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Is demerara sugar brown sugar?

05/10/2023 By Ibrahim Belo in Products Dark soft brown sugar, Demerara sugar, Soft brown light sugar

Demerara sugar, a crystalline sugar, is commonly used to sweeten our coffee, give crunch to a homemade crumble, and bring balance to a mojito cocktail. But what is it exactly? Is demerara sugar the same as brown sugar? In this article, we dive deeper into the world of crystalline sugars to explore what the different brown sugar varieties are, how they are produced and used in industrial food and beverage applications, as well as their unique flavour and texture profiles.

Demerara sugar gives the right flavours to a mohito cocktail

Demerara flavours cocktails, its sweetness contrasting with, and often softening, the flavour of the alcoholic spirit ingredients.

What is demerara sugar?

Demerara sugar is a type of cane sugar, a coarse crystalline that is amber in colour and mellow in flavour. It is recognisable by its larger crystal size compared to, for example, table sugar or caster sugar, and its crunchy texture. Demerara undergoes minimal processing to give it its distinctive colour, flavour and texture. It is these distinctive characteristics that make demerara sugar a popular topping on porridge, baked goods such as shortbread, and desserts such as apple pie.

Demerara sugar's coarse crystalline structure and golden amber colour

Demerara sugar has a coarse crystalline structure and golden amber colour.

Demerara sugar is named after Demerara, a historical region in the Guianas on South America’s northern coast, now part of the country of Guyana. Sugar production began in the region in the mid-1600s while it was still a Dutch colony. By the mid-19th century, the British had seized control and sugar production increased further.

It was in the Demerara region that a vacuum pan was first used to speed up the sugar refining process. This vessel allowed the product to evaporate and crystalise at lower temperatures, thereby preventing the damage caused by boiling at higher temperatures. Once granulated, the product was decanted into a curing box and the air removed to create a vacuum. This vacuum draws the molasses from the crystals, giving them a coarse texture and caramel colour. Today, however, most demerara sugar is produced on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.

Demerara sugar is less processed than white granulated sugar and has a higher nutritional value due to its natural molasses. It is more similar in texture and colour to turbinado sugar, a partially refined sugar that also contains some molasses.

What is brown sugar?

Brown sugar is a broad term for sugars that are brown in colour. However, when we think about brown sugar in an industrial sugar ingredients context, we would think of soft brown light sugar and dark soft brown sugar. Demerara sugar can also be classed as a brown sugar, as can muscovado, but again in an industrial sugars context both are thought of as cane sugars. Demerara sugar’s production process is very different to soft brown sugars. Generally, soft brown sugar – dark and light – is white refined sugar that includes molasses, usually as part of a treacle and refiners’ syrup mix. The refined sugar comes from either sugar beet or sugarcane, while the molasses in the treacle comes from sugarcane. The treacle, that includes molasses, is added to white refined sugar and blended with refiner’s syrup. This imparts moisture, leaving it with a softer texture, and darkens the colour, depending on how much of the treacle / refiner’s syrup blend is added. As soft brown sugars are blended, they can be produced at different strengths. This is how we get soft brown light sugar and dark soft brown sugar.

Contrasting textures and colours of demerara sugar and soft brown dark sugar.

The contrasting textures and colours of soft brown light sugar and dark soft brown sugar.

Soft brown light sugar is sweet, sweeter than demerara sugar, and has a mellow flavour. It is often used in the making of butterscotch, caramel, some cakes, and for glazing meats like gammon. The sugar’s flavour profile makes it ideal for recipes that require a little moisture, sweetness and colour but also delicacy.

The darker variety is not similar in flavour to demerara, as it has a rich, sweet flavour and stronger taste. Dark brown sugar is typically used in recipes that require more intensity in flavour, a gooey texture and a deeper colour from the sugar, such as gingerbread, fruit cakes or even barbecue marinades. Dark muscovado contains even more molasses than dark soft brown sugar and has a dark appearance and rich flavour. However, it is only made from sugarcane.

Demerara vs brown sugar: production techniques

Demerara sugar is produced by first cutting and then pressing sugar cane to extract its juice. This juice is cleaned and purified and then boiled under vacuum until the water evaporates and what remains thickens into a thick amber syrup. The syrup is seeded with sugar crystals, which encourages the solution to grow into a super-saturated massecuite syrup, which is spun in a centrifuge to separate these crystals from most of the molasses. These large, coarse sugar crystals are dried, cooled, screened and sieved, ready for use after final quality control.

