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Meet Demerara and Turbinado

Do modern humans have a love-hate relationship with sugar? Sometimes it seems that way. We crave sugar’s sweetness, yet deplore its effects, such as weight gain and the jitters.

More evidence: In recent years, sweetened sodas and other sugary drinks have been under attack for containing the equivalent — usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup — of a stunning amount of white sugar in each serving; yet HFCS and other sweeteners are added to thousands of other packaged foods that people consume without a second thought.

At home, our family doesn’t drink sodas or eat these factory foods; we learned from our own parents how to buy and prepare healthy meals, and we’re doing our best to pass these values on to our three young sons.

But what family can live without a little sugar now and then? We’re not talking about highly-refined white or brown sugar, which is often made from beets — our kids get their beets on a plate (“Warm salads, fresh spices highlight Moroccan meals,” Feb. 9, 2015).

We mean real cane sugar, minimally processed and used with a sparing hand. Here are two “raw” sugars that are always on our kitchen shelves; if you’d like to taste the difference, please stop by our Napa shop in the Oxbow Public Market.

Demerara sugarThese large, amber-colored crystals of evaporated cane juice have a crunchy texture and a distinct molasses flavor. This sugar takes its name from a former Dutch colony in what is now Guyana in South America, where cane was grown for sugar production. It is superb for sprinkling and swirling into oatmeal and desserts.

Turbinado sugarTurbinado is also extracted from sugar cane, yielding large crystals that resemble a much paler brown sugar. You can use it one-for-one to replace refined white and brown sugar in baking and cooking. It is the ultimate topping for cakes, cookies, muffins, crumbles and pies and a wonderful start to the day sprinkled on cereal or fruit.

Both of these sugars add a robust sweetness to tea and coffee. Baked goods made with Demerara and turbinado tend to be darker in color, depending on how much sugar you use. When making simple syrup with these less-refined sugars, expect an amber-toned result.

One thing to keep in mind: Although turbinado and Demerara are less refined and thus more “natural” than white sugar, they’re still sugar, and a little goes a long way.

Try turbinado sugar in this recipe for »» Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake