If you’re looking for a crunchy brown sugar to sprinkle over your cookies and cakes, Demerara sugar could be the sweetener for you. Read on to discover more about this tasty caramel-flavoured cane sugar, and for more about sugar in general, take a look at our A to Z of sugar facts.
What is Demerara sugar?
Demerara sugar is a light brown cane sugar with large crunchy crystals and a tasty caramel flavour. Like many sugars, it is made from pulped sugar cane, but unlike some other sugars, it undergoes only minimal processing. This means that it retains more of the brown, smoky cane juice, or molasses, that is removed from paler, more processed sugars.
Molasses gives Demerara its darker colour and caramel flavour, and it also means that it retains some of the vitamins and minerals present in the sugar cane plant, including calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamins B3, B5 and B6. Sugar should only be consumed in moderation, however, due to the risk of obesity and other associated health problems, so the effect of these additional nutrients will be minimal. There are other minimally-refined and raw sugars with even higher molasses content, including muscovado, rapadura and sucanat.
How to use it in the kitchen
Because of its large crystals, Demerara works better as a crunchy topping than as an ingredient in cooking. Sprinkle it on top of muffins, scones, cookies and cakes for some irresistible, toffee-flavoured texture. That smoky caramel-toffee flavour also tastes great with hot drinks, so try stirring some into your coffee, or adding a light dusting to the whipped cream on your hot chocolate.
Substitutes for Demerara sugar
If you can’t get hold of any Demerara sugar, the following can be used as substitutes:
Turbinado sugar is the closest match to Demerara. It also has moderate molasses content, a light caramel flavour and larger crystals.
Light brown sugar has a similar colour and flavour, but smaller crystals, so it will lack the crunch of Demerara.
Sanding sugar has large, crunchy crystals, and is great for adding texture to baked goods, but it has a lower molasses content, so will lack the caramel flavour of Demerara.
Granulated sugar is the most commonly-used sugar, and most people will likely have some to hand. You can use granulated sugar in a pinch, but it will lack some of the flavour and crunch of Demerara. If you have some molasses, try mixing some in with the sugar for a smokier, more caramel-like flavour.
Different types of sugar
If Demerara isn’t quite what you’re looking for, there are more types of sugar to choose from than you might think. Find out how to tell your pearl sugar from your sanding sugar with our handy guide to different types of sugar.
Granulated sugar is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘sugar’. Made from sugar cane and sugar beets, it is an all-purpose refined white sugar, and the most commonly-used sugar in baking and cooking.
Caster sugar is a finer version of caster sugar. It’s smaller crystals dissolve more easily, so it’s ideal for making syrups or cocktails.
Confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar is a fine, powdered white sugar, used to make icing or for decorating baked goods.
Pearl sugar is a hard, opaque sugar that doesn’t melt easily. It is popularly used in Scandinavia to decorate baked goods.
Sanding sugar is another relatively heat-resistant sugar, with large attractive crystals. It is used to add crunchy texture to baked goods and is available in a variety of decorative colours.
Cane sugar is an all-purpose sugar that can be used as a less processed alternative to granulated sugar. It is made from sugar cane only, and has a more complex flavour than granulated sugar.
Turbinado sugar is a part-refined cane sugar, with moderate molasses content and a subtle caramel flavour. It is used in baking and to sweeten drinks.
Muscovado sugar is an unrefined or part-refined cane sugar with a stronger, more complex molasses flavour and a sticky, sandy texture. Its strong flavour works well in savoury marinades and sauces.
Light brown sugar is granulated sugar with a small amount of molasses added back in. It has a subtle caramel flavour, and can be used in sweet or savoury dishes.
Dark brown sugar is granulated sugar with a larger quantity of molasses added back in. It can be used in place of light brown sugar for a stronger, more complex flavour.
Black sugar is an unrefined East Asian sugar made by juicing sugar cane and boiling the nectar. It has a rich caramel flavour, and is often used as a base for boba tea.