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?

  1. Kurt says:

    Even if you have trouble finding Rapadura, you can often find Piloncillo at ethnic food stores, often for much less than you would pay at a natural foods store. For instance, there is a grocery near me that serves my region’s large Hispanic population, and one can find Piloncillo sugar in the bulk section.

    • Dorothy Geoffrey says:

      I live in Australia and don’t know what Rapadura sugar is.

      • Sandie says:

        You can buy it in Woolworths! I buy Sri Lankan Rapadura sugar and Colombian Panela sugar from Woolworths in QLD. It’s called ‘Sugars of the World’.

      • Simran says:

        Hey Dorothy ,
        You can easily find the same in Indian stores across Melbourne and other parts of Australia. They call is ‘shakar’ and its purest form of sugar with no nutrients separated. You can get sugar form as well as the cake form which is the best digestive to be had after a meal.
        These 2 forms are exactly what is mentioned in the article above. It is used even today in rural India, sadly modern folks have moved to unhealthy white sugar.

        • TopYogi says:

          I spent every summer growing up on a farm in Northern India. We used to get the freshest sugar ‘caramel’ while the sugarcane juice was being boiled, for making GUR. The GUR maker would place this gooey ‘caramel’ on a leaf for us. It was a warm( or rather hot) and a treat as a child. . This ‘caramel’ like sweet was the stage after sugar cane was crushed for juice and very raw form of sugar called ‘GUR’. So if you go to the Indian grocery store, ask for GUR, it would be in small rock sizes. The flavor is like molasses, just gorgeous. We also used GUR to make sweet rice dessert, delicious!!

  2. Alicia says:

    Just wondering, if I use it for baking, and therefore gets exposed to a high temperature, does it essentially negate all the goodness that was originally in it and therefore not really any better for me than white or raw sugar? Just trying to weigh up the extra cost vs health benefit.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jo,
    I bought some Panela originally as the shop didn’t have Rapadura in stock. Loved it! The next time they only had Rapadura and I bought that. It is horrible and I’ve barely touched it. Tastes nothing at all like the Panela. Any ideas why this may be? The Panela was much softer, like brown sugar. Feels like such a waste of money. Will have to do some baking to use it up in.

  4. infraxion says:

    All these sugars should be the same price as white sugar. It’s made from the same raw materials and therefore the cost should be the same.

    To buy rapadura for $1 per pound, go to any local store in chinatown. It comes in rectangular 1-lb blocks, and is usually labeled as “BROWN SUGAR IN PIECES”. It’s the same unrefined sugarcane product, but you pay less because you’re not in a health-food store.

  5. Mark says:

    @infraxion, that’s not quite correct. Rapadura, panela, jaggery etc are made pretty much the same way, by boiling sugar cane and/ or palm tree juice in a shallow pan then letting it cool and solidify in a block or mold. Very much a handmade product, and the quality varies a lot!

    Brown sugar comes from a sugar refinery. It is basically the crystal that results after (up to) 7 stages of boilin sugar syrup under vacuum. Best way to think of it is normal sugar with a coating of molasses. Brown sugar is passed through a vibrating screen (sieve) before being packed, and the lumps are what doesn’t go through. If they didn’t sell them as lumps, the refinery would remelt them (dissolve) and add back into the process.

  6. infraxion says:

    @Mark That’s true for ordinary powdered brown sugar at grocery stores. But this Chinese stuff is not the same, it’s a solid block of unrefined evaporated cane juice. You can tell because the flavor is MUCH stronger and more complex than ordinary brown sugar.

  7. Patti Johnson says:

    Wow! Great blog post, Jo! Just discovered our awesome blog! 🙂

    I’ve read through most of the comments and have a question: Who is Cyndi and what is her website address where she sells the Rapadura?

    I’m in the USA and looking for the best place to purchase Rapadura online or locally via an ethnic food store.

    If anyone can help me, I’d truly appreciate it!

