Food Facts

Everything You Need to Know About Brown Sugar

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Growing up, I never could resist taking a small taste of brown sugar every time I used it in a recipe. Actually, I still like a little taste of brown sugar every time I bake with it. Soft and sweet with a rich, caramel flavor, brown sugar lends the perfect richness to baked goods such as banana bread or coffee cake. Read on to learn more about what brown sugar is, how it’s used and how to best store it.

So How is Brown Sugar Made?

Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added back in. Molasses is actually a by-product created during sugar processing. When the sugar is being boiled and refined, the crystallized sugar is removed from the liquid. The remaining liquid then goes through several boiling processes, which results in molasses. Check out my article on how sugar is made. I also recommend checking out this great video on how brown sugar is made.

Brown Vs White Sugar in a Recipe

White granulated sugar is 99% sucrose (sugar) and brown sugar is 93-95% sucrose. Brown sugar has many uses; it is used in marinades, sauces, roasted vegetables, and baked goods. You can use white and brown sugar interchangeably, but it may affect the texture and flavor of baked goods.

Both white and brown sugar are hygroscopic (absorbs and holds moisture). Brown sugar is more hygroscopic than white sugar which helps baked goods made with brown sugar hold more moisture. This is helpful is soft, moist products such as banana bread, coffee cake or blondies but not ideal for other recipes such as sugar cookies, angel food cake or shortbread. Brown also adds a stronger, richer flavor than granulated sugar and adds a darker color to baked goods.

sugar cubes in a bowl

Is Brown Sugar Healthier Than White Sugar?

There is a myth that brown sugar is significantly healthier than white sugar. Molasses does add some minerals that white sugar doesn’t contain, it is a very minimal amount. This tiny amount of minerals doesn’t provide any significant health benefits.

Due to its water content, brown sugar also contains slightly fewer calories per ounce than white sugar. Brown sugar has 105 calories per ounce vs 110 calories per ounce in white sugar. However, because brown sugar is typically packed into a measuring cup, the calories are pretty similar by volume. White sugar has 16 calories per teaspoon while brown sugar has 17 calories per teaspoon.

Overall, while it may seem that brown sugar would be healthier than white sugar, they are both sugar and it is recommended to consume them in moderation.

Light vs Dark Brown Sugar

Compared to turbinado or muscovado sugar (sugars that don’t have all of the molasses removed), brown sugar has molasses added in specific amounts. Dark brown sugar contains more molasses (6.5%) than light brown sugar (3.5%). They can be used interchangeably but are not identical.

Because it contains more molasses, dark brown sugar will result in deeper, richer flavor and darker color. Molasses is acidic and reacts with baking soda in baked goods which helps the product rise. Because dark brown sugar has more molasses, it may give a higher rise or wider spread in baked goods, though likely not a significant difference. There will also be a greater impact depending on the amount of brown sugar; substituting 1 cup of brown sugar will have a more obvious difference than 1 tablespoon.

If you’re wondering whether light brown or dark brown sugar is best to keep on hand, light brown sugar is the way to go. It is more commonly used, and because of its subtler flavor, it will be more versatile than dark brown sugar.

How to Store Brown Sugar

Because of the moisture from the molasses, brown sugar can dry out easily. To prevent this, store your brown sugar in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place (such as a pantry). This may be a separate container you put your brown sugar in or place your brown sugar still in the bag into a zip-top container with as much of the air removed as possible. How long does brown sugar last? It has a low enough water content it should last indefinitely. However, it is best used within two years.

How to Soften Hard Brown Sugar

Even if you store your brown sugar properly, it may still dry out over time. To fix this, place a slice of bread, a handful of marshmallows, or a slice of apple in the container with the brown sugar and let sit overnight. Then remove the apple, marshmallows, or bread. Now your brown sugar should be rehydrated, soft, and easy to work with again.

To prevent brown sugar from drying out, there are brown sugar saver products you can buy. But, for a low-cost option leave a slice of bread or several marshmallows in with your brown sugar. Once the bread or marshmallow becomes stale and dry simply replace it with a fresh slice of bread or handful of marshmallows.

If you’re looking for a great recipe using brown sugar, I highly recommend my Best Banana Cake or Easy S’more Bars.

Hello! I'm Nichole and I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I have a bachelor's degree in Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science and a master's degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. I love cooking, baking and anything food related. I look forward to teaching you more about food and sharing my favorite recipes with you. Enjoy!

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