped biscuits (left), a slice of sticky toffee pudding with sauce on top (right)

Cane sugars like demerara are used to add crunch and colour, while muscovado may be used to enhance desserts like sticky toffee pudding.

Muscovado sugars are softer and more moist in texture compared to demerara, and dissolve easily, making them ideal for use in liquid products where a deeper colour and richer molasses flavour is preferred. For this reason, muscovado is ideal in the making of caramel or toffee sauces, or as a balancing sweetener and flavour/colour enhancer in glazes and marinades. Muscovado sugars also enhance a product’s volume and texture, and this is one of the reasons this sugar is preferred in the making of some cakes and sweet and savoury sauces.  

Syrups like cane molasses are used to make rum. Rum is made by fermenting and then distilling cane molasses. As it is dark in colour and rich in flavour, it is ideal for use in the making of porters and stouts. As syrups are liquid, they are ideal for applications that require a smooth, mixable product that can also enhance colour and provide flavour and bulk, such as liquorice.

Ragus manufactures high-quality pure cane crystalline sugars and syrups for use in industrial applications. To learn more about these products, or to order bulk cane sugar or syrup, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn.   

Ibrahim Belo

With a primary responsibility for manufactured product quality control, Ibrahim works within our supplier chain, factory and production laboratory. He has a focus on continuous improvement, implementing and maintaining our technical and quality monitoring processes, ensuring standards and product specifications are met.

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