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Dark brown vs. light brown sugar?

I've never understood the difference and wondered if my fellow chowhounders had an opinion on this. I tend to substitute them freely but I wonder if there truly is a difference.

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  1. Both of them are basically just refined sugar with molasses added back in. Dark brown has more molasses than light. The only difference is flavour. Use whichever you prefer.

      1. In terms of structure and integrity of the finished product, there isn't much difference. But recipes will taste and often look very different if you use one versus the other--richer and more flavorful with the dark. If you don't like that taste or you simple want a lighter taste, use the light.

        By the way, you usually cannot easily add the molasses yourself without making allowance for extra liquid/stage of adding. The molasses they use is extracted and dried. You can get tough baked goods if you simply try to pour in a little extra molasses.

        1. If you would like to use a "brown" sugar as a healthful alternative to plain refined white sugar - try either turbanado (slightly less processed) or sucanat (1st dried pressing of sugar cane) both will have naturally occurring nutrients not found in highly processed products.

          8 Replies
          1. re: jbyoga

            But remember you cannot substitute them for regular dark/light brown sugar. They aren't as finely ground and won't cook the same.

            1. re: lintygmom

              if you're looking for nutrients in sugar, i think you're in trouble!

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                I would guess you're taling to jbyoga--and you're right, there's no difference in nutrition between refined white sugar or turbinado.

                It wasn't nutrients I was talking about but the ability to have a recipe like a cake come out right. If you substitute turbinado for usual brown sugar in a recipe, the consistency and rise of the cake will be different. In fact, it might fall and be a mess. Also, you get a lot more sugar in a packed cup of dark brown than in a cup of turbinado, which tends to be crystalline and doesn't pack.

                1. re: lintygmom

                  No doubt adjustment need to be made when substituting a product like sucanat - the point I want to make is that it is possible to use a healthy and natural sweetner - a win/win hopefully!

                  1. re: jbyoga

                    There is no difference in the health of sweeteners made from cane/corn/beet. Sorry. I'm a doctor, and it's true. There is a marginal benefit to honey but the rest? As long as you're not eating toxic chemicals like saccharine, it's the same diabetogenic stuff. Take in moderation as long as you're healthy.

                    1. re: lintygmom

                      They sure cook differently. No way beet sugar is coming into my home and especially not into my kitchen. That stuff is really nasty for baking and cooking. Mine is a 100% cane sugar kitchen.

                      1. re: Candy

                        Almost all the sugar used for baking in Ireland comes from sugar beets - as valid a crop as sugar cane. I just returned from there and the there's little discernible difference other than using a finer texture called caster sugar for baked goods and using granulated for sweetening tea etc. Sponge cakes, sticky toffee pudding, trifle, apple cakes all were delicious.

                        1. re: realslowfood

                          Well, people have found that the processing of the two different sugars seems to make beet sugar less reliable for certain things in the kitchen. There is a considerable amount of commentary out there between chemists who insist there is no discernable difference and cooks who have notwithstanding found some differences and thus stick to cane sugar even if it is more expensive.

          2. not directly related but, im wondering how many hounders have success/experience using date sugar in recipes. that is probably the ONE sweetener i havent yet tried. ive gone thru them all - sugars of all kinds (except demerara i think...), honey, straight molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar, a product called FRUIT SWEET, stevia, etc. i LOVE dates on their own tho so im always thinking bout giving it a shot. just havent gotten round to it.

            on a side not, while retail brown sugar is healthwise no better at all than white sugar, it does just have a wonderful flavor, doesnt it? in my quest to use less-processed ingredients i consistenly succumb to the call for brown sugar and that wonderfully homey, warming flavor it brings.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ben61820

              I LOVE dates, too. Please, please post your success with it! God, I can just imagine date cookies with date bits and coconut.

              When I make chocolate chip cookies, I can't resist deleting an extra quarter cup of white sugar and replacing it with an extra cup of dark brown. I tried all dark brown the the consistency of the cookies was off. Crispness gone.

            2. If you only have dark brown sugar on hand, and your recipe calls for light brown, you can substitute half of the dark brown with regular white granulated sugar. So if you're supposed to have 1 cup of light brown, use 1/2 cup of firmly packed dark and 1/2 cup of the white stuff.

              1. Most recipes will specify what kind of sugar to use. I usually follow it the recipe exactly the first time I make the dish.

                I love the rich, caramelly taste of Dark Brown Sugar, and I use it in a lot of recipes calling for White Sugar. I use it in Dried Fruit Compote, Apple Sauce, Baked Apples, Baked Pears. It adds richness and flavor, while white sugar only adds sweetness.