Brown Sugar and White Sugar: What’s the Difference?

By Escali in Featured, Homemade
Brown sugar and white sugar in wooden spoons.

Have you ever encountered a recipe that calls for both brown sugar and white sugar? You may wonder why it requires two different types of sugar. Can you simply use one or the other and get the same result? Can you substitute one for the other? What’s the difference? While they are both a form of sugar, they do have different properties that will affect the final texture, whether you are making a batch of soft chocolate chip cookies or a tender loaf of banana bread.

How Sugar is Made

Typically, sugar is created from tropical sugarcane plants. They are crushed and their juice is extracted. It is then heated in a process that yields molasses. The molasses contains very dark sugar crystals. Manufacturers spin that in a centrifuge to remove the molasses and produce white sugar.

The Difference Between Brown Sugar & White Sugar

  • White sugar comes in a number of different granule sizes, but most recipes call for granulated white sugar which features medium-sized granules. Sometimes it is called table sugar. When granulated white sugar is heated it browns to a toffee-like color and takes on a similar flavor.
  • Brown sugar is available in a variety of colors, ranging from light to dark brown. The flavor of brown sugar is very strong and should be soft and moist right out of the packaging. Decades ago, brown sugar was simply white sugar before all of the molasses was taken out, but now it is white sugar combine with the molasses that was separated from the original sugarcane. The darker the brown sugar, the more molasses is in the mixture.

Are they interchangeable in baking?

In most cases, you can use brown sugar and white sugar interchangeably. However, you may notice a difference in the texture of your baked goods. Brown sugar is naturally moist, so using it will result in baked goods that are softer and moister. Also, your baked goods may come out darker than you would have expected if you use brown sugar in place of granulated white sugar.

For years, many have believed the urban legend that brown sugar is healthier than white sugar, but that is simply not true. The amount of nutrients in the molasses which gets added back into the white sugar is minuscule, so it is not a healthier product. In fact, you are actually getting a more refined product with brown sugar because of the process of extracting and recombining the molasses with the white sugar.

If you do wish to substitute brown sugar for white sugar while baking, there are a few things to consider. First, since brown sugar contains more moisture, you may need to slightly decrease the amount of wet ingredients in your recipe or slightly increase some of your dry ingredients to compensate. Second, think carefully about texture. If you are trying to bake a cake, it should be relatively dry, so stick with granulated white sugar. If you are baking fruit bread-like banana bread-you may want a moist, rich texture; so brown sugar may be the right choice.

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