Demerara sugar

6 great demerara sugar substitutes

By BBC Maestro

When the recipe calls for demerara sugar, and both your larder and local shop have run out, what can you use instead?

Because this rich-tasting sugar is such a staple baking ingredient, it’s handy to have a demerara sugar alternative up your sleeve. In this article, we take a look at some potential demerara sugar alternatives.

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What is demerara sugar?

Demerara sugar is a raw cane sugar originally from Guyana in South America, made up from large, golden-brown crystals. Because it’s completely unrefined, demerara sugar has a higher molasses content than many sugars, which gives it a gorgeously caramelly flavour as well as that slightly crunchy texture.

Its pretty colour and appealing texture make demerara sugar a popular topping for baked goods – it’s the go-to caramelising sugar for a crème brulée for example.

Because demerara sugar isn’t refined, it keeps its natural molasses content. This contains iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium as well as B vitamins B3, B5 and B6. So, while not exactly a health food, demerara sugar does retain more nutritional content than say, granulated sugar, which has been refined. There’s not any significant calorific difference, and all sugars still have their sucrose content.

But… this raw sugar hangs onto its flavour, making it a delicious, caramelly option that adds richness to baking and puddings.

Is demerara sugar the same as brown sugar?

Demerara might have a lovely brown colour, but it’s not the same as the type packaged as “brown sugar” in the shops. Brown sugar is refined white sugar, which then has some of the extracted molasses put back into it (this explains why it still has that caramel taste). Demerara sugar hasn’t been refined, so it still has its original molasses. When it comes to demerara sugar vs brown sugar, the former has a more crystalline texture, giving it a crunchier feel, and it also has a richer molasses flavour.

What is the best demerara sugar substitute?

So you’re all ready for an afternoon of baking, but you’re clean out of demerara sugar: what’s the best alternative? Here are the main contenders.

Dark brown sugar

Brown sugar is made by refining white sugar – so if you prefer to use an unrefined sugar, this isn’t the best alternative for you. However, it has a good texture for baking and a mellow molasses-like flavour, which makes it a workable substitute from a culinary point of view. The good news is that if you’re using dark brown sugar instead of demerara sugar in a recipe, it’s a straight swap when it comes to measuring quantities.

Light brown sugar

This is very like dark brown sugar, except it has a lower molasses content, resulting in its more golden tones. It has a more subtle taste than demerara sugar and dark brown sugar, so your baking may taste subtly different. However, it’s an easy texture to work with, and like the darker version, you don’t have to change the measurements when substituting brown sugar for demerara.

Muscovado sugar

Muscovado is demerara’s intense older cousin. There are plenty of similarities: they’re both raw cane sugars that are popular among bakers, with a rich molasses flavour. However, muscovado has a much higher moisture content, making it stickier and therefore trickier to work with. While it’s great in baking and as a sweetener in drinks, it doesn’t have the same crunch that makes demerara a good topping. Word of warning: if you’re rummaging around the larder in search of a demerara substitute, don’t get too excited if you spot a box of muscovado sugar – if it’s been there a while, it will have solidified into an unworkable brick-like structure.

White granulated sugar

This is actually the best demerara sugar substitute in an emergency, because everyone has a bag of granulated sugar somewhere in their kitchen. Yes, it’s the wrong colour, has a finer texture and lacks those caramelly tones, but it’s still sugar and is definitely better than nothing. Can you replace demerara sugar with caster sugar? If you do, you’re missing out on both the flavour and texture of demerara, because unlike granulated, this super-refined sugar has very little texture.

Golden caster sugar

Having said that… golden caster sugar can be used as an alternative topping for crème brulée, as it has such a lovely colour and has a touch of that demerara toffiness to it. Golden caster is actually unrefined, which means it retains its natural caramel taste. Its sandy texture makes it a popular choice for baking; however, this does give it a very different feel to demerara sugar.

Turbinado sugar

In the USA, this is the go-to demerara sugar substitute because this cane sugar is very similar. Turbinado sugar has the molasses notes and crunchy texture of demerara, only more so. A little turbinado sugar goes a long way. It’s also worth noting that it has a coarser texture, so you might notice this if you’re using it as a topping. But, if you’re struggling to find demerara in the UK, you’re unlikely to find turbinado, as it’s not a supermarket staple over here.


If you want to emulate the taste of demerara sugar, step away from the sugar shelf and try molasses instead. Demerara sugar has similar tasting notes to this rich, dark syrup; however, molasses is stronger tasting, so you’ll need to adjust your recipe. One of the nicest things to do with molasses is to pour a bit into your coffee, which brings hint of earthy caramel to your brew (and with fewer calories than sugar).

In the end, it’s a case of “any port in a storm” when you run out of an ingredient, so good old granulated sugar may have to stand in for demerara. Brown sugar is a more similar sub; however if it’s just the flavour you’re after, seriously think about using a drop of molasses. For a closer look at baking ingredients and how to choose the right ones, explore baker Richard Bertinet’s BBC Maestro bread making course

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