The Big Difference Between Brown And White Sugar

If you've done any baking, odds are you've seen recipes that call for different types of sugar. Brown sugar, light brown sugar, white sugar, powdered sugar, turbinado sugar — the number of sweeteners you can find down the baking aisle at the grocery store may seem endless. But the most common sugars are typically brown sugar and white sugar.

But which sugar should you buy as your sweetener of choice? You can probably tell the most obvious difference between brown sugar and white sugar from the names and appearance: the color. Brown sugar contains a brown syrup called molasses, with the amount varying between light brown sugar (3.5 percent by weight) and dark brown sugar (6.5 percent by weight), according to Eat This, Not That! Turbinado sugar, or cane sugar, is also considered a brown sugar. In contrast, white sugar, or granulated sugar, is further processed to remove excess molasses (via Healthline).

How to determine which sugar to use in your recipe

In addition to affecting the color, sugar's molasses content also affects the flavor profiles between brown and white sugar (via Healthline). Brown sugar retains moisture, making it denser, and white sugar is commonly used in baking recipes where rising is necessary. Brown sugar is typically used in recipes that have a chewy texture, or even in sauces like barbecue or marinades.

As for nutritional profiles, brown sugar and white sugar are very similar — especially in calories. Brown sugar contains more calcium and iron than white sugar (via Medical News Today). However, it is important to note that all sugars are considered "empty calories" and should be limited due to health risks like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, or weight gain.

So what should you do if you're not sure if you should use brown sugar or white sugar? It is up to your personal preference, but be mindful that brown sugar's molasses will affect the color and possibly the taste of the food. If your recipe doesn't specify, best practice is to use white sugar, according to Eat This, Not That!