Sugar: so sweet, so seductive, not great for you. But if you’re looking for an alternative to the white stuff, should you consider demerara sugar?

What is demerara sugar?

Demerara sugar is a type of natural brown sugar. It’s undergone less processing, which is why the grains are a lot bigger than the white or brown sugar you’re used to.

Ever had a cookie or a donut with big grains of sugar as sprinkles, and they feel noticeably bigger and crunchier when you bite into them? That’s demerara. It’s pretty popular with bakers, especially when it comes to decorating.

However, if you were wondering where the name comes from, it’s an old name for a region of Guyana, which is where demerara sugar first originated. Now you know!

Was this helpful?

After all, we’re pretty aware these days of how bad refined sugar can be for your health. Gone are the days when people used to hold sugar banquets (for the sweet-toothed, parties in Tudor England were lit). Now, we know that too much sugar has links to obesity, diabetes, and possibly even some cancers.

But what about those who still want that sweet, sugary taste without overdoing it? Can you use demerara sugar instead of white sugar? Let’s take a look!

demerara sugar on donuts headerShare on Pinterest
Jack Sorokin/Stocksy United

When we look at the potential drawbacks of a sugary diet, it’s easy to see why people are looking into alternatives. It’s better that your life is pretty sweet, rather than your coffee.

But can you use demerara instead, and enjoy la dolce vita without la diabetes jitters?

Is it good or bad for you?

On the whole, demerara isn’t that much better for you than regular sugar. We know. We’re sorry. But it is still sugar, after all, with the potential negative health effects that sugar brings.

Sugar in and of itself isn’t the root of all evil. We need some sugar for energy — just not quite as much as seems to have worked its way into the Western diet. And it’s not sugars themselves that pose the health risk, but the sugars that manufacturers add during processing.

Eating too much sugar throughout your day can contribute to your risk of:

  • diabetes
  • obesity and related health problems like cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease
  • liver disease

As a result, less than 6 percent of your daily calorie intake should come from added sugars. This would be about 30 grams in a 2000-calorie day or 22 grams in a 1500-calorie day. FYI: There are 4 grams in 1 teaspoon of sugar, 41 grams of sugar in a 12-oz cola, and 65 grams of sugar in a medium coffee Coolatta (yikes).

So if you’re managing to steer clear of heavily processed goods, a spoonful of demerara sugar in your coffee won’t do a whole lot of damage. But if it’s adding to a growing sugar intake throughout the day, you might want to consider cutting back.

Having said that, demerara does differ from regular white and brown sugars in several ways, so let’s have a look at the key points of both.

Demerara sugar vs. brown sugar

Demerara sugar is just sugar that’s brown, right? Wrong. Not only does demerara naturally contain molasses while brown sugar has it as an additive, but it also differs in the following ways:

  • Processing. Some people prefer brown sugar, believing it to be healthier and less processed than white sugar. The truth is that brown sugar is often just white sugar with added molasses. So in comparison, demerara is less processed than brown sugar. The method of making it’s pretty minimal — but it is still processed. That means it’s no longer a natural sugar, and isn’t great for your health.
  • Vitamins and minerals. Both demerara and brown sugar contain some vitamins and minerals thanks to molasses. But let’s be real here — it’s sugar. It’s never going to be your main hub for vitamins and minerals. And you should only be consuming tiny amounts when you do eat sugar. The nutrient impact won’t be huge either way.
  • Calories. A 100 gram (g) serving of demerara sugar would give you a hefty dose of 375 kcal, compared to 380 kcal for brown sugar. So a teensy bit easier on calories. But not great in either case really, is it? And at teaspoon level, this isn’t making a whole bunch of difference either way.
  • Sucrose. If you want to avoid diabetes, you generally want to avoid sucrose. Brown sugar is made up of 94.6 percent sucrose, with demerara sugar coming in just behind at 93 percent.

Demerara sugar vs. white sugar

So how does it compare to the bog-standard white stuff? Well, here’s what we found:

  • Processing. White sugar is processed to heck, y’all, Remember that demerara naturally contains molasses? White sugar says “nah” to all that, and spins the sugar through a centrifuge to get rid of the molasses, leaving it as pure sugar. Neither white nor demerara sugar are good for you, but in terms of being less processed, demerara wins hands down.
  • Vitamins and minerals. Remember those molasses, which white sugar yeets out of itself during the processing method? Welp, that’s where the majority of any sugar’s vitamins and minerals are. As a result, white sugar is incredibly low in anything except, well, sugars. Again, demerara wins, but as it’s not remotely healthy either, it’s a bit like comparing the flower arrangement skills of two evil dictators.
  • Calories. As we discovered above, 100 g of demerara provides a whopping 375 kcal. White sugar comes in at 385 kcal, so it’s a little more calorific. While It’s unlikely you’ll be putting 100 g of either sugar in your coffee anytime soon (because holy sh*t), any sugar is Calorie City.
  • Sucrose. Remember that demerara sugar is 93 percent sucrose? Well, white sugar ups the ante, and is made of 99.8 percent sucrose. It’s pretty much as sucrose-y as sugar can be.

