What Is Turbinado Sugar?

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A scoop of turbinado sugar in between spoonfuls of powdered and white granulated sugar.
A scoop of turbinado sugar in between spoonfuls of powdered and white granulated sugar. (Image: IngridHS/iStock/Getty Images)

Sucrose, a two-molecule carbohydrate made up of glucose and fructose, is a sweetener commonly found in the form of granulated sugar. Consuming too much of any variety of sugar may lead to obesity and Type 2 diabetes and their associated conditions. Some marketers are clever at branding varieties of sugar as healthier or more beneficial than granulated sugar. Turbinado sugar, a form of raw sugar, is one such variety that may be a source of confusion for those trying to avoid granulated sugar.

Processed From Raw Sugar

Most refined sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beet. A syrup is extracted from the plant and processed into another syrup called molasses. Molasses is further processed via boiling to leave a crystallized form of sugar, or raw sugar. This raw sugar is the precursor to all processed sugar. Raw sugar is brown in color, like its previous form, molasses, and contains minuscule amounts of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Due to raw sugar's lack of processing, mold and bacteria may reside on it. Therefore, it must be cleaned, which can be accomplished using steam. The type of sugar produced using this method is turbinado sugar.

Nutritionally Equivalent to Table Sugar

Turbinado sugar generally has the same nutritional value as granulated sugar. While it contains trace amounts of minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron, it can't compete with its nutritionally superior predecessor, molasses. Additionally, turbinado sugar has the same 4 calories per gram as table sugar. Therefore, 1 teaspoon -- listed as 4 grams by weight on many sugar packages -- has 16 calories, just like granulated sugar.

Turbinado sugar has comparable effects on blood sugar levels as granulated sugar. Although it boasts a negligible amount of vitamins and minerals, it can in no way be described as a good source of these micronutrients. Thus, it should be limited in the diet.

Uses for Turbinado Sugar

The taste and texture of turbinado sugar allow it to be an effective substitute for granulated sugar. Therefore, it can be used in coffee and tea, cookies, candy, and other baked sweets. However, it's not an exchange that improves nutrition, as the main difference between the taste of turbinado sugar and table sugar is a subtle flavor of molasses and the insignificant amount of minerals.

Sweetener Alternatives Slightly More Nutritious

A few varieties of sugar that are slightly more nutritious can be used instead of turbinado or granulated sugar. Date sugar is ground dried dates, so it offers good levels of fiber and phytonutrients. Coconut sugar is another alternative, with slightly fewer calories than granulated sugar. Dried cane sugar is a little more nutritious than granulated sugar because it is less refined and has a little more mineral content. However, all sugars, including sugar alternatives, should be limited in the diet for best health.

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