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Will the Real Raw Sugar Please Stand Up?

Raw Sugar? Really?

Raw Sugar? Really?

Labels are deceptive.

I was in the grocery store yesterday — in the sugar aisle. Of 5 products claiming to be natural, raw sugar, exactly ZERO actually were!

Now, I know we’re supposed to avoiding sweeteners altogether. When I get a hankerin’ for sweets, I usually grab a fruit or — I kid you not — a glass of whole raw milk.

But, sometimes you may want to make something sweet as a special treat. It’s the holidays. It’s your kid’s birthday. You got promoted. You need comfort.

When those days strike, it’s best to use natural, unrefined sweeteners to fill the gap. Things like honey, maple syrup, or raw sugar.

Want to test your raw sugar spotting abilities? Check out the photos below and tell me which one’s really and truly unrefined, raw sugar.

Will the Real Raw Sugar Please Stand Up?

Each of the sugars below is advertised as natural, raw sugar.

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

Option 4

Figured it out yet?

(Answers coming soon!)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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37 Responses to Will the Real Raw Sugar Please Stand Up?
  1. Skinnygirl
    January 23, 2009 | 7:36 pm

    I’m goin’ with options 2 or 3 because they are the most brown (and that’s the opposite of WHITE).

  2. Shannon
    January 23, 2009 | 9:01 pm

    I don’t know–option 2 looks like it could be Sucanat up close, so I’m guessing #2.


    • Joe
      October 14, 2011 | 7:42 pm

      Sucanat isn’t really raw sugar.

  3. Jenny
    January 23, 2009 | 9:08 pm

    I’m going with #2, too, which looks like sucanat. #1 & #4 look like sugar in the raw (which isn’t). #3 looks like turbinado. Of course, sucanat isn’t really raw since it’s heated until it’s thick enough to crystallize when paddled, so I’m kinda thinking this is a trick question. ;)


  4. KristenM
    January 23, 2009 | 9:11 pm

    Ah, Jenny! Do you really think I’m THAT tricky? ;)


  5. Genie
    January 24, 2009 | 2:49 am

    I’m guessing none of them unless number two was scraped right out of the sugar cane itself. If I can’t see the cane, it just doesn’t seem natural.


  6. The Thrifty Oreganic
    January 24, 2009 | 3:20 am

    Hi Kristin!

    Perhaps I can clear up the confusion? #2 is true raw Rapadura? I know there’s an old Sucanat-Rapadura debate…. I think recently Sucanat fell back into graces because they’ve changed their processing and are now actually real, but the only real raw cane sugar I know of is Rapadura.

    Unfortunately, I test badly for all cane sugar, so I tend to stick with raw honey and stevia. Great blog, by the way!

    The Thrifty Oreganic

  7. Kelly the Kitchen Kop
    January 24, 2009 | 8:19 am

    Why oh why can’t they just ALL be good for us????? Or if we could just get a *chocolate* exception…

    Kelly the Kitchen Kop

  8. Fumi
    January 24, 2009 | 10:54 am

    I went on a detox diet and since then, rediscovered the beauty of honey. We are also experimenting with Agave syrup as an sugar alternative.


  9. Chelsea
    January 24, 2009 | 11:26 am

    I wouldn’t do agave if I were you. It has a higher percentage of fructose than HFCS, and can damage your liver. Plus, the way it’s made is questionable.

  10. Bryan - oz4caster
    January 24, 2009 | 2:26 pm

    I would say none of them are “raw”. But it may depend on your definition of “raw” :)

    If you’re not overweight, the main problem with sugar is the fructose. Getting too much fructose, from whatever the source, tends to mess up your system over time and will likely lead to obesity and increased risk for type II diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It’s the fructose that appears to be the addicting component of sugar. Most sugars when digested are about half fructose and half glucose, including table sugar (sucrose), and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), as well as honey, maple syrup, and molasses.

