There are many ways to sweeten baked goods without turning to granulated white sugar. One of those ways is to substitute an ingredient you might have heard about: Sucanat.
We used Sucanat (and other natural sweeteners) in hundreds of recipes for our cookbook, Naturally Sweet. We found that Sucanat gave us a deep, rich flavor in some of our favorite staple sweets, so we turned to it for our chocolate chip cookies recipe and chocolate layer cake recipe. But what exactly is Sucanat? How do you use Sucanat? And how does it compare to other types of sugar? Read on—we demystify that below.
What Is Sucanat?
Sucanat is an unrefined, natural cane sugar made from minimally processed sugar cane juice (its name is an abbreviation for sucre de canne naturel, meaning “natural sugar cane”). It has a deep molasses-like flavor and a tannish-brown color. Since it is less processed than granulated or brown sugar, it retains additional vitamins and minerals and its granules are irregular in size and shape. Sucanat is not necessarily low on the glycemic index, but is a good option for an increasingly sugar-wary general public—anyone who is looking to decrease the amount of sugar they’re eating without having to give up their favorite baked goods and desserts.
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How Is Sucanat Made?
Sucanat is made by extracting the juice from sugar cane, boiling the juice, then beating it with paddles to form granules. By contrast, to make granulated sugar, the sugarcane juice is chemically clarified before being boiled, and then the crystals are removed from the liquid by centrifugal machines. Finally, for granulated sugar, the process is essentially repeated in the refinery, which includes an additional step that decolors the crystals.
While regular cane sugar is treated both chemically and mechanically to form regularly shaped and uniform crystals, the minimal processing involved in making Sucanat creates granules that are irregular in size and shape. The graphic below illustrates the simple process by which Sucanat is made.
What Does Sucanat Taste Like?
Because Sucanat granules retain much of their natural molasses, they have a deep, molasses-y flavor. (When heated, it turns caramel-like between 250 and 270 degrees.) Sucanat is far more flavorful than regular white sugar, which means that a small amount goes a long way in providing sweetness and flavor to a wide variety of recipes.
Sucanat vs. Granulated Sugar
Although Sucanat and granulated sugar both start as sugarcane, the two differ on a molecular level. It all comes down to their levels of sugar molecules: glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Although these molecules all react the same way when combined with water, there are significant differences between them:
- In terms of being attracted to water (hygroscopicity), fructose is the most hygroscopic, glucose is the least hygroscopic, and sucrose falls somewhere in between.
- In terms of flavor, fructose is 1.5 times sweeter than sucrose, while glucose is only 75 percent as sweet as sucrose.
- Also, the length of time that the sweetness is perceived in the mouth is slightly different between molecules. The flavor of fructose dissipates the most quickly, followed by glucose, while sucrose offers the most sustained sweet flavor.
The chart below compares the makeup of granulated sugar to the makeup of Sucanat. You can see that unlike granulated sugar, which is made up entirely of sucrose, Sucanat is made up of sucrose, glucose, fructose, and other molecules. Given the different molecular designs of these sugars, it is no wonder that they react differently when added to a recipe.
Sucanat vs. Turbinado Sugar
Historically, turbinado sugar is a partially refined cane sugar that still retains some of its natural molasses. But today, that isn’t necessarily the case—turbinado sugar you find at a supermarket might be partially refined or it may be fully refined sugar with some molasses added back in.To create a more consistent product, some manufacturers fully refine cane sugar and then add molasses back in, resulting in turbinado sugar that looks and tastes like traditional versions—but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually less processed. We prefer Sucanat because we know for sure that it’s less processed.
How Should I Use Sucanat?
Be sure to grind Sucanat in a spice grinder before using it. This helps ensure that it’s well incorporated into doughs and batters and also eliminates unsightly speckling on finished baked goods. Unground Sucanat has a tough, granular texture that doesn’t always dissolve quickly into batters and doughs.
How Can I Substitute for Sucanat?
You can substitute granulated sugar and coconut sugar for Sucanat, but they cannot be substituted for one another based on a one-to-one volume measure. If you choose to use an alternative sugar, use this chart to determine how much sweetener you should use.
Where Can I Find Sucanat?
Because it’s a registered trademark, Sucanat is a fairly reliable, consistent product across brands; you can find it in many well-stocked supermarkets or online.