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Rapadura? Panela? Sucanat? Muscavado? Turbinado? Organic Raw Sugar?

 

 
Rapadura? Panela? Sucanat? Muscavado? Turbinado? Organic Raw Sugar? Are these sugars the same? If not, which ones are the least refined? Which have the most vitamins and minerals? Are you confused?
 
A lot of people ask me, “What is Rapadura? Is it the same as Organic Raw Sugar? Why is it okay to eat Rapadura, but not okay to eat regular cane sugar, if they’re both made from sugar cane?” So here’s an overview of these different sugars…
 

Rapadura is the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane (using a press), which is then cooked to evaporate off the water, whilst being stirred with paddles. It is then seive ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at super high heats and spun to change it into crystals, and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar.  It is produced organically, and does not contain chemicals or anti-caking agents.

In Brazil, where it is produced, ‘Rapadura’ is the traditional name for this kind of sugar. It is also known as Panela, Raspadura, Chancaca, Piloncillo… depending on where it’s made.  There may be some small differences in the process used to make these, but generally it is as outlined here

Daabon, who import this sugar from Columbia to Australia and the United States, state that Panela and Rapadura are two names for the same product, Panela being the Colombian name. There are also others similar to Rapadura, such as Sucanat (USA – a trade name), and Jaggery (India). Jaggery can refer to either whole cane sugar or date palm sugar, and is solidified and formed into cakes, which can then be grated for use.

The German company Rapunzel registered the name ‘Rapadura’ for the organic sugar they sold, but because of the diplomatic problems it caused, the labelling was changed to ‘Organic Whole Cane Sugar.’ 

Rapadura (and others like it) can vary according to sugar cane variety, soil type and weather. This is why one batch of Rapadura may be lighter or darker than the last batch. Because this natural sugar is not separated from the molasses, it has more nutrients, vitamins and minerals. See here for details of what Rapadura/Panela/Chancaca has in it, compared to other sugars! It still has the natural balance of sucrose, glucose, and fructose, and contains components essential for its’ digestion. It is metabolized more slowly than white sugar, and therefore will not affect your blood sugar levels as much as refined sugars. The more refined the sugar, the quicker it raises your blood sugar levels.

Muscavado, Turbinado, Demarara and ‘Organic Raw Sugar’ are all refined sugars (and raw sugar isn’t raw, in case you were wondering). They are the product of heating, clarifying, then dehydrating the cane juice until crystals form, then spinning it in a centrifuge so the crystals are separated from the syrupy juice (producing molasses). The clarifying process is usually done with chemicals, although sometimes through pressure filtration.  The crystals are then reunited with some of the molasses in artificial proportions. The molasses contains vitamins and minerals, and is recommended for a healthy diet, but the crystals themselves are pretty much highly refined ’empty carbs.’ When these sugars are sold as ‘organic’, people often think this means unrefined, but all it really means is that the cane is grown with organic agricultural methods, then the sugars are refined as usual. 

White sugar is refined much further…  “Manufacture of sugar from cane juice employs a potpourri of chemicals [such] as sulphur dioxide, lime, phosphoric acid, bleaching agents & viscosity reducers. The mineral salts, considered as impurities are removed and only leave a little behind, counted in milligrams.” (credit)

Brown Sugar is just refined white sugar with some molasses added.

So, here’s what you need to be aware of when choosing a sugar. Crystallised refined sugars are pure sucrose and contain no nutrients beyond calories. They are a “pure” industrial product, and can hardly be considered a food. Some would say they are closer to a drug, which affects our bodies adversely and is very addictive. Not only do they not give anything beneficial to our bodies, they actually take away from the vitamins and minerals in what we are eating. 

If you want to use sugar, choose a minimally processed, non-crystallised sugar, and use it in moderation with plenty of good fats to help slow down the release of sugars into the blood stream.

If you’d like some ideas for alternatives to cane sugar, and how to use them, see this article: Refined Sugar Substitutes.

90 thoughts on “Rapadura? Panela? Sucanat? Muscavado? Turbinado? Organic Raw Sugar?

    • Thais says:

      Cat, I bought a bunch of rapadura this weekend at a flea market. They sold all sorts of fruits, foodstuff, and general goods from Mexico. I bought a pound for $1.40.

  1. Matilda says:

    Thank you for the detailed explanations about the different types of sugar. You mention stevia in your post. What are your thoughts or have you heard much about using stevia as a primary sweetener when cooking or baking? Thank you!