    If you’re overweight or have diabetes, then the glucose matters as well. Most people lose weight more easily by cutting carbs, including starches and sugars.

    Interestingly, mother nature did not provide fructose in milk. That alone is a strong sign that fructose is not good for us. The sugar in milk is lactose, which digests into glucose and galactose. So, as long as you don’t already have weight problems, raw milk is great for satisfying any urge for sweets. I like it with a little raw organic unsweetened cocoa powder and raw pastured egg yolks blended in for a really healthy treat.

    The sugar in fruit typically digests to about half fructose, but the quantity is small compared to what you get in typical desserts that are made with added sweeteners. So, it’s still not a good idea to eat too much fruit, as the fructose does add up.

    Bryan – oz4caster

  11. Sugar Answers | Food Renegade
    January 25, 2009 | 3:59 pm

    [...] Sugar Answers Sunday, January 25th, 2009 | Author: KristenM  |  I asked, and you answered. [...]

    • Wendi Wilkins
      November 26, 2011 | 5:00 pm

      Your posts aren’t individually dated, are they? We can search for a month, but within that month we can’t go to a specific date, can we? If not, how do we find the answer to your sugar question?

      • Nancy
        February 12, 2013 | 8:42 am

        It took me a while to flip through the pages but I searched “raw sugar” and the post was right next to this one. I agree it should be linked for ease or be able to go to the next post like you can with pages of posts. :)

  12. Rani
    March 3, 2011 | 10:51 am

    My guess is that none of them are raw sugar.

    Bryan, interesting treatise on lactose vs fructose, I’d never thought of it that way. But if you’re going with what Mother Nature intended, she certainly never intended us to drink the breast milk of other mammals. Cow’s milk is designed for calves. We are the only creatures who drink the milk of other animals and the only ones who drink it past the age of weaning.

    • Michele
      May 8, 2011 | 12:03 pm

      Good point about milk and our consumption. I’m lactose intolerant. During a university health course I read how our bodies were never meant to be able to digest cows milk. They only reason (most) people can is because of high consumption over time. Asian countries where dairy is rarely consumed have high rates of lactose intolerance. I used to live in Korea and dairy was extremely expensive.

    • Karen
      July 26, 2011 | 1:46 pm

      Actually, most mammals will drink the milk of others if milk from their own kind is unavailable. Humans are also different from other animals in many ways. We have the ability to reason and project into the future. We also rely on the industry of others to provide our sustenance, and as a society are willing to consume an awful lot of engineered crap that no living creature was ever “designed” to consume. Edible petroleum products anyone?

      • Karen
        July 26, 2011 | 2:58 pm

        My apologies, I realize this is off the raw sugar topic, but I just can’t leave this alone.

        I was lactose intolerant as a child when I consumed pasturized milk, but had no problems with the occasional raw milk we obtained. It was the pasturized milk that “exploded through” me. Some, like Sally Fallon, suggest that it is the dead bacteria in pasturized milk that causes the problem, not lactose.

        Excrement also consists largely of dead bacteria. Isn’t that an interesting connection?

    • Vicki
      September 6, 2011 | 2:47 pm

      i hear the argument against milk (only humans drink another species’ milk) a lot, but it’s not true. Dogs, cats and bears drink milk if they have access to it — they just don’t often. It’s clearly not meant to be drunk often by carnivores, based on what happens to them when they get too much, but humans are not carnivores. Even a vegetarian is an omnivore, they just don’t want to be.

  13. Candy
    May 24, 2011 | 11:05 am

    What about coconut sugar or perhaps I should say coconut crystals? How does this measure up? Are they still fructose, still taxing on the system overtime?

  14. Andrea Quiceno
    July 17, 2011 | 6:15 pm

    I realize this is a few years old, but I’m reading it because I had a discussion with a friend yesterday about howI had heard agave nectar was bad. Anyway, what is the suger answer here?

