Brown sugar

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This article is about the sugar product. For other uses, see Brown sugar (disambiguation).
Brown sugar crystals

Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar product with a distinctive brown color due to the presence of molasses. It is either an unrefined or partially refined soft sugar consisting of sugar crystals with some residual molasses content, or it is produced by the addition of molasses to refined white sugar (so-called Molasses Sugar).

Brown sugar contains from 3.5% molasses (light brown sugar) to 6.5% molasses (dark brown sugar) based on total volume.[1] Based on total weight, regular brown sugar contains up to 10% molasses.[2] The product is naturally moist from the hygroscopic nature of the molasses and is often labelled as "soft." The product may undergo processing to give a product that flows better for industrial handling. The addition of dyes and/or other chemicals may be permitted in some areas or for industrial products.

Particle size is variable but generally less than granulated white sugar. Products for industrial use (e.g., the industrial production of cakes) may be based on caster sugar which has crystals of approximately 0.35 mm.


Brown sugar is often produced by adding sugarcane molasses to completely refined white sugar crystals to more carefully control the ratio of molasses to sugar crystals and to reduce manufacturing costs.[3] Brown sugar prepared in this manner is often much coarser than its unrefined equivalent and its molasses may be easily separated from the crystals by simply washing to reveal the underlying white sugar crystals; with unrefined brown, inclusion of molasses within the crystal will appear off-white if washed.

The molasses usually used for food is obtained from sugar cane, because the flavor is generally preferred over beet sugar molasses, although in some areas, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands, sugar beet molasses is used. The white sugar used can be from either beet or cane, as the chemical composition, nutritional value, color, and taste of fully refined white sugar is for practical purposes the same, no matter from what plant it originates. Even with less-than-perfect refining, the small differences in color, odor, and taste of the white sugar will be masked by the molasses.


In the late 1800s, the newly consolidated refined white sugar industry, which did not have full control over brown sugar production, mounted a smear campaign against brown sugar, reproducing microscopic photographs of harmless but repulsive-looking microbes living in brown sugar. The effort was so successful that by 1900, a best-selling cookbook warned that brown sugar was of inferior quality and was susceptible to infestation by "a minute insect."[4]

Natural brown sugar[edit]

Brown sugar examples: Muscovado (top), dark brown (left), light brown (right)
Whole cane sugar, unclarified
Whole cane sugar, clarified

Natural brown sugar, raw sugar or whole cane sugar is a brown sugar produced from the first crystallization of the sugar cane. Based upon weight, unrefined brown cane sugar, when fully refined, yields about 70% white sugar.[5][6] There is more molasses in natural brown sugar, giving it a higher mineral content. Some natural brown sugars have particular names and characteristics, and are sold as turbinado, muscovado, or demerara sugar. Although brown sugar has been touted as having health benefits ranging from soothing menstrual cramps to serving as an anti-aging skin treatment,[7][8] there is no nutritional basis to support brown sugar as a healthier alternative to refined sugars despite the negligible amounts of minerals in brown sugar not found in white sugar.[9]

Turbinado and demerara sugars are made by crystallizing raw sugar cane juice, then spinning it in a centrifuge to remove water and some impurities.[10][11] Demerara sugar has less molasses than light brown sugar.[12]

Muscovado (also moscovado or mascobado), an unrefined, dark brown sugar, is produced without centrifuging and has much smaller crystals than turbinado sugar. The sugar cane extract is heated to thicken it and then pan-evaporated in the sun and pounded to yield an unprocessed, damp sugar that retains all of the natural minerals.[13] A similar Japanese version of uncentrifuged natural cane sugar is called kokuto (Kanji: 黒糖). This is a regional specialty of Okinawa, and is often sold in the form of large lumps. It is sometimes used to make shochu.

Culinary considerations[edit]

For domestic purposes one can create the exact equivalent of brown sugar by mixing white sugar with molasses. Suitable proportions are about one tablespoon of molasses to each cup of sugar (one-sixteenth of the total volume). Molasses comprises 10% of brown sugar's total weight,[2] which is about one ninth of the white sugar weight. Due to varying qualities and colors of molasses products,[2] for lighter or darker sugar, reduce or increase its proportion according to taste.

In following a modern recipe that specifies "brown sugar", one usually may assume that the intended meaning is light brown sugar, but which one prefers is largely a matter of taste. Even in recipes such as cakes, where the moisture content might be critical, the amount of water involved is so small that it rarely will make any practical difference. More importantly, adding dark brown sugar or molasses will impart a stronger flavor, with more of a suggestion of caramel.

Brown sugar that has hardened can be made soft again by adding a new source of moisture for the molasses, or by heating and remelting the molasses.

Nutritional value[edit]

Sugars, brown
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,590 kJ (380 kcal)
Sugars 97 g
0.00 g
0.12 g
Other constituents
Water 1.3 g
Sucrose 94.5 g

Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Brown sugar has a slightly lower caloric value by mass than white sugar due to the presence of water. One hundred grams of brown sugar contains 373 calories, as opposed to 396 calories in white sugar.[3] However, brown sugar packs more densely than white sugar due to the smaller crystal size and may have more calories when measured by volume.

Any minerals present in brown sugar come from the molasses added to the white sugar. Some molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon of molasses provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Levy Beranbaum, Rose (April 2000). "Rose's Sugar Bible". Retrieved 2013-04-06. 
  2. ^ a b c Paula I. Figoni (2010). How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science. New York: Wiley. p. 171. ISBN 0-470-39267-3. Retrieved 2011-11-05. 
  3. ^ a b New Scientist. I'm Sweet Enough 21 January 2006
  4. ^ Levenstein, Harvey. Revolution at the Table Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 32-33
  5. ^ L. E. Sayre (1880). Conspectus of organic materia medica and pharmacal botany. Detroit: G. S. Davis, Medical Book Publisher. p. 180. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  6. ^ G. B. Wood; F. Bache (1849). The dispensatory of the United States of America (8th ed.). Philadelphia: Grigg, Eliot, and Co. p. 616. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  7. ^ "Brown Sugar - Health Benefits". Retrieved 2013-04-04. 
  8. ^ "What's Sweet About Brown Sugar". Retrieved 2013-04-04. 
  9. ^ O'Connor, Anahad (12 June 2007). "The Claim: Brown Sugar Is Healthier Than White Sugar". New York Times. 
  10. ^ "Organic Turbinado Sugar". Retrieved 2008-09-20. 
  11. ^ "Press release describes manufacturing process for organic turbinado sugar". Retrieved 2008-09-20. 
  12. ^ W. P. Edwards (2007). The science of bakery products. Cambridge, Eng: Royal Society of Chemistry. p. 105. ISBN 0-85404-486-8. Retrieved 2012-12-25. "... these products are made by adding cane sugar molasses to white sugar produced from sugar beet; brown sugars can be made by partially refining cane sugar but not by partially refining beet sugar." 
  13. ^ "This is how Muscovado Sugar is made.". Retrieved 2008-09-20. 
  14. ^ "Blackstrap molasses". The World's Healthiest Foods. Retrieved 6 September 2012.