Brown Sugar 101: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

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Sugar is an ingredient that has pleased people for millennia, and despite our understanding of the substance beyond sweets and drinks, there are many varieties of sugar. Brown sugar is a type of refined sucrose that is known for its bolder and more distinctive taste thanks to the heavy presence of molasses in its composition. Although both brown and white sugars are virtually the same, it’s the molasses that really defines the differences. 

Brown sugar was first discovered and eventually marketed and traded across the world in the Caribbean during the 1700s. It is made from 100% sugarcane, which is also where the molasses comes from used in its processing. Brown sugar does not come from sugar beets due to the lack of molasses. 

In this guide, we are going to explore everything there is to know about brown sugar. We will take a deep dive into what exactly it is and where it originated. We will also take a look at how this sugar is made and its distribution across the world and its variety of uses in a number of products, as well as if there are any main differences between brown and regular white sugar. Buy Viagra online 

What Is Brown Sugar?


Brown sugar is a product of sucrose sugar. As mentioned, it is brown in color because of the presence of molasses in it. Often molasses are added to completely white sugar to make it brown. This is done to lessen the production cost of sugar. 

The first crystallization of sugarcane produces natural brown sugar, and the processes used to create sugarcane into a white color are skipped if the product being extracted is brown sugar. 

Natural brown sugar is available in three types – Turbinado, Muscovado and Demerara. Each type of sugar differs from another by the percentage of molasses present in it.

Turbinado is made from the initial and first pressing of sugarcane. It contains natural molasses, which has a natural caramel flavor.

Muscovado has a moist texture and strong molasses flavor. It is frequently used in marinades and barbecue dishes.

Demerara has a bit of a large grain and is pale amber in color. It has a sweet toffee flavor.

Apart from its cooking qualities which will be explored below, this type of sugar also has some interesting secondary uses as well. It is believed to soothe menstrual pains in women. It also serves as a good anti-aging treatment. Xanax online

But brown sugar is used extensively in baking. It adds more vibrant color to baked foods and also adds to their flavor. It is used for making marinades for the preparation of meat dishes. Brown sugar is also used in many barbecue sauce and chili recipes. It is commonly used in cookies to impart the dusky color.

Due to the presence of water, brown sugar has a little lower caloric value by mass than white sugar. Molasses present in the sugar are a good source of calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium.

Where Does It Come From?

Brown sugar is more of a recent phenomenon in culinary history, but “recent” actually does stretch back to the Middle Ages some 700-800 years ago. Sugar cane cultivation originated in southwest Asia, where Marco Polo reported in his famous journals that the Chinese used dark brown sugar freely without additional refining. Sugar cultivation spread to the Middle East and the Mediterranean trade circle in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

In the fourteenth century, the island of Cyprus was the location of major sugar farms, using Syrian and Arab slaves as labor. Sugar cane cultivation was made a science in the fifteenth century in Sicily, with the invention of the roller mill to speed up the process. In those times, brown sugar was a byproduct of sugar refining, and wasn’t used widely in cooking until the sixteenth century.

Brown sugar came into popular use with the rise of European sugar plantations in the Caribbean in the 1700s. It was widely used as a sweetener in England and its American colonies, because it was much cheaper than white sugar. The use and export of this sugar from the islands rose in conjunction with the infamous “triangle trade.”

The Triangle Trade was a three-legged trade route. Manufactured goods went from Europe to Africa, where people were enslaved and taken to the Caribbean islands and sold as slaves. The third leg moved slave-produced goods like sugar, tea, cotton, tobacco and coffee to the colonies and Europe.

In the 1400s, sugar cane boomed on Portuguese and Spanish Atlantic Ocean islands. Sugar plantations that produced brown and white sugar grew up in the “West Indies,” as they were called at the time, or Caribbean islands, in the 1700s. Cuba, Jamaica and Barbados were top locations for sugar plantations.

Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico were among the earliest sugar islands, in the early sixteenth century. Brazil had many sugar-producing plantations, as early as the late 1500s, and continued lead sugar production. In modern times, Hawaii, Australia, Europe, Thailand and South Africa are major brown sugar producers.