  15. Teresa L
    January 31, 2012 | 8:33 pm

    Where is the answer? I don’t see a link anywhere.

  16. rellio1
    February 27, 2012 | 12:37 am

    I think it’s Option 1. Would love to know the answer though.

  17. Shannon
    February 29, 2012 | 11:29 am

    Hi, Kristen! It would be so helpful if you dated your blogs. I can’t find the answer to this great start you made about “raw” sugar and have no idea how old or new it might be (except by looking at the comments). Dating your words would be great for posterity and info. Thank you.

  18. julie
    March 6, 2012 | 3:34 pm

    Click “next post” on the bottom for the answer.

  19. Harry L Dantzler
    June 3, 2012 | 6:57 am

    I would really like to know the real raw sugar answer. I love this forum. I have beeen researching raw natural foods and herbs since 7/18/1960. That’s the day my mother died from diabetes, which began my life long journey searching for what could have saved her. I still miss her. God is my best friend and next was my mother.

  20. Dianna Haught
    December 10, 2012 | 10:17 pm

    I visited a sugar plant in Hawaii and number 4 looks most like the raw sugar that we were given in sample form.

  21. ML Olson
    February 6, 2013 | 2:26 pm

    I’m new to your site, and don’t see a date on this post, but I would go with #2 of the options above. Looks like SuCaNat to me. :D

  22. Elisa
    February 12, 2013 | 1:44 am

    Option 3….When are you going to post the answer?

  23. Nancy
    February 12, 2013 | 8:47 am

    So you say no truly raw sugar is available. What I want to know is: how can you tell how it was processed? My apologies if this is elsewhere on your site. I’ve been reading a lot of your posts about different sweeteners starting with a link my sister sent me about the way agave nectar is made. Yick. Anyway… I’m still browsing. Love what I’ve read so far.

  24. Malik
    March 11, 2013 | 2:28 am

    Isn’t ‘raw sugar’ just a manufacturing term??–as opposed to real raw sugar.(if there is such a thing).
    Then I guess it will be OPTION 1.
    All the other brown sugars perhaps are just processed sugar with the addition of things like mollasses and stuff.
    How can any sugar be “raw” if it is crystallized?
    It can only be really raw if you grab a sugar cane or sugar beet and bite into it.
    I’m sure the manufacturing world has technical/commercial definitions for what is considered raw or refined, ie being processed at different temperatures, etc.
    But my gut feeling is that–how can anything be raw if it is in a powdered or crystalline form?? Surely the raw sugar has to be juiced, boiled, chemicals added, evaporated or centrifuged, etc, etc, before it can find its way into a plastic bag with a label on it??!!
    Just my two cents worth. LOL

    • Geraldine
      March 14, 2013 | 11:48 pm

      Ha! Yes, I think you are right….I was going to say the raw-est sugar is molasses because it would be the least refined, however it is not RAW! However, if you dry raw sugarcane juice, THAT would be raw sugar juice at least, if not raw sugar itself, no?

  25. Anita Hedgecock
    March 13, 2013 | 8:18 pm

    #4 : )

  26. Nicole
    March 26, 2013 | 1:10 pm

    Have the answers been posted?

  27. tahirah
    April 4, 2013 | 8:03 pm

    option 1 and 2 i see a lot when i get raw sugar and because # 3 look like light brown sugar or dark brown sugar i know that not right. # 2 looks like sugar cane pieces. i will be waiting on the answer

  28. Evan
    October 21, 2013 | 8:57 pm

    my vote, goes for unrefined sugars, falling under the names, panela, piloncillo, jaggery, or raspadura.

  29. The ACTUAL Truth
    April 26, 2014 | 6:26 am

    None of it is really raw sugar since it is illegal to sell it in the U.S. due to the high impurities level in the truly raw product. All of it has been processed in some form or fashion to clean it, but it has not been subjected to the full refining and whitening processes of ordinary white table sugar.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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