What Is Demerara Sugar?

A Guide to Buying and Baking With Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar

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Demerara sugar is a type of cane sugar with a coarse grain and light tan color. It's used as a garnishing sugar in baking to add crunch to the tops of baked goods, and is also popular for sweetening coffee, tea, and other drinks. 

Fast Facts

  • Made from sugar cane
  • Around 97 to 99 percent sucrose
  • Contains around 2 percent molasses
  • Light tan in color

What Is Demerara Sugar?

Demerara sugar is one of several types of sugar that are classified as "raw" sugars, along with turbinado sugar, as well as products described as raw cane sugar, washed sugar, evaporated cane juice, and others. Contrary to popular belief, raw sugars such as demerara do in fact undergo a high degree of refining. What the term "raw" indicates is that it has been crystallized only once, as opposed to twice for granulated white sugar. It's named for the Dutch and then British colony in what is now Guyana where the sugar was first produced. 

The traditional method for making demerara sugar is to chop up the sugar cane, extract its juice, then boil the liquid to produce a dark syrup, which is essentially unrefined molasses. This syrup is crystallized by adding seed crystals, and the crystallized syrup is spun in a centrifuge to separate the crystals from the molasses. It's then washed to remove all but a trace amount of molasses. It's poured through screens to filter out smaller particles, ensuring that the crystals have a uniformly medium coarseness, measuring between 0.5 and 0.3 mm. Demerara sugar is slightly sticky due to the trace amounts of molasses on it, but the crystals still flow freely and don't clump together. It has a mildly caramel or toffee flavor but doesn't taste particularly of molasses.

Not all demerara is made this way, however. Some demerara is made by spinning the sugar crystals and washing away all the molasses, sorting the crystals by size, and then adding a prescribed amount of molasses to the crystals. 

Demerara Sugar vs. Turbinado Sugar

Demerara and turbinado sugars are similar, and they're often mistaken for one another. Both are raw sugars that have been single-crystallized. They're both coarse-grained, light brown sugars, though turbinado has a slightly finer texture, is less sticky, and tastes less of molasses than demerara.

How to Cook With Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar can be used directly from the package and requires no special preparation beforehand. It can be added to recipes such as cookies, cakes, and other desserts, where it will sweeten just like granulated sugar. But because its grains are larger than granulated sugar, demerara doesn't dissolve as well in doughs and batters, which means that it's typically used more as a garnishing sugar, or for sprinkling on top of muffins and quick breads before baking them to produce a crunchy, sweet topping. And it's also used in hot drinks, such as coffee and tea, where the heat of the liquid helps to dissolve it. 

Demerara sugar

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Demerara sugar

Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

Demerara sugar

YelenaYemchuk / Getty Images

What Does It Taste Like?

Demerara sugar is sweet, with a slight flavor of caramel or toffee, or molasses. But since it's 97 to 99 percent pure sucrose, its sweetness will be its predominant flavor.

Demerara Sugar Substitute

The closest substitute for demerara sugar would be turbinado sugar, but any raw sugars, including products labeled raw cane sugar, washed sugar, evaporated cane juice, dried cane syrup, will be essentially the same thing. 

Demerara Sugar Recipes

Try sprinkling demerara sugar over these dishes before or after baking to enjoy its sweet crunchy texture.

Where to Buy Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is widely available in supermarket baking aisles alongside granulated and brown sugars. You might also find it in the health food aisles of these stores, as well as in specialty food stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. 


Sugar doesn't spoil, so its shelf life is effectively infinite. Since demerara sugar has a fine coating of molasses on it, it can become sticky and clump together over time. But it will still be safe to use. The best way to prevent clumping is to keep it tightly sealed in a cool, dry place and use it within a year or two. If it does clump up, you should be able to break the clumps apart and use it normally. 

Article Sources
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  1. Demerara Sugar. Fooddata central, United States Department of Agriculture