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.