    • Anonymous says:

      The B&B where we stayed in Argentina used it a lot. They bought it I think in a sugar form & said it was better than using sugar, but on coming home & checking it out, not much difference. I have the herb growing in the garden but haven’t used it yet.

  2. Cathy says:

    Hi Jo
    I’ve purchased the Rapadura Sugar, just have to start using it. Does it work in icing? And what about sorbets or Fruity Dream?
    Cathy

  3. Jo says:

    Hi Cathy,

    You can use Rapadura in icing, but it won’t be white, it will be a caramel colour. Just grind it really fine first, to icing sugar consistency, and add 1 tsp cornflour to each cup ground Rapadura.

    You can use it in sorbets too, just grind it til it’s fine first.

  4. k says:

    glad i stumbled upon this website…i’m a store clerk at a local health food store in delaware, and i’m currently researching authentic brands of rapadura, ie not the german-owned rapunzel version, but the brazilian sugar cake…we’re looking to bring in a more authentic replacement. any thoughts as to where to find such an item? besides flying to brazil, that is…
    thank you in advance!

  5. Jo says:

    Hi k – All our Rapadura in Australia is from Brazil, but as I buy it from a supplier in Australia (Demeter), I’m not sure how you could get it. I’ve heard that Sucanat, which you can get in the USA, is the same as Rapadura, but it’s from another country (not Brazil) – not sure where. If you’d like to contact my supplier to see if they can give you any info, their email address is: [email protected]. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have purchased Sucanat from Country Life Natural Foods, in Pullman, Michigan. They have a website and catalog…check it out!

  7. Lisa says:

    love your work Jo, I finally get it. Yes I know, I’m slow… Let me know the next demeter order and we will get our act together. loves ya

  8. Kattie says:

    I have a couple of questions…What about evaporated cane sugar? I see it in a lot of foods that I buy from Trader Joes. Also, I saw that Costco has Organic, Unrefined sugar…Would that be as good as rapadura?

  9. Jo says:

    Hi Kattie,
    Evaporated cane sugar is the same thing as Rapadura, as far as I know. I’m not sure what Organic, Unrefined sugar is – it may be the same sort of thing. You can usually tell by the texture – is it crystallised? If it’s not (if it has a grainy texture) it hasn’t been heated as high, or spun to crystallize it, and is much less refined. If they have a website on the packet, look it up and see if they describe the process used to make it.
    Jo 🙂

  10. Garret says:

    I love this post about sugar!

    I have one real question about sugar and I hope that you can answer.

    Do you know how everyone says not to give kids sugar or else they will get hyper? Is this really true? Does sugar really increase kids energy?

    I have heard it both ways and was wondering if anyone knew. Thanks!

    ~Garret
    famous restaurant recipes

  11. Jo Whitton says:

    Hi Garret,
    As far as I know, kids do get hyped up on sugar because it makes your blood sugar shoot up, but then it crashes, causing crankiness and even depression. Rapadura doesn’t have that same effect, as it is slower to absorb, so the ups and downs aren’t so bad. One thing I really hate about refined sugar is the way it depresses the immune system, making it a lot easier to get sick.

  12. Naomi says:

    Hi, I currently use Jaggery (in NZ) as we can’t get rapadura at the moment. It is lumpy, which is a bit of a nuisance (have to blend it with water to dissolve fully), but the flavour is wonderful. It is quite moist which can affect sensitive recipes.

    I would like to share a great icing recipe I made up, without ANY sugar! (I also use a thermomix, but a blender works well too).

    Place a few handfuls of dates (normal cheap pitted variety) in blender/themomix, add a smallish can of pineapple (in juice), let sit for a while. Add a couple of spoonfuls of cream cheese (organic, ideally), and blend to a caramel-coloured creamy consistency. If it still a bit lumpy then just let it sit a few minutes and blend again. I let mine blend for about 5 minutes.

    Totally yummy, and very spreadable. Vary the proportions to get it just right. If you want to be dairy free, then use white raw almond butter or cashew butter instead.

    Naomi (NZ)

  13. Naomi says:

    Kids and sugar, we run a kindergarten (20 kids)and we provide organic, whole-grain lunch every day. Until recently we gave savoury vegetable-based meals Mon-Wed, and a fruit-based sweet meal Thursdays (all wholegrain ingredients). The children were noticeably more hyper on Thursday afternoons, the teachers asked us to skip the sweet meal, and just give savoury meals every day! The only sugar we use is jaggery or rapadura, and the grains are always whole wheat, barley, quinoa, brown rice etc etc. The fruit is fresh and nautral, organic. Obviously there is some truth in it, although the effect is MUCH REDUCED by using natural sugars. Obviously our bodies don’t need too much sweet. I tend to think dates are the best sweetening, where possible, reducing sugar intake. Any other anecdotal evidence out there?

