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Dark brown grains of sugar

Muscovado sugar in granular detail

02/05/2024 By Ibrahim Belo in Products

Muscovado sugar is a soft crystalline cane sugar that is often used to give sweet baked goods and savoury dishes a richer, more complex flavour. It is known for its damp texture, deep brown colour and toffee taste due to the presence of natural molasses.  

In this blog, we take a closer look at muscovado sugar: what it is, how it is made and used, how it should be stored, and suitable muscovado sugar replacements and substitutes.

What is muscovado sugar?

Muscovado sugar is a soft, partially refined crystalline sugar that can only be made from sugarcane. Minimally processed, it is one of the least refined sugar products. It contains some natural molasses which is responsible for its colour, flavour, texture and nutritional characteristics.

Two men wearing hats walking in a sugarcane crop field

Muscovado sugar is only made from sugarcane. Unlike other ‘brown sugars’, muscovado always retains its natural molasses.

Muscovado sugar is recognisable for its soft, fine and moist grains due to the molasses content, toffee-like flavour, slightly sticky texture and intense-brown colour. This colour can be either lighter or darker, as there are two types of muscovado sugar are available commercially: light cane muscovado sugar and dark cane muscovado sugar. The lighter version has more molasses content removed, while the darker sugar retains a higher amount of molasses.

The word ‘muscovado’ derives from the Portuguese ‘açúcar mascavado’, which means ‘unrefined sugar’. Despite the name, muscovado is partially refined though it is less refined than most sugar products. The West Indies, Colombia, Mauritius and India all produce muscovado sugar, with India being the world’s leading producer of muscovado.

A large pile of sugarcane stalks

Muscovado sugar can only be made from sugarcane.

How is muscovado sugar made?

Muscovado sugar can only be made from sugarcane. It is made by evaporating the liquid from the sugarcane juice. The process begins with cutting, cleaning and crushing the sugarcane. The resulting natural juice is heated and purified. Evaporators then boil the raw juice in a vacuum to remove the natural water, leaving a sweet, thick amber juice.

Sugarcane being processed in a mill or factory.

The sugarcane is harvested, and the stalks are cut, cleaned and crushed to extract the juice (left and right).

Brown liquid in an industrial vat

Super-saturated massecuite syrup. At this stage in the process, the syrup has gained a stronger colour, flavour and aroma of molasses.

This amber juice is seeded with sugar crystals. The sugar crystals grow to give a super-saturated massecuite syrup. It is during this process that the colour, flavour and aroma of molasses is formed.

To start the process of separating the crystals from the liquid, the syrup is spun in a centrifugal machine. It is spun up to four times to extract the maximum amount of raw sugar and to leave a different type of muscovado. The more spins, the weaker the molasses colour in the muscovado sugar will be. Once the desired product is achieved, the sugar is dried, cooled and bagged.

Three men chatting in a factory, next to large industrial machinery

Muscovado sugar undergoes a drying process in the sugar mill.

The method for making muscovado sugar differs from that of white granulated cane sugar. With the former, the molasses juice in the sugarcane is not removed, which gives muscovado its caramel-like colour and stickiness.

Muscovado sugar vs brown sugar

Some sugar products may use the name ‘muscovado’ regardless of how they are made or refined. This can contribute to confusion around the differences between soft brown sugars and muscovado sugar. Though muscovado sugar is brown in colour and can fall under the category of ‘brown sugar’, it is made differently from other sugars that have wide commercial use and are brown in colour, such as soft brown light sugar, which Ragus also supplies.

Where soft brown light sugar is made by blending a refined white sugar, that is derived from either sugar beet or sugarcane, with refiner’s syrup and black treacle, muscovado sugar is less refined, retains natural molasses and can only be made from sugarcane. While dark soft brown sugar contains a higher amount of molasses than soft brown light sugar, muscovado sugar still contains more. As it is made from refined white sugar, soft brown sugar typically has smaller crystals than muscovado sugar, which has coarser crystals.

Sugar being processed in a plant or factory

Muscovado sugar in the Ragus manufacturing environment.

