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Crystalline sugars: What’s the difference?

10/08/2023 By Frank O’Kelly in Featured Sauces & preserves

Ragus manufactures three main types of crystalline sugars: demerara sugar, cane muscovado sugar and soft brown sugar. These vary in grain size, colour, texture and flavour to suit a wide range of applications. But what’s the difference between them all, and what lies ahead in the world of crystalline sugar? 

Health considerations 

Demerara sugar, light cane muscovado sugar and soft brown light sugar have distinct flavours and functional properties. However, nutritionally, they’re very similar. The one marked difference between them is the higher levels of vitamins and minerals in darker sugars, owing to the higher molasses content. This contains magnesium, copper, vitamin B6, selenium, potassium, iron and calcium. 

All types of crystalline sugar impact on your blood sugar levels in a very similar way. Demerara sugar has a glycaemic index of 65, while soft brown light sugar and light cane muscovado sugar can range from 60 to 70. Excessive consumption of any type of sugar is not recommended, but experts agree that sugar in moderation is not a problem.  

People with some health conditions—like diabetes—have to watch their sugar intake more than most, but many diabetics may have a little sugar occasionally. Diabetes UK say that there’s no problem including some ‘free sugars’ (any sugar added to a food or drink, or the sugar that is already in honey, syrup and fruit juice) as a treat occasionally as part of a healthy, balanced diet. For some people with diabetes, sugary drinks or glucose tablets are essential to treat a hypo, when their blood glucose levels get too low. 

Usage and recommendations 

‘Crystalline’ sugars get their name from the sugar crystals that form when sugar molecules come together – or crystallise – and form a solid mass, a sugar crystal. Because each type of crystalline sugar gives different textures, colours, flavours and other functional properties to food and beverages, cooks and food manufacturers use specific sugars for specific recipes and products. 

Brown sugars contain varying levels of molasses, meaning they are available in a varying range of hues, tastes and textures. Dark soft brown sugar adds colour, flavour and spread and works perfectly in dense baked goods, like fruitcakes. Its small grain size means it easily dissolves, so it’s ideal for sauces and toffees too. It’s paler relative, soft brown light sugar, is better suited to biscuits and lighter cakes. 

Dark soft brown sugar is perfect for rich, intense cakes like Christmas cake, while light brown soft sugar suits lighter baked goods like biscuits and cookies.

Muscovado sugars are made exclusively from cane sugar and contain a high amount of cane molasses, resulting in rich, deep flavours that vary according to the molasses content. These sugars have a fine texture and are quite moist. Light cane muscovado sugar is primarily used in baking. It develops a subtle flavour and golden colour and adds volume, whereas dark cane muscovado sugar builds a rich flavour and dark colour, meaning you’ll commonly find it in chutneys, savoury sauces and pickles, as well as richer tasting toffee sauces. 

Manufacturers often use dark cane muscovado sugar in sauces and chutneys, and light cane muscovado in light-coloured cakes, to give a beautiful golden colour.

Demerara sugar is a coarse crystalline, with an amber hue and mellow flavour. It’s popular with food and beverage manufacturers for use in shortbreads, flapjacks and crumbles. You’ll also see demerara sugar on tables in coffee shops and cafes because its mellow notes perfectly complement coffee’s bitter flavour while its coarse texture makes it ideal for sprinkling over porridge, fruit and desserts to make a crunchy topping. 

Demerara sugar’s gentle flavour gives a mellow sweetness to baked goods and coffee, and is ideal for sprinkling over breakfasts and desserts.

Crystalline sugars

All our crystalline sugars have different ranges of applications.

Sustainability and sourcing 

While muscovado and demerara sugars are always made from sugarcane, our dark and light soft brown sugars are made from a blend of refined white sugar—which can be made from either cane or beet sugar—with molasses added. Although the sustainability practices and sourcing of sugar cane and sugar beet are different, at Ragus, we apply the same rigorous responsible sourcing standards to both. 

We source our sugars according to the highest global standards.

Sourcing is the starting point of our crystalline sugars, molasses and glucose syrups. To ensure we maintain ethical, transparent and reliable sourcing supply chains, we source our sugar according to global standards. Members of our team visit suppliers around the world to make sure they use their land, water and pesticides responsibly and sustainably, and that their modern slavery and child labour practices are in line with ours. 

Sugarcane often comes from areas with historical human rights issues, where labour laws are not as strict as the UK. Guaranteeing that we are part of an ethical supply chain and promoting human rights, anti-bribery and corruption best practice and environmental and social sustainability in those places is just as crucial as it is closer to home. 

Consumer trends and preferences 

Global sugar consumption continues to rise. The world used 189 million tonnes in 2022/23 from 186 million tonnes in 21/22. The world market will have a surplus of around 1 million tonnes for 22/23, less than estimated back in October 2022. The tightness in supply is keeping demand strong and prices high. 

The rising popularity of sugar-rich confectionery products and soft drinks is expected to propel the growth of the cane and beet sugar industry over the years to come. A growing sweet-toothed population is demanding more sweets, drinks, bakery goods, candied nuts, chocolates, chewing gum, and other confections, putting pressure on the global cane and beet sugar market, and raising prices as a result. 

Substitution and alternatives 

Sugar is famed for its sweetness, but it’s an endlessly versatile ingredient that contributes many functional properties to food and beverage products. That’s why alternative sweeteners and bulking agents that manufacturers use as substitutes for traditional crystalline sugars—like honey, maple syrup, or artificial bulking agents and colourings, for example—are rarely simple replacements. 

Crystalline sugars create flavour balance, preservability, texture, mouthfeel, volume and colour in irreplaceable ways. While some functions can be fulfilled by other ingredients, others are unique to sugar. Because there is no single universal sugar replacement that can be used in every application, sugar remains the gold standard sweetener.

Different food and beverage products need different crystalline sugars. To learn more about our bulk pure crystalline sugars, please contact our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Frank O’Kelly

Frank is the primary contact for many of our largest customers.

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