Brown vs. White Sugar: What’s the Difference?

by Charlie
Difference Between Brown Sugar and White Sugar

Brown sugar and white sugar are regular pantry items. These are probably the most common sweeteners we use for our drinks and sweet products.

What’s the difference between brown sugar and white sugar? The clearest difference between these sweeteners is the color. Brown sugar is the color brown, while white sugar is the color white. Also, they have a different taste, white sugar has a less intense flavor, while brown sugar has a rich flavor due to the presence molasses.

Brown sugar is brown in color because it has molasses. You can buy brown sugar partially refined or even unrefined. It is available as natural brown sugar or raw brown sugar.

The refinement process for natural brown sugar leaves some molasses in the sugar crystals, while commercial brown sugar is produced by adding preset amounts of sugarcane molasses to completely refined white sugar crystals to turn those white sugars to brown. This process produces commercial brown sugar grains that are coarser than unrefined brown sugar grains.

Brown sugar comes in many varieties. You have raw sugar, turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, cane sugar, and more.

Unrefined sugars are the least processed sugars. They do not undergo the refining process, and no molasses is removed or added. These are usually not centrifuged in any way.

There are many types of unrefined sugars on the market, but they are pricier than regular sugar. This is because this kind of sugar is mostly produced in small batches and may even be sourced abroad.

You will find them in stores labeled as muscovado sugar, coconut sugar, sugarcane sugar, panela sugar, rapadura sugar, and more.

White sugar is called by many names: table sugar, granulated sugar, or regular sugar. Finer forms of white sugar are called caster sugar and confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar). These are commonly used by bakers who need fine sugar to mix for their icing, sweet pastries, pies, and cakes.

White sugar is made from cane sugar or beet sugar. Like regular brown sugar, it goes through a refining process, but quite the opposite. Molasses are stripped off and then given sucrose.

White sugar from cane sugar is not always vegan, but white sugar made from beet sugar is vegan since it does not use bone char in the refining process.

What are Other Differences Between Brown Sugar and White Sugar?

Besides color, there are more differences between brown sugar and white sugar. Firstly, they are different in taste. White sugar is less intense in flavor, while brown sugar is very flavorful. It also has a strong taste of molasses.

Secondly, brown sugar retains its molasses while white sugar is stripped of molasses. Light brown sugar would contain at least 3.5% molasses, while dark brown sugar would contain at least 6.5% molasses. Refined white sugars contain zero molasses unless they are turned into commercial brown sugars where molasses are added to turn them brown.

Which leads us to the third difference. White sugar does not contain minerals, but brown sugar has minerals, which come from molasses that are present in it.

Lastly, brown sugar contains more moisture than white sugar. That’s why it is called soft sugar. Again, this is due to the presence of molasses. Now, if you want to keep the quality of your brown sugar, make sure that you use airtight containers for it.

Otherwise, the moisture will start evaporating due to air exposure, and your brown sugar will harden after some time. Some bring back moisture by placing a hot damp towel over a bowl of hardened brown sugar for some minutes. If you do this, just make sure the damp towel does not touch the sugar in any way.

Can You Substitute Brown Sugar for White Sugar in Recipes?

Yes, you can substitute brown sugar for white sugar in recipes. These two sweeteners are interchangeable most of the time. Use the exact amounts when making a substitution. And if you need to use white sugar instead of brown sugar, add 1 tbs. of molasses. Add 2 tbs. if you need dark brown sugar. Or use maple syrup if you do not have molasses.

When Should You Use Brown Sugar?

Many love using brown sugar in their coffee as it brings out more flavor into your cup of brew. Use it for apple crumble and caramel recipes. And use it in flans so you can easily achieve caramelization. It intensifies the flavors.

Choose brown sugar for baked products that need moisture and the scent and taste of molasses. Use brown sugar to add a different flavor to desserts and baked treats. Or use it as a substitute for maple sugar.

Turbinado sugar is slightly refined raw cane sugar. Use it to leave a hint of caramel on your baked products and drinks. Sprinkle some on top of desserts. You may also use demerara sugar. It’s like turbinado sugar but has larger crystals. It is also lighter in color.

Choose unrefined sugars if you need a stronger flavoring. Muscovado is great for barbecue marinades and sauces. Cane sugar is great for baking rich and tasty cookies, cakes, and pastries. Try coconut sugar to enhance the taste of your chocolate bakes.

When Should You Use White Sugar?

Granulated white sugar is an all-purpose sweetener. Use it anytime you need sugar that blends well and will not change the texture or color of what you are making. Choose confectioner’s sugar (powdered or ground white sugar) to make icing, frosting, glaze, and whipped cream. It is fine-textured and dissolves easily.

You can choose caster sugar for purposes other than previously mentioned above. These dissolve easily in your cocktails, cold drinks, and baked sweets like cookies or cakes. Caster sugar is a better choice when the recipe calls for creaming sugar and butter together.

Final Thoughts

  • Brown sugar and white sugar are different in color.
  • Brown sugar has molasses, while white sugar has none.
  • Brown sugar has more moisture than white sugar.
  • Brown sugar has minerals due to its molasses content, while white sugar has no minerals.
  • Brown sugar is best for caramel, flan, and crumble recipes.
  • White sugar is best for making icing, frosting, and glaze.
  • Unrefined sugars are the least processed of all types of sugar and are usually pricier than regular sugar.

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