The benefits and functional properties of muscovado sugar

Muscovado sugar is mainly used to:

* Sweeten
* Provide a molasses flavour – this is stronger when dark cane muscovado is used, while light cane muscovado delivers more subtle, toffee notes
* Enhance colour
* Add texture
* Increase volume
* Add and help maintain moisture

The sugar’s damp texture and finer grain structure mean it dissolves easily when compared with other cane sugars, such as the coarser grained demerara sugar. This makes it ideal in certain foods and beverages where a deeper colour and flavour but smooth texture is required in the finished product.

Though muscovado sugar generally contains the same number of calories per gram as regular table sugar, due to its molasses content it does provide nutritional benefits through the fact that some trace elements and nutrients survive the production process. Minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron can be found in muscovado sugar, as can Vitamin B6 and some antioxidants.

Muscovado sugar applications

One type of muscovado sugar is often preferable to the other in certain applications. For example, anything that will profit from the depth of flavour, darker colour and intensity of the higher molasses and moisture content will often use dark cane muscovado sugar. For this reason, dark cane muscovado sugar may be preferred in:

* Fruit cakes, including Christmas cake and Simnel cake
* Gingerbread
* Glazes for both sweet and savoury dishes
* Barbecue sauces, hot sauces and marinades

Sliced fruit cake (left), gingerbread house (middle) and spareribs with marinade (right).

Muscovado sugar is typically used to sweeten and enhance the flavour of products like fruit cake (left), gingerbread (middle) and marinades (right).

Fruit cakes can usually be kept for months before being completely consumed, but they are prone to drying out. The high molasses and moisture content in dark cane muscovado sugar helps to keep fruit cakes moist, extending shelf life.

However, light cane muscovado sugar’s soft texture, fine grains and caramel-like taste help to enhance flavour and bring sweetness to a diverse spectrum of products, such as:

  • Confectionery like toffee and caramel

  • Baked goods like brownies, cakes and cookies

  • Oatmeal

  • Popcorn

  • Sweet and savoury sauces, glazes and marinades

  • Salad dressings

  • Chutneys

  • Jams and preserves

  • Pickles

  • Ice cream, if a caramel taste or darker colour is desired

What can I use instead of muscovado sugar?

A dark muscovado sugar alternative may be jaggery, an unrefined sugar made from sugarcane or palm. It is a good alternative if health or white label considerations are important, as it contains some minerals and vitamins and has lower amounts of sucrose compared to table sugar. Another dark muscovado sugar replacement could be dark soft brown sugar. This will almost replicate the colour and molasses-enhanced quality of muscovado, and it has a rich aroma, but it will not provide as much moisture or intensity of flavour.

If you need a light muscovado sugar substitute and want to replicate its caramel notes, try soft brown light sugar or demerara sugar, though the latter is not ideal if you need the sugar to dissolve as it has larger crystals. However, demerara sugar is, like muscovado, less refined. If sweetness and a smooth texture are important, syrups like golden syrup or black treacle may work well, depending on the desired colour, sweet-to-bitter flavour profile and texture.

Storing muscovado sugar

Ragus supplies muscovado sugar in bulk and to order. To ensure the product maintains its quality, it should be stored in dry conditions away from direct sunlight and other odours at an optimal temperature of 10°C to 20°C. If the packaging remains unopened, muscovado sugar has a storage life that exceeds 18 months.

Two men from Ragus transporting product on trolleys

Ragus supplies muscovado sugar in bulk and to order. If stored properly, muscovado sugar can be stored for 18 months or more without spoiling.

At Ragus, we recommend storing muscovado sugar in 25kg paper sacks stacked on pallets. It can also be distributed in flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs). For more information on the best practices for storing muscovado sugar, contact our customer services team.

Consumer market trends: muscovado sugar

The outlook for the global muscovado sugar market looks bright, with a fast rise expected during the forecast period of 2024 to 2032. This is due to increased demand from the food and animal feed industries, and for use in biofuel production. As the call for more natural sweeteners and clean label products gets louder from consumers, muscovado sugar’s less refined and processed qualities will likely mean it is used in more applications within the food and beverage industries.  

Ragus manufactures high-quality muscovado sugar in bulk for use in industrial applications. To learn more about our pure sugar and syrup ingredients, 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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