    Thanks & Happy Holidays to all! 🙂

    • Jaclyn says:

      Actually in the article, it mentioned jaggery is another name used in India for rapadura. I just saw jaggery in Cold Storage the other day with all the Chinese/Malay herbs/spices sold in the red/clear ziplocks. I wonder if Gula Melaka is the Malay name for rapadura? It sounds exactly like what she described as solid blocks.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Awesome information…thanks so much. I’ve just bought my thermomix and getting much healthier in my eating and making goodness for my little one’s! I’ve just checked the place where i buy bulk and they have rapadura…the website is 2brothersfoods.com
    cheers, Tanya

  9. Anonymous says:

    The author makes a distinction between Rapadura and Sucanat that is totally INCORRECT with regard to molasses. Sucanat production does not involve the removal or addition of molasses.

  10. Lisa G says:

    With what authority do you say that “anonymous”. If you make a statement like that I’d like to hear your sources.

  11. Anonymous says:

    hi jo, how do you get the panella to dissolve when cooking. I tried making your chocolate but the panella just went all grainy and stayed on the bottom. Also is there a difference between coconut butter and coconut oil? They didn’t sell the butter at my health food store. Thanks,

  12. South Aussie Girl says:

    Great post – thanks for your information! I have seen around the place using Coconut Palm Sugar – what are your thoughts on this?

  13. Billy says:

    In your article, please change the word “Columbia” to “Colombia” (…who import this sugar from Columbia to Australia…) The quickest way to insult someone is to spell the name of their country incorrectly. Thank you.

  14. KatieM says:

    You can now buy Organic Mountain brand organic Panela at Woolies. It’s $3.49 for 500g. Love that the major supermarkets are finally catching on that these foods are becoming mainstream!

  15. Cathy says:

    Hi, I came across your blog whilst trying to work out what the UK equivalent of ‘raw sugar’ was from an Australian blogger’s recipe far that ambrosia called Apricot Chutney 🙂

    I’m not sure I’m any the wiser, but have settled on what is sold as ‘soft light brown sugar’ in the UK after looking at numerous other UK-based recipes…
    Sometimes, cooking something you think should be pretty straightforward but have lost that long-used recipe as a hard copy ends up in a marathon web search that leads you to all sorts of new things!

    I’d never come across the term ‘rapadura’ before today, so that’s something learned today 🙂

    I think I’ve got my recipes sorted out now – off to make a batch of fresh apricot chutney (local Aldi store had them on offer at GB .49p for 350g so bought lots) plus a small batch of apricot & fig chutney as I had some frsh figs I’d forgotten about but are OK for chutney purposes…

    Now, I’ve got to go back and find the Apricot and Fig Chutney recipe…

    Seems I spend my life online now rather than searching though recipe books, but it does give a much wider world view 🙂

    Ah well, such is life … I’ve really enjoyed this article and the comments – good to find something where all the contributors are positive 🙂

    Cathy, Bedford, UK

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Yes Cathy – the internet is like that – it can take you to a lot of places! 🙂 If you want to know exactly what raw sugar looks like then maybe even google a picture 🙂
      Rapadura is great, but nowadays we use mostly honey as we are on gaps 🙂
      Happy cooking.

  16. Dave Rebus says:

    I think there was a brief period when sucanat was refined and reconstituted, but the stuff available in my locale these days is a whole sugar; just not heated as much as the rapadura-jaggery types.

      • Libby Donnellan says:

        Hi Jo,
        Reading this post, looking for some clarity… Glad you said it needs updating, cause I was just considering sending a link to my friends in our organic co-op (I respect your opinions & learning!). Will wait for the update now.
        Thanks for your book which my daughter – an awesome Thermi team leader – gave me as a gift.
        Well wishes to you and yours,

  17. Benjamin Weingarten says:

    Great Information. Thank you so much for this. I have bought organic coconut sugar and getting much healthier in my eating and making goodness for my little ones. I have just checked the place where I can buy bulk organic coconut sugar and they have best. This article is great and very informative.

  18. Pam says:

    Hi Jo
    The chart will not open … do you have another one that you can post as I would like to send your article to some family members.

    Thanks Pam

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Hi Pam! Sadly that link is an old one and not working now (we’ve edited the post). Feel free to share this post with others as they will still benefit from it’s content. 🙂

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