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The Differences Between Brown and White Sugar

All sugars bring its own appearance, texture, and taste to the dessert table. But even more specifically, what key differences vary between the commonly used white and brown sugars?

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Though the body essentially treats refined sugars in the same fashion, each sugar type has its own set of characteristics and features. All sugars bring its own appearance, texture, and taste to the dessert table. But even more specifically, what key differences vary between the commonly used white and brown sugars?

The Sweet Truth: Brown Sugar Vs. White Sugar

When it comes to brown sugar versus white sugar, a variety of characteristics help differentiate between the two:

Manufacturing

Broadly speaking, brown sugar is a sugar containing molasses - a sugar by-product that has been boiled down into a thick, dark syrup. However, it is generally manufactured in two forms: unrefined or partially refined brown sugar and refined brown sugar. Unrefined or partially unrefined brown sugars contains some of the remaining molasses produced during the manufacturing process. Refined brown sugar, also known as the commercialized form, is simply refined white sugar with molasses added back to it. Common white table sugar, or granulated sugar, is often extracted from the roots of sugar beets and stalks of sugarcane and undergo further production.

Appearance

Color is an obvious distinguisher of the sugar and reminiscent of its name: brown sugar is brown; white sugar is white. The color determinant reflects the molasses content found in brown sugar and can further be broken down into light versus dark brown sugar, with lighter brown sugar containing lesser amounts of molasses compared to darker brown sugar. The texture, as discussed below, further dictates the appearance related to its fine or course consistency.

Texture

The two forms of brown sugar even have textural differences, as the refined product is often softer and moister compared to (partially) unrefined brown sugar. But in both refined and unrefined brown sugars, the molasses saturates the sugar crystals and still provides a moist texture. And when it comes to the texture of white sugar, several variations offer course or finer products, including granulated sugar (larger, courser granules) and powdered sugar (ground into a powder and much finer than granulated sugar).

Taste

Again, the molasses content (or lack of) dictates the flavor of the sugar. Each sugars are sweet to taste although with darker brown sugar containing the most molasses, it may ultimately provide a richer product than both light brown and white sugars. The taste of brown sugar (especially dark brown sugar) also delivers a taste similar to caramel. Despite textural differences of white sugar, it all tends to offer the same sweet taste.

Use

The use of sugar is mostly dependent on the product, though they are regularly used to sweeten products and acts as preservation method. White, granulated sugar are more utilized in the food supply and commercialized products. Additionally, some recipes indicate or suggest utilizing a finer, white sugar. However, baked products (especially in homemade recipes) generally utilize both sugars to create a moist, sweet product. If desiring a subtle caramel flavor, use a lighter brown sugar over a dark product.

Nutrition

When it comes to the nutritional profile of both sugars, there are slight differences brought on by the molasses content of brown sugar, as it may provide trace amounts of minerals. So when it truly comes down to the question, "Is brown sugar healthier?" it is essential to remember sugar is sugar, mostly lacking in nutrients while adding calories, or approximately 16 calories per one teaspoon. The American Heart Association recommends added sugar (of all kinds) be limited to no more than six teaspoons (for women) and nine (for men) teaspoons each day.

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on February 27, 2017. Updated on September 21, 2019.

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