Jump to content

Brown sugar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Natural brown sugar)

Brown sugar crystals

Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar product with a distinctive brown color due to the presence of molasses. It is by tradition an unrefined or partially refined soft sugar consisting of sugar crystals with some residual molasses content (natural brown sugar), but is now often produced by the addition of molasses to refined white sugar (commercial brown sugar).


The Codex Alimentarius requires brown sugar to contain at least 88% sucrose plus invert sugar.[1] Commercial brown sugar contains from 3.5% molasses (light brown sugar) to 6.5% molasses (dark brown sugar) based on its total volume.[2] Based on total weight, regular commercial brown sugar contains up to 10% molasses.[3] The product is naturally moist from the hygroscopic nature of the molasses and is often labeled "soft." The product may undergo processing to make it flow better for industrial handling. The addition of dyes or other chemicals may be permitted in some areas or for industrial products.

Particle size is variable but generally smaller than that of 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.


From a type of raw sugar to a consumer product[edit]

The meaning of the term 'brown sugar' has changed over time. In the 19th century, American works referred to 'refining brown sugar'.[4] Americans also referred to the 'Brown sugar of Commerce', which could be refined with a yield of 70% of white sugar.[5] In the United Kingdom it was the same. There were two kinds of raw sugar. The most common kind was muscovado a.k.a. brown sugar, and was processed by British sugar refineries. The other kind of raw sugar was brown sugar which had been clayed and was known as clayed sugar. It was used for domestic purposes, but this usage was diminishing.[6] In the 19th century United States the same meaning of the words raw sugar, brown sugar and muscovado was also noted: "Raw sugar, commonly called muscovado or brown sugar, not advanced beyond its raw state by claying, boiling, clarifying or other process".[7]

In the mid 20th century United States, 'brown sugar' could refer to two products. It could be a raw sugar which had been centrifuged to a purity of about 97% pure sugar and that was offered as brown sugar in health food shops. However, in most cases it was white sugar to which molasses had been added. For the latter, a consumer magazine said, "contrary to opinion, this brown sugar is a product of the refinery."[8] The most important consideration is that the term 'brown sugar' now came to refer to a product for consumers, instead of referring to a type of sugar that was processed by sugar refineries.

Smear campaign[edit]

In the late 19th century, 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".[9] This campaign of disinformation was also felt in other sectors using raw or brown sugar such as brewing;

Raw sugars are all more or less liable to be contaminated with decomposing nitrogenous matters, fermentative germs, and other living organisms, both animal and vegetable....For this reason, raw sugars must always be considered dangerous brewing materials.

— E. R. Southby. A Systematic Handbook of Practical Brewing 1885[10]


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. 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; in contrast, with unrefined brown sugar, washing will reveal underlying crystals which are off-white due to the inclusion of molasses.

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.

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 sugar that retains some amount of the molasses from the mother liquor (the partially evaporated sugar cane juice). The term 'Natural brown sugar' can be traced back to at least the 1940s, when it was noted that the sugar refiners had pushed the brown sugar from the plantation owner out of the consumer market.[11] Natural brown sugar was: 'The raw sugar, not the brown sugar most easily obtained, which usually is white sugar artificially colored.'[12] So the term 'Natural brown sugar' came up to distinguish brown sugar that still contained part of its molasses from brown sugar that was really white sugar to which molasses had been added.

Modern types of natural brown sugar[edit]

Some natural brown sugars have particular names and characteristics, and are sold as turbinado, demerara or raw sugar. These have been centrifuged, and therefore can be said to have been refined to a large degree. Muscovado is darkest of the modern types of natural brown sugar.

