Demerara sugar sounds exotic and its golden toffee color promises to be delicious. But are you having it because you believe it is more nutritious or healthy than other sugars? After all, brown rice and brown multigrain bread are better for health, so shouldn’t this sugar be too? Time for a reality check! Here’s a look at what demerara sugar really contains and whether or not it is a healthy choice for you.
1. Demerara Sugar Is Also Made From Sugarcane
Demerara sugar is made by dehydrating the cane syrup obtained from sugarcane. Which is essentially the same process followed for white sugar, made by purifying syrup from sugarcane or from sugar beets.1 The name mainly comes from its origins at the plantations in the former British colony of Demerara, currently in the Republic of Guyana. The sugar was extracted from cane grown in the rich volcanic soil of the region.2 Its distinctive flavor and deep molasses and caramel notes made it popular with the colonial power.
2. It Is A Partially Refined Or Raw Sugar
During its production, demerara sugar also undergoes the same initial processes as white sugar. However, demerara sugar is taken from the raw sugar of the first pressing of the cane and doesn’t undergo further processing to strip it of all its molasses and color. This leaves a bigger, golden-sized grain that has a hint of molasses in its flavor. Some believe that this makes demerara sugar different and more nutritious than regular sugar.3 But there’s more to it than meets the eye.
3. It Has Marginally Less Sucrose And More Molasses Than White Sugar
Unfortunately, even though the sugar is not treated further, it is still essentially 96 to 98 percent sucrose, as raw sugars usually are.4 That is certainly an improvement on pure sucrose. Some data suggest that demerara sugar could actually be around 93 percent sucrose, the balance made up by glucose and fructose, as well as minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium in small amounts from the molasses it contains.5 6 But this high sucrose content means it is pretty much like having regular sugar. So if you are diabetic or weight watching, you are not going to see any benefits from choosing demerara sugar over white sugar.
4. It Contains Some Minerals But Too Little To Count
The ash level of a sugar or molasses is an indicator of mineral content in sugar since much of the ash comes from minerals (unless there are impurities). With demerara sugar, ash level standards are usually set to below 0.45 percent by many manufacturers. This is unlike sugars like muscovado sugar, another partially refined sugar, where standards in traditional manufacturing centers limit the ash to under 3 percent. In other words, the ash content in demerara sugar is much lower than some other alternatives to white sugar. To stay within this limit, the raw cane sugar needs to be processed by partial centrifugation, so excess molasses may be removed. In the process, you lose further mineral content.7
All in all, though, neither demerara sugar – nor muscovado sugar – contains enough minerals to merit any attention for health benefits. You’d need to load up on a lot of sugar to get any significant amount of the minerals in. And with sugar being almost purely carbs and costing you about 16 calories a spoonful, it is just not worth it!8
5. Its Crystals Are Bigger And Have A Richer Flavor
What you get when you buy demerara sugar is a marginally less refined sugar that has a very small amount of minerals from the molasses in it. What you can expect, however, is a deep caramel flavor and a golden texture different from white sugar.
Regardless of nutrient content and health benefits or the lack thereof, demerara sugar has a unique flavor that makes it a staple for many. The sugar is popular in some parts of the world like England, where people enjoy its slightly intense toffee flavor. It is also popular in crumbles or as a topping for cakes. It is even suggested as a sweetener for sharp tangy fruit like grapefruit.9 The crystals are larger than the average white sugar, so they take longer to dissolve in your drink than normal white sugar. This means it won’t melt into your hot or cold drink as easily. Whether that’s a deal breaker for you is a matter of preference.10
Watch Out For Impostors Or “Dressed Up” White Sugar
You’d imagine that the golden color of demerara sugar means that it is significantly less refined, but it may not always be the case. Unscrupulous manufacturers out to make a quick buck off the popularity of raw cane sugars are coloring white sugar. This is then palmed off as demerara sugar, which commands a higher price. If you’re trying to have a less processed sugar, this fake demerara might mean you’re in fact having something that’s been processed even further and colored like brown sugar. So read labels carefully.
|↑1, ↑10||Types of Sugar. The Sugar Association.|
|↑2||Types of Sugar and Sweeteners. Berkeley Wellness, University of California.|
|↑3, ↑4||Refining and Processing Sugar. The Sugar Association.|
|↑5||Demerara. Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf.|
|↑6||Molasses. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑7||Exporting raw cane sugar to Europe?. CBI, Netherlands Enterprise Agency.|
|↑8||Johnson, Rachel K., Lawrence J. Appel, Michael Brands, Barbara V. Howard, Michael Lefevre, Robert H. Lustig, Frank Sacks, Lyn M. Steffen, and Judith Wylie-Rosett. “Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.” Circulation 120, no. 11 (2009): 1011-1020.|
|↑9||Sugar. BBC Good Food.|