What Makes Brown Sugar Brown?


There is no direct producer of this sugar per se, since either sugarcane or sugar beets can be made into brown sugar in modern times. Sugar is produced through the refinement of sugar beets and sugar cane. In the U.S., sugar beets are grown in 11 states. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top sugar-beet-producing state is Minnesota, followed by Idaho, North Dakota and Michigan. 

U.S. sugar cane is produced in regions of three states: southern Florida, the Mississippi Delta region of Louisiana and southern Texas. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, Florida is the top sugar-cane-producing state. 

Brown sugar can be made by adding molasses syrup to boiling sugar crystals that result from the sugar-refining process. It can also be made by coating white granulated sugar with molasses. While sugar beets and sugar cane are used to make white granulated sugar, only molasses from sugar cane is used in the production of brown sugar. 

Molasses from sugar cane is what gives brown sugar its color, with less needed to make light brown and more for dark brown. Regardless of its production method, this type of sugar typically contains at least 85% sucrose.  

How Is Brown Sugar Made?

Before the widespread manufacturing of sugar beginning in the 19th century, it was made by sugarcane only and did not go through the refinement process to create white sugar. 

As mentioned, brown sugar is a bit of a generic term — it’s simply sugar that contains molasses, with the molasses giving it that distinctive brown color and flavor. There are two ways that it can be made:

  • Either unrefined or partially refined brown sugar is sugar that still contains some molasses from the original sugar refining process. It can be labeled factory, raw, natural, turbinado, demerara, and muscovado, among other names, depending on origin and the refining process. These sugars may not be as soft and moist as more refined sugars.
  • A more refined brown sugar is made by adding molasses back to refined white sugar. This is the commercial brown product that is soft and moist and what is commonly thought of as brown sugar whenever we see this type of sugar or hear about people cooking with it.

Recipes will sometimes specify dark brown or light brown sugar, so what’s the difference? It’s simply the amount of molasses in it: Dark brown contains about 6.5% molasses, and light brown (or sometimes labeled golden brown) sugar contains about 3.5% molasses.

Brown sugar is naturally moist and soft because of the thin film of molasses that covers each sugar crystal. If the moisture in the molasses evaporates, however, the sugar hardens into one mass, so it should always be sealed in an airtight container to prevent moisture loss.

But with that in mind, the nice thing is that molasses is also hygroscopic, which means that it readily absorbs moisture. This means that if your sugar has hardened, you can seal it with bread or an apple so the molasses can steal and suck up its moisture to soften it again.

How To Make Brown Sugar

You may be thinking making this sugar is a complex process, but rest assured, it is incredibly simple. There are a few ways to combine the sugar and molasses. You can use a large bowl and fork, which is low-tech and easy. You can also mix it up in a zip-top bag — make sure it’s tightly sealed, then massage the mixture until combined. 

But giving it a few quick pulses in the food processor is the fastest, easiest way to mix up your sugar at home.Your homemade sugar can be used right away for baking or cooking, or it can be stored in an airtight container, where it will keep well for up to one month. Just as you would with store-bought brown sugar, lightly pack it into your measuring cups whenever you use it.

Brown vs. White Sugar

Even though molasses are the deciding factor, there are some differences between brown and white sugars. Given that brown and white sugar originate from the same crops — either the sugarcane or sugar beet plant — they are quite similar.

In fact, most brown sugar is a mixture of white sugar and molasses, which is a type of sugar-derived syrup. Molasses is responsible for its darker color and slightly increases its nutritional value.

The most notable nutritional difference between the two is that brown sugar has slightly higher calcium, iron, and potassium contents.

Sugar is produced in tropical climates where sugarcane or sugar beet plants grow.

Both plants undergo a similar process to produce sugar. However, the methods used to make it into brown and white sugar differ.

First, the sugary juice from both crops is extracted, purified, and heated to form a brown, concentrated syrup called molasses. Next, the crystallized sugar is centrifuged to produce sugar crystals. A centrifuge is a machine that spins extremely fast to separate sugar crystals from molasses.

White sugar is then further processed to remove any excess molasses and create smaller crystals. Subsequently, it’s run through a filtration system that’s often made with bone char, or crushed animal bones, to form white sugar.

