What Is Turbinado Sugar?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on July 14, 2023
3 min read

You’ve seen turbinado sugar before, usually in rustic brown packets labeled as “raw sugar.” It’s advertised as a natural or organic alternative to typical white table sugar.

But other than its golden brown crystals, what makes turbinado sugar any different from granulated sugar?

The short (and sweet) answer is that turbinado sugar is minimally processed and refined. Its brown crystals come from the natural molasses in the sugar cane. 

But just because it’s less refined doesn’t mean it’s more healthy. 

These sugar-related terms are important before talking about turbinado:

Sucrose. Sucrose is commonly known as table sugar. It is the sugar compound that is added to processed foods for sweetness, freshness, and preservation. Common added sugars such as granulated sugar, brown sugar, and turbinado sugar (or raw sugar) are forms of sucrose.

Fructose. Sucrose is an added sugar, which is considered unhealthy in excess. Fructose is the natural sugar found in fruits, along with necessary vitamins and minerals. Fructose in moderation can be a healthy alternative to added sugars.

White sugars. This common sugar is used for things like sweetening coffee and baking treats. White sugar is not reintroduced to molasses during the refining process, so it has a sweet taste and white color.

Brown sugars. These are less refined, leaving in some of the molasses that provides a brown color. Brown sugars have a richer flavor and clumpy texture, making them ideal for baked goods.

First, raw sugar isn’t necessarily “raw.” All sugar is made and refined from sources such as sugar beets and sugar cane. Turbinado sugar is often called “raw” sugar. This only means that it has been refined enough to make it safe to eat while leaving in the natural molasses flavors and color. 

Keep in mind that raw sugar is still sucrose. In fact, raw sugar is about 96% to 98% sucrose after the refining process. Because it’s so similar to simple table sugar, it can also be used as a sweetener and baking ingredient.

Turbinado sugar isn’t raw. So it isn’t healthier than any other sucrose sugars.

No matter how “natural” or “raw” a sugar claims to be, any form of added sugars is unhealthy when you get too much.

Added sugars like turbinado sugar have very low (or no) nutritional value. The Food and Drug Administration lists natural sweeteners as any added sugar that compares to white sugar's caloric density, nutritional value, and impact on blood glucose levels. 

Your body breaks down added sugars into glucose, often creating a dangerous excess. This extra glucose can lead to:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Higher risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High blood pressure

One way added sugars can harm your health is when they take the place of more nutritious foods. Foods with added sugars tend to have fewer of the nutrients your body needs. These foods might make you feel full, but the feeling won’t last because of the lack of nutrients.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting your added sugar intake to 10% or less of your daily calories. The number of calories you should consume depends on your age, height, weight, and sex.

It can be hard to give up your favorite sugar-packed treats. You’ll probably want something to snack on and need to satisfy your sweet tooth. Try these healthier alternatives:

  • Fresh or frozen fruit instead of candy
  • Water or flavored sparkling water without added sugars instead of soda
  • Whole-grain muffins and bagels instead of pastries and baked goods
  • Pretzels, popcorn, or nuts that are unsalted and unbuttered instead of chips
  • Whole-grain cereals or oatmeal instead of sugary cereals

Artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, so you don’t need as much to sweeten your snacks and drinks. They typically don’t add calories into your diet, damage your teeth, contribute to weight gain, or raise your blood sugar. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends against the use of artificial sweeteners to control body weight.