The most common sugars, white sugar and brown sugar, are widely available. While both sugars are derived from the same plant sources, they hold distinct differences in flavor, texture, and color. What sets these two sugars apart? Let me break it down for you.
The most common sugars we use today are produced from either sugarcane or sugar beet plants. This includes both white sugar and brown sugar. While both sugars go through a similar production and refinement process, there is a distinct difference.
The process starts with extraction. The sugary juice is then heated and concentrated into a syrup, otherwise known as molasses. From there, the sugar crystals are separated from the molasses syrup and purified. Now this is where the processing varies between the two sugars.
White sugar is further processed and refined into finer crystals. Any excess remnants of molasses are removed. Whereas brown sugar is processed considerably less than white sugar. A small portion of molasses, about five percent, is added back to the processed sugar to create brown sugar. This is exactly the reason why brown sugar has its darker color and caramel like flavor. It is naturally dark from the addition of the molasses.
Texture and Flavor
While both sugars go through a similar production process, they hold distinct differences in texture and flavor.
White sugar is slightly sweeter than brown sugar. It has more refined granules and an overall sweeter taste because the lightly bitter molasses has been removed.
The additional molasses added in the processing of brown sugar gives it a slightly higher liquid content. This additional liquid gives brown sugar a soft, slightly clumpy texture. This is exactly why recipes require “packed” brown sugar. In addition to the molasses affecting the overall texture of brown sugar, it reduces the sweetness slightly as well. It has a richer flavor, almost like caramel.
Uses and Substitutions
While brown and white sugars are technically interchangeable, keep in mind that the resulting texture and color of the final product may vary.
While similar, these two sugars hold a slightly different composition. Thus, they will react with the other ingredients in the recipe differently. Keep this in mind, especially with the spread and rise that’s necessary in recipes.
With its higher liquid content, from the added molasses, brown sugar will result in moist and dense baked goods. It’s great for quick breads and cookies.
White sugar has a more pronounces reaction to leavening and spreading. It is great in items that need to rise such as meringue, sponge cakes, or soufflés.
Many recipes will require both brown and white sugars to utilize the best characteristics of both. You will find many of my recipes use both sugars.
Though derived from the same sources, white and brown sugars are different in flavor, texture, and color. While they can be used interchangeably, recipe adjustments may be needed to compensate for the subtle differences in composition. Both sugars are widely available.
Recipes to try using both sugars:
Now that you know all about the differences in sugar