Refined brown sugar is simply white sugar that has had molasses added back into it. Meanwhile, whole, unrefined brown sugar undergoes less processing than white sugar, allowing it to retain some of its molasses content and natural color.

Can You Substitute Brown Sugar For White Sugar?

The main differences between brown and white sugar are their taste and color. Swapping white sugar for brown in recipes will affect the color of foods, giving a light-caramel or brown hue.

Contrarily, baking with white sugar will result in a lighter-colored product. Thus, whichever you choose will depend on your desired end result.

Brown and white sugar also have unique flavor profiles. Brown has a deep, caramel or toffee-like flavor due to the added molasses. For this reason, it works well in chocolate cakes and cookies, as well as rich fruit cakes.

On the other hand, white sugar is sweeter, so you can use less of it to attain your desired taste. Its neutral flavor makes it a versatile ingredient in baking, working well in fruit sponges and sweet pastries.

Is Brown Better Than White Sugar?

brown and white sugar

Whether you choose brown or white sugar comes down to personal preference, as taste and color are the main differences between the two.

Although brown contains more minerals than white, the quantities of these minerals are so minuscule that they won’t provide any health benefits.

Importantly, sugar, no  matter the variety, is thought to be a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic and major cause of diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

For this reason, it’s recommended to consume no more than 5–10% of your daily calories from added sugar. However, this should be limited even further for optimal health.

While it’s fine to enjoy a sugary treat now and then, all types of sugar should be limited in a healthy diet.

When choosing between brown or white sugar, let your personal preference guide you, as they will have equal effects on your health.

Cane Sugar vs. Brown Sugar

Many people mistakenly assume that cane sugar and brown sugar are the same, but both types of sugar are somewhat different. Cane sugar is extracted from cane juice which involves boiling and filtration process while still retaining its natural moisture and molasses. It’s still at its rawest form that’s why it’s considered organic. While brown sugar also goes through the same process, the difference is it’s being refined after filtration until it crystallizes. 

It has a little bit of molasses content left which explains its brown color. Cane sugar’s flavor has more body and depth. It almost tastes like vanilla with a mild floral or fruity aroma. The molasses and other minerals left inside the crystals made a difference.

Brown sugar, on the other hand, may vary in flavor depending on how brown it is. Light brown has a more toffee-like taste, it’s milder and less complex. Dark brown is more caramel-like with a more enhanced molasses flavor.

Brown Cane Sugar

Brown cane sugar is actually pure, organic cane sugar which is unrefined sugar minus the cancer-causing and environmentally damaging pesticides present in conventionally-grown sugarcane.

Compared to brown sugar, organic cane sugar has the full-bodied taste of sugarcane and is much less processed, retaining a lot of the nutrients present in cane juice. 

Unrefined cane sugar contains 17 amino acids, 11 minerals and 6 vitamins, including antioxidants, that may help reverse oxidative damage. It is made up of sucrose, fructose and glucose.

Brown table sugar is just sucrose and calories, plus traces of chemicals utilized in the refining process such as lime, sulfur dioxide and phosphoric acid. 

Organic cane sugar is not like brown sugar, which is white sugar with molasses thrown back in.

The light color of organic cane sugar is comparable to turbinado or “raw” sugar, a sign that it is less processed compared to other wholesome sweeteners such as muscovado and molasses.


Monk Fruit

Monk fruit brown sugar is extracted from, you guessed it, monk fruit.

The monk fruit is also known as luo han guo or “Buddha fruit.” It’s a small, round fruit grown in Southeast Asia.

This fruit has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t approve its use as a sweetener until 2010.

The sweetener is created by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit and crushing it to collect the juice, which is then dried into a concentrated powder that takes on a brown hue.

Monk fruit contains natural sugars, mainly fructose and glucose. However, unlike in most fruits, the natural sugars in monk fruit aren’t responsible for its sweetness. Instead, it gets its intense sweetness from unique antioxidants called mogrosides.

During processing, mogrosides are separated from the fresh-pressed juice. Therefore, monk fruit sweetener does not contain fructose or glucose. Because this extract may be 100–250 times sweeter than table sugar, many manufacturers mix monk fruit sweetener with other natural products, such as inulin or erythritol, to reduce the intensity of the sweetness.

