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Is demerara sugar the same as brown sugar?

14/03/2024 By Ibrahim Belo in Products

Demerara sugar is a type of brown sugar, as ‘brown sugar’ is simply an umbrella term for different sugars which are brown in colour. The full answer to the question, is demerara sugar the same as brown sugar, is a little more complicated, however.

In this blog, we explain what demerara sugar is, how it compares with light and dark soft brown sugars, how demerara sugar is used as a functional ingredient by industrial food and beverage manufacturers, and where it can be substituted for another type of brown sugar. We also explore the sustainability of demerara sugar compared to other types of brown sugar and provide insight into the demerara sugar market.

What is demerara sugar?

Demerara sugar is a crystalline sugar made from sugarcane, not sugar beet. The sugarcane is chopped and pressed to extract the juice. The juice is then boiled and allowed to evaporate to form a darker syrup of unrefined molasses. Seed crystals are added, and the crystallised syrup is spun in a centrifuge to separate the molasses from the crystals before the final stages of washing and filtering.

This sugar is named after the sugarcane fields in the old region of Demerara on the South American coast that is now part of Guyana. Demerara sugar is recognisable by its coarse structure, crunchy texture, golden-amber appearance and mellow flavour. It is mainly used as a functional ingredient in baking, but is often sprinkled over cakes, porridge or muffins for added crunch, or stirred into tea or coffee as a sweetening agent.

Golden-brown sugar crystals

Demerara sugar has a coarse crystalline texture and owes its golden colour to the molasses left over from the manufacturing process.

As a sugar product, demerara is minimally processed, and naturally contains some molasses. It is the molasses that gives this crystalline its light brown colour and caramel flavour.

Demerara sugar vs. brown sugar

Though demerara sugar is technically a brown sugar due to its brown-amber colour, when we refer to or think about brown sugar, we usually mean soft brown light sugar or dark soft brown sugar or, occasionally, light cane muscovado sugar or dark cane muscovado sugar. These are also crystalline sugars but have finer grains compared to demerara’s larger crystals. As brown is in the name, and each of these four sugars are intensely brown in colour, we tend to think of them when we think about brown sugar, and each falls under the ‘brown sugar’ umbrella.

In answering the question, is brown sugar and demerara sugar the same, the accurate answer is yes, and no. Demerara sugar is technically a brown sugar because of its colour. However, the four sugars we have also mentioned here are made in a different way to demerara sugar. This separates demerara from what we generally consider to be a ‘brown sugar’.

Soft brown light sugar, for example, is more processed than demerara sugar. The former can be made from either sugarcane or sugar beet, while demerara is only made from sugarcane. Soft brown light sugar is made by combining refined white sugar, which itself is made from sugarcane or sugar beet, with treacle and refiner’s syrup. Dark soft brown sugar is made in a similar way to its lighter counterpart, but molasses syrup is used in place of refiner’s syrup as it is darker in colour. The addition of the syrup in these sugars leaves them with a softer texture compared to demerara.

Light brown soft sugar crystals Dark brown soft sugar crystals

Finer crystals distinguish soft brown light sugar (left). Dark soft brown sugar (right) also has finer crystals alongside a darker colour due to the higher molasses content.

Muscovado sugars are like demerara in that they are only made from sugarcane, but they are less refined with a stronger colour and treacle flavour.

All these sugars are ‘brown sugars’ because of their colour. We could also include other sugars in this category, such as turbinado sugar, which is like demerara, and more natural sugars such as jaggery, chancaca and piloncillo.

Demerara sugar applications

Demerara sugar’s most unique characteristic is its crunchy, coarse texture. For this reason, it is a favourite option for sprinkling onto desserts like fruit crumbles or baked goods like cookies or shortbread. Its molasses content gives it a more pronounced flavour than white sugar, while its golden colour enhances the appearance of anything from tarts to puff pastry rolls. 

Lattice pattern of pastry on top of a pie Dark brown muffins dusted with lighter brown sugar

Demerara sugar’s uniquely coarse texture gives a crunch that’s often used in baking. Wild Montana Huckleberry Pie with egg wash lattice crust topped with demerara (left) and double chocolate muffins topped with demerara.

The larger crystal size means demerara usually takes longer to dissolve in recipes. However, it does dissolve in hot beverages like coffee, tea or festive drinks such as mulled cider. Demerara sugar may also feature in classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned. For this, the demerara crystals are often mixed with hot water to form a demerara syrup. This syrup is then added to the cocktail’s other ingredients for a smooth drink.

A glass of water and a cup of coffee on a saucer with a man pouring sugar into the coffee. A clear mug with anise and cinnamon stick in a orange liquid on a board with an apple.

Hand adding sugar into a cup and saucer of coffee, glass of water nearby
Punch or festive warm drink in a glass cup with star anise and stick of cinnamon

Demerara sugar may also be added to otherwise savoury dishes, either where it can dissolve or as a topping to add crunch. For example, it may be used in some sauces and curries.

Demerara sugar substitutes: should I use demerara sugar or another brown sugar?

As it is minimally processed and contains natural molasses, demerara sugar provides some nutritional value from minerals and vitamins. These include iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and the vitamins B6, B3 and B5. This makes demerara sugar a good option for using in the types of applications noted above.

If you do not require all of the functional properties of demerara, such as its coarse texture and caramel flavour, you could consider a demerara sugar substitute.

Soft brown light sugar, which has a slightly higher molasses content than demerara sugar, can be a substitute. Though the texture is different, it will provide an acceptable flavour profile and depth of colour. Alternatively, white sugar can be mixed with a small amount of molasses to result in something approaching the flavour and texture of demerara sugar. 

Dark soft brown sugar can perform a similar function, and it has a good texture for baking and a strong molasses flavour. However, it is more refined than demerara.

Soft brown, treacle-coloured sugar

This close-up of muscovado sugar’s texture shows it has a finer grained texture than demerara sugar, and is darker, having higher a molasses content. The molasses gives muscovado a stronger flavour, and its wetter texture means it is used less as a topping, compared to demerara.

Muscovado sugars can also be a worthy substitute, but these sugars have a higher moisture content than demerara and do not provide a crunch. If you do not need a coarse texture but do want a strong flavour and colour from the sugar, consider adding smaller quantities of cane molasses or black treacle depending on the desired function and outcome.

How Ragus sources demerara sugar responsibly

The visibility, traceability and transparency of our pure sugars are important to minimise risk, comply with regulations, and achieve the highest product quality for our customers. We source responsibly grown and processed cane sugars for producing our demerara sugar. Learn more about transparent supply chains at Ragus.

The demerara sugar market and consumer trends

The global demerara sugar market is predicted to grow, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% between now and 2031. This increase in CAGR is largely due to demand returning following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as food and beverage innovations continue, demerara sugar will be more adaptable to different applications, potentially expanding the scope of demerara as a pure sugar ingredient for industrial food and beverage producers.

With rising demand among consumers for plant-based, clean label ingredients and lowering demand for artificial sweeteners, it is likely consumers will continue to choose demerara as a sweetening agent provided they are aware that it provides some nutritional value and is minimally processed compared to many other brown and white sugars.  

Ragus manufactures demerara sugar and a range of other pure crystalline sugar and syrup functional ingredients for industrial food and beverage producers. To learn more, 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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