Brown Sugar Vs. White Sugar: Which One Is Better?

Written by Payal Karnik , MSc (Biotechnology), Diploma In Nutrition

Cakes, desserts, cookies – everything is incomplete without a li’l bit of sweetness. And for that, we always reach out for the good ol’ bowl of sugar! This soluble carbohydrate provides calories and energy to the body for healthy functioning. You will find many types of sugar on the market, and among all, brown sugar has become increasingly popular. Many recipes call for brown sugar instead of regular sugar. This leaves us wondering: what is special about brown sugar? Is it better than white sugar? This article attempts to settle the white sugar vs. brown sugar debate. Keep reading to learn more!

What Is White Sugar?

Sugar or sucrose is a sweet, soluble carbohydrate. In the United States, sugar is obtained from imported sugarcane and homegrown sugar beet. The raw sugar is processed to remove impurities and color to get tiny white sugar crystals (1). There is not much difference between white and brown sugar.

What Is Brown Sugar?

Shelley A. Rael, MS RDN, says, “Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses for added flavor and color. The more molasses, the darker brown the sugar.”

There are two types of brown sugar (1), (2):

  • Unrefined or partially refined soft sugar crystals with residual molasses (natural brown sugar)
  • Refined white sugar with added molasses (commercial brown sugar)

Brown and white sugars have different textures and tastes (due to the presence/absence of molasses). But are there any other differences? Let’s find out.

Brown Sugar Vs. White Sugar: What Is the Difference?

1. Nutritional Differences

White and brown sugars have similar nutrient profiles (3), (4). However, there is a slight difference.

Angela Houlie, MS, RDN, CDN, explains, “Granulated sugar has 4 grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon, all of which are sugar. Brown sugar contains 4.5 grams of sugar per teaspoon. However, because of the molasses, it also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.”

“The body breaks down and digests all types of sugar the same way,” she says. Therefore, there is not much nutritional gain in consuming one type over another.

2. Types And Uses

There are different types of brown and white sugars, and each is used for different purposes.

Types Of White Sugar

1. Granulated Sugar: White, refined sugar is commonly used in households and the food industry. It is used to make industrial cake mixes, coatings for confections, and dry mixes.

2. Caster Sugar: Caster sugar is finely ground granulated sugar used for baking, desserts, drinks, and cocktails.

3. Powdered Sugar: It is also known as confectioners’ sugar and is finer than caster sugar. It is commonly used for dusting baked goodies, icings, frostings, and uncooked candies. Confectioners’ sugar is packed with small amounts of cornstarch to prevent caking.

Types Of Brown Sugar

1. Light Brown Sugar: This is made by mixing white, refined sugar with molasses. It is used for baking, making butterscotch, condiments, and ham glazes.

2. Dark Brown Sugar: Dark brown sugar has high levels of molasses and adds a rich flavor to gingerbread, mincemeat, baked beans, plum pudding, and other full-flavored foods.

Since brown sugar contains more molasses and minerals than white sugar, you may want to go for the former. But does that help anyway? Let’s find out.

Brown Sugar Vs. White Sugar: Which One Is Healthier?

Oregon-based dietitian Megan Byrd says, “In terms of nutrition, brown sugar has slightly more calcium and magnesium. However, it is a poor source of minerals and vitamins, so the difference between white sugar and brown sugar is negligible.”

Thus, none of them is healthier than the other. However, does that mean you can swap them while baking? Will it affect the taste and texture of the baked goodies? Find out in the next section.

Can You Swap Them When Baking?

Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN, elaborates, “White sugar is sweeter and has a more neutral flavor. So, it can be used in all types of baking. It also gives baked goods an airy texture. Brown sugar has a deeper, caramel-like flavor and works well in richer desserts like chocolate cakes and cookies. It also gives a darker hue to the baked goods. In addition, brown sugar retains more moisture to make the baked goods denser.”

“You can swap one for the other,” she says, “but brown sugar has a different color, caramel flavor, and more moisture. So, the differences might be noticeable, but it still works at a 1:1 ratio.”

These differences in sugar flavor profiles go beyond baking. You can try substituting them in coffees and get different results.

Barista Tom Saxon recalls, “White and brown sugar were always offered to customers, and I found that certain coffees performed better with different sugars. Milk-based coffees like lattes and cappuccinos taste better and more balanced with brown sugar, while shorter coffees like espresso and cortados go well with white sugar.”