Monk fruit extract is now used as a standalone sweetener, an ingredient in food and drinks, a flavor enhancer, and a component of sweetener blends 

Raw Brown Sugar

You may hear people use the term “raw brown sugar,” but this is actually referring to two separate types of sugar. 

Raw sugar is made with sugar cane juice that has been reduced by boiling until almost all of its water content has evaporated. The resulting syrup is centrifuged before being cooled until it hardens. Once it is hard, it can be ground to the fine golden brown grains that we associate with raw sugar. Raw sugar has the remains of its original molasses, which means that there are trace amounts of nutrients as well as ash and other impurities.

Brown sugar consists of white sugar to which molasses has been added. White sugar has its molasses removed during extensive processing to produce pure white crystals. To make them brown again, a certain percentage of molasses is added. The amount of molasses added back to the sugar determines the type of brown sugar. Light brown has less molasses while dark brown has more.

Raw sugar is refined until it is 96 percent sucrose with about 4 percent of impurities including molasses. Brown sugar has been completely refined to have all of its molasses removed then 3.5 percent is returned to get light brown sugar. 

Dark brown sugar contains about 6 percent molasses. Raw sugar makes a decent substitute for brown sugar. It is especially good if you use it as a substitute for light brown sugar. The most common type of raw sugar will be a little drier than brown sugar, but not enough to make a significant difference. It will also have less of the toffee-butterscotch taste for which brown sugar is known.


One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to considering brown sugar substitutes is to know the difference between light and dark brown sugar. The kind of sugar that your recipe calls for (either light brown or dark brown) should inform what you use as a substitute. Light brown calls for less molasses flavor while dark brown calls for more.

It is also important to adjust your proportions for liquid substitutions. If you decide to use a liquid ingredient like agave nectar or maple syrup to substitute for brown sugar, you can’t use a one-to-one swap. For every cup of solid brown sugar, use ⅔ of a cup of your liquid alternative. You’ll also need to reduce the amount of other liquid ingredients you’re using by ¼ of a cup for every ⅔ cup of liquid sweetener you use.

Keep it simple. Finding a substitute for this sugar doesn’t need to be complicated. As long as you have some sort of granulated sugar or sweetener, your recipe will hold up. Your best bet is to add molasses or maple syrup along with granulated sugar to achieve the caramel flavor.

Take a look at this helpful video to see these tips in action:

What Can I Substitute For Brown Sugar?

Here are some great substitutes to consider:

  • Sugar and molasses: You can combine white granulated sugar and molasses—which are the main components of your target sugar—to make your own sugar. For every cup of white sugar, add one tablespoon of molasses to make light brown. For dark brown use two tablespoons of molasses.
  • Sugar and maple syrup: Swap molasses for maple syrup and combine with white sugar to achieve the caramel flavor of brown sugar. Use one tablespoon of maple syrup for every cup of white sugar.
  • Coconut: Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut trees and is considered a healthier alternative to brown. You can use it in a one-to-one proportion and melt it slightly on the stove before adding to your baking mix so that it incorporates well.
  • Muscovado: Muscovado sugar is an excellent alternative to brown sugar, because it also contains molasses. However, the molasses content of muscovado sugar is higher than brown sugar, making it stickier and more prone to clumping. You can use a one-to-one portion of muscovado sugar as you would for brown.
  • Date sugar: Date sugar is made from dehydrated dates which are ground into sugar granules. The dates possess their own natural sugars, with a butterscotch-like flavor. You can use the same portions of date sugar that you would with brown.
  • Honey or agave nectar: Honey and agave nectar are both natural sweeteners that work as liquid substitutes. For every cup of brown, use two-thirds of a cup of liquid sweetener. For every two-thirds of a cup of liquid sweetener, reduce other liquids by one quarter per cup to avoid too much liquid in your mixture.

Sugar Replacement

If all else fails, you can always use regular white sugar and add some molasses to it to make an adequate replacement.


