Muscovado sugar, an unprocessed cane sugar abundant in natural molasses, showcases a deep brown hue, a damp texture, and a flavor reminiscent of toffee.
This sugar type is frequently used in baking to enhance the taste of sweet treats like cookies, cakes, and candies, yet it can also provide a distinct touch to savory meals.
Being viewed as craft sugar, producing muscovado sugar requires more labor than commercially produced white or brown sugar.
This write-up explores muscovado sugar in detail, discussing its unique characteristics compared to other sugar varieties, its applications, and the best alternatives if it’s not readily available.
What is muscovado sugar?
Muscovado sugar — also called Barbados sugar, khandsari, or khand — is one of the least refined sugars available.
It’s made by extracting the juice of sugar cane, adding lime, cooking the mix to evaporate the liquid, and then cooling it to form sugar crystals.
The brown syrupy liquid (molasses) created during cooking remains in the final product, resulting in a moist, dark brown sugar with a wet sand texture.
The high molasses content also gives the sugar a complex flavor — with hints of toffee and a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Some companies that produce muscovado also remove a small amount of the molasses to create a light variety.
Muscovado is often called an artisanal sugar, as the production methods are relatively low-tech and labor-intensive. The number one producer of muscovado is India.
According to muscovado nutrition labels, it has the same calories as regular sugar — about 4 calories per gram — but also provides trace amounts of minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron due to its molasses content.
The molasses in muscovado also provides some antioxidants, including gallic acid and other polyphenols, which help prevent damage to cells caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals.
Free radical damage has been linked to chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, so consuming foods that contain antioxidants is good for your health.
While these few minerals and antioxidants make muscovado slightly more nutritious than refined white sugar, it’s still sugar and should be limited for optimal health.
Eating too many added sugars has been linked to the development of heart disease and diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and 37.5 grams per day for men.
However, some researchers argue that since many people consume white sugar in large amounts, replacing it with natural brown sugar like muscovado could improve the nutrient content of their diet.
Summary: Muscovado sugar is a natural form of sugar that evaporates the liquid from cane juice without removing the molasses. It is dark brown and contains small amounts of minerals and antioxidants.
How muscovado sugar differs from other types of sugar
Here’s how muscovado sugar compares with other types of commonly used sugars.
Most people think of granulated sugar — also known as table or white sugar — when they hear the word “sugar.”
This type of sugar is most commonly found in sugar packets and used in baking.
White sugar is made like muscovado sugar, except that machines are used to speed its production, and the molasses is completely removed by spinning the sugar in a centrifuge.
The result is a clump-resistant white sugar with a texture similar to that of dry sand.
Since it contains no molasses, granulated sugar has a neutral sweet taste and no color. It does not contain minerals, making it less nutritious than muscovado sugar.
Suggested read: Brown sugar vs. white sugar: What’s the difference?
Unlike muscovado sugar, granulated sugar can be made from either sugar cane or sugar beets. You can determine the source by reading the ingredient section of the nutrition label.
Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added back in after processing.
Light brown sugar contains a small amount of molasses, while dark brown sugar provides more. Still, the amount of molasses is usually less than that of muscovado sugar.
Like muscovado sugar, brown sugar has the texture of moist sand — but a milder caramel-like taste.
Turbinado and demerara sugar
Turbinado and demerara sugar are also made from evaporated cane juice but spun for a shorter time so that not all molasses is removed.
Both have large, light brown crystals and a dryer texture than muscovado sugar.
These coarse sugars are often used to sweeten warm beverages like coffee or tea or sprinkled on top of baked goods for extra texture and sweetness.
Jaggery, rapadura, panela, kokuto, and Sucanat
Jaggery, rapadura, panela, kokuto, and Sucanat are all unrefined, molasses-containing cane sugars that are very similar to muscovado.
Sucanat is a brand name for unrefined cane sugar that stands for “sugar cane natural”.
Production methods can vary between manufacturers. For example, panela is often sold in solid blocks, while rapadura is frequently sifted through a sieve to create a loose, grainy sugar.
Of all the sugars listed above, these five are the most similar to muscovado.
Summary: Muscovado is similar to other minimally refined cane sugars like jaggery, rapadura, panela, kokuto, and Sucanat.
Popular uses of muscovado sugar
The rich toffee-like flavor and burnt undertones of muscovado pair well with darker baked goods and savory dishes.
Some popular uses for muscovado sugar include:
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- Barbeque sauce. Use muscovado sugar instead of brown sugar to enhance the smoky flavor.
- Chocolate baked goods. Use muscovado in brownies or chocolate cookies.
- Coffee. Stir it into hot coffee for a complex sweetness that pairs well with its bitter taste.
- Gingerbread. Swap brown sugar with muscovado to create an even stronger molasses flavor.
- Glazes. Muscovado adds a wonderful toffee flavor to glazes used on meats.
- Ice cream. Use muscovado sugar to create a bittersweet caramelized taste.
- Marinades. Mix muscovado sugar with olive oil, acid, herbs, and spices to marinate the meat before grilling or roasting.
- Oatmeal. Sprinkle it on warm oatmeal with nuts and fruit for a rich flavor.
- Popcorn. Toss warm popcorn with butter or coconut oil and muscovado for a salty-smoky-sweet treat.
- Salad dressing. Use muscovado sugar to add a caramel-like sweetness to dressings.
- Toffee or caramel. Muscovado creates deep molasses-flavored confections.
Muscovado sugar should be stored in an airtight container to reduce moisture loss. If it becomes hardened, place a damp paper towel over it for a night, and it will soften.
Summary: Muscovado sugar has a high molasses content, which lends a toffee-like flavor to savory and sweet dishes.
Suitable substitutes for muscovado sugar
Since muscovado sugar is an unrefined brown sugar, the best substitutes are jaggery, panela, rapadela, kokuto, or Sucanat. They can be substituted in equal amounts.
The next best substitute would be dark brown sugar. However, it has a finer texture, lower molasses content, and milder taste.
In a pinch, mix 1 cup (200 grams) of white sugar with 2 tablespoons (40 grams) of molasses for a homemade substitute.
Granulated white sugar is the worst substitute, as it doesn’t contain molasses.
Summary: Other unrefined cane sugars make the best substitutes for muscovado sugar. Brown sugar is the next best option, either store-bought or homemade.
Muscovado sugar — also called Barbados sugar, khandsari, or khand — is unrefined cane sugar that still contains molasses, giving it a dark brown color and texture similar to wet sand.
It’s most similar to other unrefined cane sugars like jaggery and panela, but brown sugar can also be used as a substitute.
Muscovado adds a dark caramel flavor to baked goods, marinades, glazes, and even warm beverages like coffee. While less refined than white sugar, muscovado should be consumed in moderation to minimize your added sugar intake.
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