OK, so demerara sugar is *marginally* better for you than white sugar, and not markedly different than brown sugar. But there’s really not much in it, meaning that there’s minimal benefit to stirring demerara into your tea over white sugar. Phooey.

So what do you use demerara for, in that case?

The main reason to use it for anything is its taste. White sugar tastes sweet and is reasonably bland. That’s it. Demerara, on the other hand, has a toffee-esque flavor that’s just that little bit more interesting. That’s why demerara’s biggest fans are those who can get the best out of that toffee taste — bakers.

Demerara sugar is an incredibly popular ingredient for cooks, who can sprinkle it on cakes and cookies. What’s better: a cake with plain white sugar on top? Or a cake with crunchy, toothsome, caramel-flavored sprinkles of sugar?

Yup, we’re right there with you. Demerara might not win any prizes as a healthy substitute for white sugar, but it makes for one heck of a cake topping.

You’re armed with a bag of demerara sugar, and you’re ready to go full Gordon Ramsay on this thing. All you need now are some recipes, and your baking skills will have their time to shine.

If you’re tempted to try demerara sugar for its baking properties, give these recipes a try:

  • Creme brulee. The classic demerara recipe. Who can resist that caramelized layer on top? Not us. Grab the demerara, and wow your dinner party guests.
  • Demerara sugar cookies. The thought of cooking a creme brulee making you shake in your boots a little? Keep it simple with these demerara-topped cookies, which will have both adults and kids bouncing off the walls with excitement.
  • German apple cake. Fancy having a cake just like the ones Oma used to cook? Or just bring back memories of that boozy trip to Bavaria? The combo of demerara and apple is irresistible.
  • Easy palmiers. How about going French instead? This baking classic is loved by all, and the demerara sugar gives it that lovely caramel taste.
  • Chili and demerara chicken legs. Not into baking? Make yourself a delicious main meal instead! The sugar perfectly complements the chili, and gives the chicken that crispy skin we all love.
  • Banana cake. We’ve all got leftover bananas, right? Well if you’ve also got some spare demerara hanging around, use it all up with this simple-to-bake cake.

So demerara is out as a healthy alternative to sugar. Will you ever find something you can use instead that won’t give you a ridiculous blood sugar spike? Will this eternal quest ever end?

There are healthier sugar substitutes out there if your sweet tooth needs satisfying. Check out the following:

  • Stevia. A natural sweetener that provides zero calories and 50 to 350 times more sweetness than sugar? Sign us up! But bear in mind that there’s not much data as to stevia’s long-term effects on your health just yet.
  • Xylitol. It’s low calorie, super-low on sucrose, and better for your teeth. But, again, there’s not much data showing whether it’s all that good for you just yet. It’s also very toxic to dogs, so keep it out of Fido’s paw range. FYI: Some peeps can have GI side effects (like gas and diarrhea) from xylitol and other sugar alcohols.
  • Honey. If you want something sweet and natural, why not go for honey? It’s still a form of sugar, so consume it in moderation, but it’s better for you than regular sugar and also contains pleasing amounts of antioxidants.
  • Coconut palm sugar. Good news: it contains iron, zinc, potassium, and antioxidants. Bad news: it’s super-high in fructose, which is no bueno. Use coconut palm sugar with caution.

Sugar isn’t the desirable ingredient it once was — but if you keep to the recommended daily intake guidelines, you’re less likely to be hit by too many sugar-related health issues.

However, if you’re looking to Demerara sugar for a healthy alternative, you’re out of luck. Although it’s slightly better for you than white sugar, thanks to the vitamins and minerals found in its naturally occurring molasses content, there’s not much difference. There’s not a great deal of difference between demerara and brown sugar, either.

If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to table sugar, try natural sweeteners such as stevia, honey, or coconut sugar — but remember that they’re still sugars, and not terribly great for your health.

You’re better off leaving Demerara to your baking, as it makes an awesome ingredient for cakes and cookies. It might not make you healthy, but it’ll probably make you happy!