Another great substitute that cuts the calories and sugar consumption in half is Splenda Brown Sugar Blend. This blend is actually half of Splenda’s regular sugar substitute blend and another half of brown sugar extract. 


Stevia also has a blend that follows the same product guidelines as Splenda. Stevia has fewer calories than sugar and may play a role in weight management by helping you eat fewer calories. Because it’s free of calories and carbs, it’s a great sugar alternative for people on low-calorie or low-carb diets.

Replacing sugar with stevia also reduces the glycemic index (GI) of foods, meaning that they affect blood sugar levels to a lesser extent.

Hard Brown Sugar

One of the most common questions we get is why does brown sugar get hard?

Packed brown sugar is almost always going to happen the longer a bag or box of it sits in a cabinet. If you live in a dry, arid climate, you can expect the hardening process to accelerate rapidly. 

Let’s take a look at how to remedy this common problem. 

How To Soften Brown Sugar

using microwave to soften brown sugar

The reason that this sugar clumps together is that over time the moisture evaporates which causes the sugar crystals to stick together. Whether you store your sugar in an airtight container or not it will eventually harden over time. This doesn’t mean that it has gone bad or that you need to throw it away. You just need to add moisture back into it.

Using the microwave to soften this sugar is the fastest method. There are two ways of softening it in the microwave.

Place your hardened sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and choose one of the following two next steps.

  • Get a paper towel or dishcloth wet and then ring out all of the extra water. You only want the towel to be damp. Lay it over the bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds. or…
  • Fill another microwave-safe bowl about 1/3 full with water and place it in the microwave next to the bowl of sugar. Microwave for about 30 seconds. I prefer this method because you don’t know what’s in the paper towel.

Use a fork to mix it up a little and break up the clumps. If you find that you need just a few more seconds, add another 15 sec at a time. Make sure you don’t overdo it as we aren’t wanting to cook the sugar, only soften it.

You can also use the oven if you like, just be sure to check on the sugar every five minutes or so until it is soft. Make sure to wear an oven mitt because it is going to get HOT. Allow for the sugar to cool before adding it to your recipe.

Adding bread (or believe it or not apple slices) to an airtight container with your hardened sugar and letting it sit overnight will soften it. The moisture from the apples or bread will slowly be added back into your brown sugar.

You can also make your sugar soft again by leaving it out on the counter overnight in a bowl with a dampened dish towel laid over it. Again, the key to softening is adding moisture back into it.

All of these methods however, will take time.

How To Soften It Quickly and Keep It Soft

The best way to keep your sugar soft is to make sure that it has moisture. Keeping it in an airtight container is important. The less air the better to prevent it from drying out.

If you keep it in a food storage bag you want to make sure to get out as much air as you can before zipping it closed.

It’s been proven that terra cotta will keep brown sugar from hardening. They sell discs specifically for this but you can also use a broken part of a terracotta pot as well.

Soak the terra cotta in water for about 30 minutes. Completely dry off the disc or piece and place it in with your sugar. It retains water and will keep moisture in the container and prevent clumping.

You will have to soak the terra cotta every few months to keep moisture in because that will eventually dry out.

How To Break Up Brown Sugar

The best way to break up this sugar when it’s hardened is to use a mallet or even your hands and work through the clumps until the sugar is not compacted. This can take time though, and any of the above steps listed will likely go much more smoothly in terms of breaking the sugar down effectively and quickly. 



Brown sugar, like all sugar, is a simple carbohydrate that provides quick energy (glucose) to the body and the brain. Glucose is the brain’s preferred energy source, however, excess calories and carbohydrates from sugar and other sources are stored as fat. So it is important to consume sugar in moderation.

Excess sugar consumption is often blamed for increased rates of disease including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, some experts assert that when sugar is consumed at recommended levels, it does not contribute to increased risk of disease. Experts recommend that the upper limits of sugar consumption should not exceed 10% of total calories each day.

But everyone has different needs and the recommended levels are not an exact science. Using the recommended amounts as a guide, you can figure out what works best for your body.

Some people believe that brown is a healthier alternative to white (refined) sugar because it contains molasses. Molasses is known to provide vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, choline, and some B vitamins. But this sugar only contains a small amount of molasses. When consumed in levels that are considered healthy, the micronutrients provided by the molasses are insignificant.