He adds, “Darker, chocolatey roasts typically from South America tastes better with white sugar. Light roasts with an acidic sharpness become a little more balanced with brown sugar. There is a whole new level of taste profiles to be discovered.”

The next time, swap your regular white sugar with brown sugar or vice versa, and who knows, you may like the new taste! Here are a few recipes you can start with.

Popular Recipes To Try With White And Brown Sugars

1. Soft Sugar Cookies

These classic sugar cookies are the perfect way to end your Christmas celebration.

What You Need

  • 2 ¼ cups of white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of shortening
  • 1 cup of butter (softened)
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of salt

How To Prepare

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix sugar, shortening, and butter in a large bowl until smooth.
  3. Whisk eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract into the butter mixture.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  5. Work the flour mixture into the butter mixture until the dough holds together. Add white chocolate chips.
  6. Roll the dough into balls. Press and place them on baking sheets, two inches apart.
  7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown.
  8. Cool the cookies on a wire rack for 5 minutes before serving.

2. Brown Sugar Brownies

The sweetness of brown sugar complements the rich taste of dark chocolate.

What You Need

  • 1 ⅓ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup of butter (softened)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • ½ cup of chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

How To Prepare

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix baking powder, flour, and salt in a bowl.
  3. Combine butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla in a separate bowl.
  4. Mix the flour mixture, chocolate chips, and nuts well.
  5. Spread the mixture on the pan evenly.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until it feels bouncy when gently pressed with a finger.
  7. Set aside to cool slightly. Slice into bars while it is warm.

Irrespective of the type, you must be careful about your sugar intake. Otherwise, it may cause serious side effects.

Potential Side Effects Of Brown And White Sugars

William Kemper, pediatric dentist, says, “Don’t be fooled by the additional nutrients in the sugar. Excess consumption of anything sweet causes major damage to your oral health. Parents usually switch to brown sugar for their kids, thinking it is better, but trust me, it is almost just as harmful as white sugar.”

Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, chimes in, “If you are trying to manage your weight, these are concentrated empty calorie sources. People with diabetes need to minimize free sugars in their diets. Excess sugar consumption may lead to a fatty liver, especially in people struggling with obesity.”

Regardless, Ayoob believes that it is not necessary to eliminate sugars from your diet.

He recommends, “Instead of a soda, the sugar added to Greek yogurt or even breakfast cereal amounts to a tiny proportion of the total daily sugar consumption. These are nutrient-rich foods. Focus on knocking out some empty-calorie sugar sources, like candies, sugary drinks, and desserts. And above all, get enough daily physical activity to burn off the empty calories.”

The Final Word

There is no clear winner as white and brown sugars are quite similar. The only difference is that brown sugar has molasses and a slightly richer taste than white sugar. You can use any of the two sugars and experiment with them to learn the subtle nuances of each flavor. However, excessive sugar intake can damage your teeth and lead to weight gain and health issues like fatty liver and diabetes. Thus, ensure to control your sweet tooth and limit your sugar intake.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Which kind of sugar is the healthiest?

None. The nutritional profile of all sugars is similar. However, unrefined sugar contains more minerals than white sugar.

Is brown sugar better than raw sugar?

No. They are nutritionally similar.

Is honey better than sugar?

Yes. Sugar raises blood sugar levels more quickly than honey. However, honey has slightly more calories per teaspoon than sugar, so use in moderation.

Can I replace sugar with honey for weight loss?

Yes. Honey is a good sugar substitute since it contains a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Is brown sugar the same as cane sugar?

No. Cane sugar has bigger crystals and is darker due to its higher molasses content.

Why is brown sugar more expensive?

The manufacturing process of brown sugar involves extra steps. Often, brown sugar is imported from other countries, thus adding to its price tag.

Is brown sugar good for weight loss?

No. Brown sugar is nutritionally similar to white sugar. Hence, limit its intake.

Why is my brown sugar turning white?

Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses. As brown sugar crystallizes, it can leave some white spots.

References:

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Sugar White and Brown
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2176937/?page=1
  2. Phytochemical profile of sugarcane and its potential health aspects
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26009693/
  3. FoodData Central
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1103933/nutrients
  4. FoodData Central
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168833/nutrients

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