  14. Jo Whitton says:

    Thanks for your comments and recipe Naomi – that icing sounds delicious! I’m really impressed by your organic, whole-grain meals at a kindy – that’s awesome!! That’s really interesting about the effects on the kids of the sweet foods vs savoury – I agree, sweet things should be a very small part of our diet. And although rapadura and other natural sweeteners are a great option for those special treats, we still shouldn’t eat too much of them! (I love using ground dates too.) I have a lot of naturally sweetened recipes on my blog, mainly because I think that’s the kind of cooking people find hardest to convert to healthier alternatives. (But I don’t eat them every day!) 🙂

  15. ThermomixBlogger Helene says:

    I’m finally getting around to reading this article and have to stop here, in the middle of reading it to thank you for such a thoroughly researched and accessible explanation of the differences between natural sweeteners (on a global level). You understand this topic so well, and that’s one of the reasons you are one of my (and other people’s) favorite bloggers. Yay!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for this clear explanation of the differences in the sugars. Rapadura is a new name to me since the fall, now I know why I keep hearing it, is the most healthful. My ? — are there any storage considerations, for long term. Cool, dry is what we do. Does it require more, so as not to lose it’s goodness.Thank you – Nancy

  17. Jo Whitton says:

    Hi Nancy, cool and dry storage is the best – if you have a sealed container in a cool pantry it should be fine. When I buy it bulk I store it in the freezer, but it will go hard in there and you have to thaw it out before you can scoop it out of the bag. (I don’t have a big pantry, and where we live it’s hot and humid, and putting it in the freezer protects it from ants.)

  18. Hope says:

    Another note on the organic cane juice crystals I use—its seems pretty fine in texture, which makes me wonder if it is not the same as rapadura….This is all so confusing! thx 4 your help! =)

  19. Jo Whitton says:

    That could be the same thing, Hope – is it actually crystallised, or more granulated? If it’s crytallised, it’s been heated and centrifuged, so it’s more refined. But there are a few different names out there now, like Organic Evaporated Cane Juice/Sugar. Does it say on the packet how it’s made?
    Jo 🙂

  20. Hope says:

    I think its crystallized but the owner of the health food store gets it in bulk and i just buy some weighed out in a baggy so I haven’t seen the actual label. She sells sucranat too but I haven’t tried it yet. I look forward to trying to find a source for Rapadura–thx for your help!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Does any one know if raw cane juice crystals and evaporated cane juice are the same thing?
    Thank you. cathyLou

  22. Jo Whitton says:

    Hi CathyLou, see the above comments about organic cane juice crystals – I’m really not sure, as Rapadura is not ‘crystals’, it’s kind of granulated.

  23. Rebekahthermomix says:

    Hi Jo, Loving your blogg! I am in Esperance WA and I contacted Demeter some time ago after reading Cyndi’s book. I am pretty sure it was them anyway, and they said they don’t sell to the general public! 🙁 If you get yours from there I reckon I might give it another shot. I can finally get some rapadura locally and it is nothing like any other sugar. I love the flavour! But it is pretty dear… But thanks again for all the info!

  24. Jo Whitton says:

    Thanks Rebekah! 🙂 Yes, I think Demeter only sells wholesale – you need an ABN, which we have for our co-op. Try Biodistributors in Tasmania – you can order online – their prices are good. You can also order Rapadura from Cyndi’s website now 🙂 Isn’t it delicious?!

  25. Bootcamp says:

    Good explanation, because most people don’t realize how bad the white sugar is for you. It’s completely empty and void of any nutrients. Good post!

  26. Lara from Silk Playground says:

    Hi Jo, love your blog! I’m trying to avoid fructose (unless it’s in fresh fruit), and find it hard to find a sweetener that doesn’t contain it. The best I can come up with is rice malt syrup, stevia, xylitol or dextrose/glucose powder. Do you know of any others?

  27. Mark says:

    Hi Jo, thank you for your research! Just a few points that may help the discussion.

    First, sugarcane is around 15% sucrose & whether it’s made into rapadura or raw sugar, all the process does is remove the water (around 70% of the cane), the ash (industry term for insoluble impurities) & turn it into a solid product. The end product is still sucrose, & practically devoid of any other nutrients.