Turbinado sugar is made from crystallized, partially evaporated sugar cane juice which has been spun in a centrifuge to remove almost all of the molasses. The sugar crystals are large and golden-coloured. This sugar can be sold as is or sent to the refinery to produce white sugar.[13] Demerara sugar is now 97-99% pure sucrose and has also been centrifuged.[14] What is now sold to the United States consumer as 'raw sugar' is also a centrifuged product.[15] If it were raw sugar in the generally accepted meaning of an unrefined product, the Food and Drug Administration would take action.[16] Some say that for consumers, raw sugar means that the sugar is highly refined, but has been crystallized only once.[14]

Modern muscovado sugar sold to consumers is different from traditional Muscovado. It is made by refining sugar with lime, but not centrifuging it. This means that impurities like dirt and ash are removed, but the molasses remains.

Traditional types of natural brown sugar[edit]

Brown sugars that have been only mildly centrifuged or unrefined (non-centrifuged) retain a much higher degree of molasses than products sold as natural brown sugar to consumers in developed nations. These traditional brown sugars are called various names across the globe often depending on their country of origin: e.g. muscovado, panela, rapadura, jaggery, piloncillo, etc.

Muscovado from the Portuguese açúcar mascavado, was the most common type of raw sugar and was also called brown sugar.[7] In the 19th century, this was the sugar that based upon weight yielded about 70% white sugar when fully refined.[5][4]

Muscovado, panela, piloncillo, chancaca, jaggery and other natural dark brown sugars have been minimally centrifuged or not at all. Typically these sugars are made in smaller factories or "cottage industries" in developing nations, where they are produced with traditional practices that do not make use of industrialized vacuum evaporators or centrifuges. They are commonly boiled in open pans upon wood-fired stoves until the sugar cane juice reaches approximately 30% of the former volume and sucrose crystallization begins. They are then poured into molds to solidify or onto cooling pans where they are beaten or worked vigorously to produce a granulated brown sugar. In some countries, such as Mauritius or the Philippines, a natural brown sugar called muscovado is produced by partially centrifuging the evaporated and crystallizing cane juice to create a sugar-crystal rich mush, which is allowed to drain under gravity to produce varying degrees of molasses content in the final product. This process approximates a slightly modernized practice introduced in the 19th century to generate a better quality of natural brown sugar.[4][17][18][19]

A similar Japanese version of uncentrifuged natural cane sugar is called kokuto (Japanese: 黒糖 kokutō). This is a regional specialty of Okinawa and is often sold in the form of large lumps. It is sometimes used to make shochu. Okinawan brown sugar is sometimes referred to as 'black sugar' for its darker colour compared to other types of unrefined sugar, although when broken up into smaller pieces its colour becomes lighter.[20] Kokuto is commonly used as a flavouring for drinks and desserts, but can also be eaten raw as it has a taste similar to caramel.

Culinary and health considerations[edit]

Brown sugar adds flavor to desserts and baked goods. It can be substituted for maple sugar, and maple sugar can be substituted for it in recipes. Brown sugar caramelizes much more readily than refined sugar, and this effect can be used to make glazes and gravies brown while cooking.

For domestic purposes one can create the 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 about 10% of brown sugar's total weight,[3] which is about one ninth of the white sugar weight. Due to varying qualities and colors of molasses products,[3] 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[citation needed], but how dark or light one prefers one's sugar is largely a matter of taste. Even in recipes such as cakes, where the overall moisture content might be critical, the amount of water contained in brown sugar is too small to matter. Much more significant than its water content is the fact that darker brown sugar or more 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. Storing brown sugar in a freezer will prevent moisture from escaping and molasses from crystallizing, allowing for a much longer shelf life.

Although brown sugar has been touted as having health benefits ranging from soothing menstrual cramps to serving as an anti-aging skin treatment,[21] brown sugar is no better for health than refined sugar, despite the minerals it contains (the amounts are negligible).[22]

Nutritional value[edit]

Sugar (sucrose), brown (with molasses)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy1,576 kJ (377 kcal)
97.33 g
Sugars96.21 g
Dietary fiber0 g
0 g
0 g
Thiamine (B1)
0.008 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.007 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.082 mg
Vitamin B6
0.026 mg
Folate (B9)
1 μg
85 mg
1.91 mg
29 mg
22 mg
133 mg
39 mg
0.18 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water1.77 g

Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[23] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[24]
Sugar (sucrose), granulated
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy1,619 kJ (387 kcal)
99.98 g
Sugars99.91 g
Dietary fiber0 g
0 g
0 g
Riboflavin (B2)
0.019 mg
1 mg
0.01 mg
2 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water0.03 g

Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[23] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[24]

One hundred grams of brown sugar contains 377 Calories (nutrition table), as opposed to 387 Calories in white sugar (link to nutrition table). 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. In a 100-gram reference amount, brown sugar contains 15% of the Daily Value for iron, with no other vitamins or minerals in significant content (table).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Codex Alimentarius Commission. (2009; 2010). Codex Alimentarius – 212.1 Scope and Description. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  2. ^ Levy Beranbaum, Rose (April 2000). "Rose's Sugar Bible". Archived from the original on 14 October 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Paula I. Figoni (2010). How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science. New York: Wiley. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-470-39267-6. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  4. ^ a b c G. B. Wood; F. Bache (1849). The dispensatory of the United States of America (8th ed.). Philadelphia: Grigg, Eliot, and Co. pp. 616–619. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  5. ^ a b L. E. Sayre (1880). Conspectus of organic materia medica and pharmacal botany. Detroit: G. S. Davis, Medical Book Publisher. p. 180. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  6. ^ Niccol, Robert (1864). Essay on Sugar. A. Mackenzie & Co. Greenock. p. 14, 26.
  7. ^ a b Journal of the Senate of the United States. Geoge W. Bowman, Senate printer, Washington. 1861. p. 268.
  8. ^ "Picking a winner". Consumers' guide index. Vol. III–IV. Consumers' Council Division, Agricultural Adjustment Administration, Washington. 1938. p. 2.
  9. ^ Levenstein, Harvey. Revolution at the Table Archived 27 January 2023 at the Wayback Machine Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 32–33
  10. ^ Southby, E. R. (1885) A Systematic Handbook of Practical Brewing. pp. 223–224
  11. ^ Richardson, Irwin D.; Richardson, Maggie G. (1943). The Diet System. Washington College Press. p. 68.
  12. ^ Willingham Erminger, Lila; Hopkins, Marjorie R. (1947). Food and Fun for Daughter and Son. Illinois children's home and aid society. p. 10.
  13. ^ "Press release describes manufacturing process for organic turbinado sugar". Archived from the original on 5 April 2012. Retrieved 20 September 2008.
  14. ^ a b "What Is Demerara Sugar?". The Spruce Eats. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  15. ^ "What's the Difference Between Raw and Refined Sugar?". Imperial Sugar. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  16. ^ "CPG Sec 515.400 Raw Sugar". FDA. 13 February 2020. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  17. ^ Larkin, W. (1993) Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society, pp 55–58. "Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  18. ^ Orr, W. (1844) The Magazine of Domestic Economy, Volume 5. pp 107
  19. ^ Jaffe, W. (2014) Non centrifugal cane sugar (NCS) (panela, jaggery, gur, muscovado) process technology and the need of its innovation, "Non centrifugal cane sugar (NCS) (panela, jaggery, gur, muscovado) process technology and the need of its innovation". Archived from the original on 14 September 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  20. ^ "The Black Sugar That Tops Mochi, Sweetens Soups, and Relieves Nausea". Atlas Obscura. Archived from the original on 11 August 2020. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  21. ^ "What's Sweet About Brown Sugar". Archived from the original on 20 March 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  22. ^ O'Connor, Anahad (12 June 2007). "The Claim: Brown Sugar Is Healthier Than White Sugar". New York Times. Archived from the original on 15 July 2018.
  23. ^ a b United States Food and Drug Administration (2024). "Daily Value on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels". Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  24. ^ a b National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee to Review the Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium (2019). Oria, Maria; Harrison, Meghan; Stallings, Virginia A. (eds.). Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. The National Academies Collection: Reports funded by National Institutes of Health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press (US). ISBN 978-0-309-48834-1. PMID 30844154.