Apart from the colour, is there really any difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar? And if so, which should you use if your recipe calls for ‘brown sugar’? We delve into the delicious world of brown sugar to answer these questions and more.
What is the difference?
Brown sugar is a refined sugar, which means it has been processed to separate sugar crystals from molasses, a dark, caramel-flavoured syrup made from pulped sugarcane. For white sugars, the process ends here, but brown sugar has some of the molasses added back in, giving it its brown colour, and a subtle caramel flavour.
The key difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar is how much molasses is added back in. Light brown sugar is 3.5% molasses, while dark brown sugar contains almost twice as much, at 6.5%. This accounts for the difference in colour, and also means that dark brown sugar has a stronger, smokier caramel flavour, as well as a slightly higher moisture content and acidity.
Light brown sugar is more common than dark, so if your recipe calls for brown sugar, it likely means light brown sugar. Some recipes benefit from the stronger flavour of dark brown sugar, however, with gingerbread being a prime example.
Other types of sugar
If brown sugar isn’t quite what you need for your next baking project, here is a brief guide to some other popular types of sugar.
Granulated sugar is a highly-refined multi-purpose sugar. It is low in molasses and white in colour.
Caster sugar is a finer version of granulated sugar, and dissolves more easily.
Confectioners’ sugar is a powdered white sugar, used to make icing and frosting. It is also known as powdered sugar.
Pearl sugar is a white sugar with hard, opaque grains that is often used to decorate pastries.
Sanding sugar is another sugar used mainly for decorating. It has large grains and is available in various bright colours.
Cane sugar is an all-purpose sugar, made from sugarcane and minimally-processed. It is a pale golden colour with slightly larger crystals than granulated sugar.
Demerara sugaris a minimally processed raw cane sugar with large crunchy crystals and a sticky texture. It has a light brown colour and caramel flavour due to its higher molasses content.
Turbinado sugar is another minimally processed raw cane sugar. It has a similar caramel flavour to Demerara, but with slightly finer crystals and a dryer texture.
Muscovado sugar is either partially refined or unrefined. It has a high molasses content, which gives it its dark brown colour and strong flavour.
Rapadura sugaris an unrefined sugar from Central and Latin America. It is made by crushing and boiling sugar cane so none of the molasses is lost, and has a strong flavour and dark brown colour.
Can you substitute light with dark brown sugar and vice versa?
In most circumstances you can use light and dark brown sugar interchangeably, although you will notice some differences in flavour and texture. Dark brown sugar will give your bake a stronger flavour than light brown, while it’s higher acidity may cause a higher rise or wider spread.
If your recipe only calls for a small amount of sugar, these differences will be barely noticeable, but if brown sugar is a large part of the recipe they will be more pronounced. If you only have dark brown sugar and want to replicate the effect of light brown, you can try using half dark brown sugar and half granulated.
Recipes with brown sugar
Brown sugar can be used to add a deliciously smoky caramel flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes. Here are some of our favourite recipes.