Is Brown Sugar Bad For You?

Brown sugar calories are not as high as what is seen in white sugar, but the caloric intake is still empty calories since only very little sugar is needed by the human body each day.

Organic brown sugar can help to answer the questions: is brown sugar gluten free and is it vegan? But it must be said that the sugar will have to be prepared in a special way to remove any trace amounts of gluten, and the production process for sugar in general does include bone char, which makes it questionable as a vegan food. 

Difference Between Dark And Light Brown Sugar 

The difference between light and dark sugar is simply the amount of molasses each contains. Light brown has less molasses per total volume of sugar while dark brown has more (6.5%). You can easily see the difference in their makeup using just your eyeballs: dark brown is darker in color and looks more like molasses syrup. 

You can taste it too: the dark brown kind has a slightly more complex flavor, one which people often characterize as similar to caramel or toffee. To turn sugarcane into refined table sugar, the stalks are cut then crushed with rollers until juice is extracted. Milk of lime and carbon dioxide are added to help clarify the juice, then it’s sent through an evaporator to remove the water and concentrate it into a syrup. 

The sugar in the syrup is crystalized, and you end up with a big old vat of raw sugar crystals (which will be further refined into white sugar) covered in molasses.

While those molasses-coated raw sugar crystals are now technically brown sugar, most of what you buy in the store labeled “brown sugar” is sugar that has been refined to the white sugar stage, then re-mixed with molasses to produce a consistent shade and flavor.

Which Is Better: Dark Brown Or Light Brown?

This truly comes down to personal preference. If your recipe doesn’t specify “light” or”dark,” it probably assumes you’re going to use light brown. (It’s more common.) The exception is when you’re making gingerbread—the molasses flavor in dark brown better complements the cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Does Brown Sugar Go Bad?

Brown sugar does not go bad, granted you keep a few tips in mind. Similar to other types of sugar, it can last indefinitely as long as it’s not exposed to air and moisture, and bugs are kept away. 

Some manufacturers include a two-year best-before date after opening. Your sugar won’t go rancid after two years, but there will be a slight change in its taste and texture. The only way for this sugar to spoil is if it’s contaminated due to improper storage.

This versatile sugar has a lot of uses, so you’ll definitely want to keep it on hand. Proper storage plays a big role to ensure that it remains in good condition. 

This sugar, when exposed to air, will clump because the moisture in the molasses evaporates. And like anything sweet, it is susceptible to bug contamination.

How Long Does Brown Sugar Last?

Brown sugar can last indefinitely if you keep air and moisture out of the equation. Only keep the container open for as long as it takes to extract the amount of sugar you need and then immediately close it back up to minimize the amount of air and moisture. 

How To Store It

The best method is to use a brown sugar keeper or container of some kind. As long as the container has an airtight seal and make sure that you keep the sugar away from moisture sources. You may have problems with clumping and hardening over time, but refer to the above section on tips to break up clumps. 

How To Rehydrate It

One great way to rehydrate this sugar is by adding a few apple slices to a container of hardened sugar that adds moisture to the environment, reviving the sugar. The more surface area in the bag, the more moisture it imparts, so you’ll need more pieces for a lot of sugar and just one or two for a cup.

Trivia Question: Can Dogs Have Brown Sugar?

group of five dogs

Many of us love the taste of this sugar, and it’s only natural if we wonder if it’s okay to give it to our dogs as well. Dogs are naturally curious animals, and it’s impossible to eat and not have your dog beg or stare you down while you dine. But if this happens and you are eating brown sugar, it’s not a good idea to let your dog sample the treat. 

Since brown sugar is a bit more organic (although not by much) than refined white sugar, the health effects for dogs will not be as potent. But the fact remains that dogs have a much more difficult time digesting and processing sucrose than human beings–and it isn’t ideal for us either. 

If you must, a small, minuscule amount of an item containing brown sugar would be okay to give your dog. But do not give a dog sugar in large and certainly not in excess amounts. Our bakers here at Daisy Flour are also dog lovers and we avoid feeding it to our furry friends altogether.