By contrast, soft brown sugars are made by blending different quantities of a treacle and refiner’s syrup blend to white crystalline. Treacle is a blend of molasses and invert syrup, and it is the molasses component of the treacle that gives brown sugar its colour, with more molasses used to make dark soft brown sugar than soft brown light sugar. It is worth noting that soft brown sugar varieties and muscovado sugar are similar in appearance but are not the same. Most soft brown sugars are made from refined white sugar blended with a treacle and refiner’s syrup mix, while muscovado sugar is raw cane sugar that retains natural molasses. In the production of muscovado sugar, some of the syrup is kept in the final product, which gives it a damper texture, while the presence of molasses guarantees a darker colour and almost bitter aftertaste. At Ragus, we supply both light cane muscovado and dark cane muscovado.  

Muscovado sugar has higher molasses content giving is a darker colour and sticky texture.

With coarser grain size than soft brown sugars, muscovado sugar has higher molasses content giving it a darker colour and stickier texture.

How are demerara sugar and other brown sugar varieties used in cooking?

Both demerara sugar and other brown sugars, like soft brown sugar, are used extensively in baking. Demerara sugar is often used as a finishing sugar on cakes, biscuits, breads and desserts like crumble because its larger crystal size adds texture and crunch in addition to sweetness. The dessert crème brûlée will typically have demerara sugar or turbinado sugar sprinkled on the top so it can caramelise and form a hard, crispy top. The deeper colour from the molasses provides a distinct colour contrast with the custard layer underneath. This contrast is what makes the dessert work. However, white granulated sugar, with its more neutral flavour and smaller crystals, may be used instead. It will caramelise and darken but will not have the same distinctive flavour and colour profile as when using demerara sugar.

Demerara sugar as a topping on biscuits and creme brulee.

Demerara sugar is used as a topping for biscuits, and to caramelise as part of the distinctive crisp topping of a crème brûlée.

Demerara sugar is also added to tea and coffee as the heat dissolves the crystals. However, it is less likely to be used in batters or doughs that require a smooth consistency as the crystals may not dissolve as consistently.

Softer brown sugars are more appropriate for adding into cakes, biscuits, pastries, and both sweet and savoury sauces and marinades. Due to the softer, more moist texture, these sugars can loosen a mixture, increase its volume, and add sweetness, colour and greater depth of flavour. The molasses in the sugar helps prevent items like cookies from drying out too quickly. Soft brown light sugar is favoured in cakes like carrot cake to bring softness, lightness and a little moisture as well as colour. Not much moisture from the sugar is needed, however, as the carrots also impart moisture.

Softer brown sugars are used in baked goods, such as muffins and cakes.

Softer brown sugars are used in baked goods, such as muffins, and in cakes.

Darker brown sugars are denser and contain even more moisture, so may be preferred in cakes like fruit cake, which have a denser texture, darker colour and molasses-rich flavour. These darker soft brown sugars are also ideal for use in savoury sauces and glazes to give colour and depth.

Demerara sugar and brown sugar texture and flavour profiles

As we have highlighted, the coarser texture of demerara sugar makes it appropriate for applications where crunch and less moisture are required. Though demerara sugar is sweet, soft brown light sugar is more intensely sweet in its flavour profile, so is favoured when a mellow sweetness and softer, more moist and rounded texture is required. Dark brown sugar has a richness and a more complex flavour profile. Its higher molasses content can overpower other ingredients, so it tends to be used in recipes that feature other intense flavours, such as in barbecue sauce. A darker brown sugar will be used if a recipe calls for, or can handle, a higher moisture content.

Darker soft brown sugars with a higher molasses content are used in Christmas iced fruit cake and BBQ sauces.

Darker soft brown sugars with a higher molasses content and more robust flavours are used in fruit cakes and BBQ sauces.

Though certain sugars can be substituted for another variety in cooking, the texture and flavour profile of each sugar variety is unique. This means that it can be important to use a certain type of sugar depending on the application and desired outcome.

Ragus supplies high-quality crystalline sugars, including demerara and brown sugars, to industrial food and beverage producers to enhance product tastes, textures and appearance. To learn more about our pure sugar products, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, keep 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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