In the old days, brown sugar was made by incompletely refining sugar-cane syrup, meaning that some molasses—a byproduct of refining—remained in the sugar, giving it its characteristic color, flavor, and moist texture. Because it was the result of incomplete refining, this type of sugar was also known as raw sugar.
Today, most brown sugar is made by adding a molasses-like syrup back to fully refined sugar, and truly raw sugar is not legal in the United States because it may contain mold, bacteria, and other contaminants. There are, however, a few specialty brown sugars that are sometimes marketed as raw sugars, including demerara, muscovado and turbinado sugars. Though these sugars may be produced using the traditional method of minimal refining—hence the use of the word “raw”—they’re purified so they aren’t technically raw.
If your local market doesn’t carry any of these, try online for mail-order sources. Chefshop sells turbinado, dark muscovado, and demerara sugars. Light muscovado sugar is slightly harder to find online, but Zingermans carries it (as well as demerara sugar).
A soft, moist, fine sugar that’s available in light and dark varieties (a light variety is shown). Also known as Barbados sugar because it was once made there, muscovado sugar lends a rich butterscotch flavor to baked goods, and it may be used interchangeably with regular brown sugar.
A coarse, crunchy, golden sugar with a slight molasses flavor. Familiar to many people as the product Sugar in the Raw, it’s our favorite sugar for adding sparkle and crunch to the outside of baked goods like cookies or rustic fruit tarts. We also like to sprinkle it over grilled fruit.
An English version of turbinado sugar, to which it’s very similar except for a slightly larger crystal size. Use it as you would turbinado sugar, or follow the English lead and use it to sweeten your coffee or tea.