    Second, sucrose is a disaccharide, meaning it’s glucose & fructose joined by a weak chemical bond. Fructose is much sweeter than glucose, but it’s also the reducing sugar that’s bad for weight gain. Glucose of course is the one that increases blood sugar.

    Finally, in your linked diagram of sugar refining it says that decolourisation uses bone char. This actually isn’t the case in Australia, bone char was phased out in the ’70s. Australia’s four sugar refineries use either biochar (from wood), or ion exchange (little plastic beads) to remove colourants.

    There’s a comment above about the texture of rapadura. It’s made by evaporating cane juice over a low heat & the end result is a solid block that looks a bit like crumbly caramel. From there it’s usually shaved or crushed before packaging. That’s why the texture is different from crystalline sugar.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I have a question about cooking with Rapadura. I have just purchased my first 25kg pack of rapadura from Perth and plan to start using it asap. One of the main reasons it has taken my fancy is the health benefits, however if I bake with rapadura, will this “kill” all the lovely vitamins and minerals in the process? Should I just be using Rapadura for raw cooking ie icing, on cereal, sorbets etc rather than in tea/coffee, cakes etc.

  29. Jo Whitton says:

    @Lara: I’m not really sure about any other low fructose sweeteners. I like Rapadura because the natural balance of fructose, glucose & sucrose.

    @Mark: Thanks for your comments – have you had a look at the chart showing what percentage vitamins & minerals are in rapadura compared to more refined sugar? I still think it’s way ahead!

    That’s right that we don’t use bone char in Australia in decolourising our sugar – but a lot of countries do (including the US), and not many people know that.

    Re the texture, Rapadura is like Panela in that it’s a block (as you say), then it’s ground & seived; I guess that’s why they call it ‘seive ground’.

    @Anon: I still bake with Rapadura, as it’s better than using white, refined sugar, even if some of the vitamins & minerals are destroyed by heat. That’s the same with anything – flour, veges, fruit, etc. But it’s still not going to ‘leach’ vitamins & minerals from your body like refined sugar does, so it’s got to be better. 🙂

  30. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Jo, for the info about “rapadura”. I’ve been reading Jordan S’ Rubin books (The Maker’s diet and The great Physician’s R X for Children’s Health) and I was wonderin were in Tasmania could I buy rapadura. I’m a new born christian and I’m from Mexico married to an australian. My name is Dennise by the way.

  31. Jo Whitton says:

    Hi Dennise! How long have you been in Australia? I haven’t heard of that book, sounds interesting. You can buy Rapadura from Biodistributors in Tasmania – they have good prices. The link to their site is at the bottom of my article.
    Blessings, Jo x

  32. Pam says:

    Try organic cold pressed raw Coconut nectar. It looks like rice syrup also comes in crystals. Nutrients rich, B vitamins, minerals, 17 amino acids and low GL35. I live in NZ and get mine from iHerb.com, excellent company to deal with, freight just $4. Costs nearly half what I have to pay here for same. If you enter OWE535 in the coupon code they even give you $5. off of your first order.
    They also have delicious coconut amino acids(use instead of soy) and vinegar, all raw!
    I am a new Thermomix consultant in Whangarei and love it.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I have never tried rapadura, but will try it next. I just bought a 5 lb bag of sucanat, as well as some other sweeteners (molasses, cane syrup and other healthier ones). I will NOT eat sugar or anything made from sugar beets, or anything that has sugar beet in it, unless it’s certified organic. Over 90% of all sugar beets in the “good ole” USA are GMO. This makes it not only an unhealthy but an unnatural substance. Eating it can turn the good gut bacteria into a pesticide factory. 🙁 How sad, and so many American children are eating this poison daily. God help us!

  34. Anja says:

    Thought you may be interested to know that Panela is being sold in some helath food shops under the brand name “Lotus Organic Foods” and is a product of Italy.

  35. Katrina says:

    Finally! I’ve been looking for a good explanation of all these different terms for a while. I’m in the US and am wondering if the use of these terms is at all regulated since I’ve had demerara that looked like sucanat AND then another that was more like Rapadura. Trusting the labeling is so confusing!

  36. Jo Whitton says:

    Thanks Anja!

    Katrina, it is confusing – very! I would have a close look at the sugar and check that it’s not crystallised – if it is, it has been exposed to very high heats and the juices have been spun off (with all the goodness), and just a little put back on. (Although brown sugar is hard to tell that it’s crystallised…) It may also say on the back of the packet how it was made.

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