When Brown Sugar Isn’t Brown

This post has been updated to include links to some of the resources I used during writing. A few readers rightfully took me to task for not including any resources. Thanks for keeping me honest!


A reader recently queried me about a post I made some time ago entitled, Replacing Salt and Sugar with Herbs, Spices, Color, and Texture. In this post I talk about methods you can use to reduce your salt and sugar consumption. I’ve gone a lot further since then in reducing my salt and sugar content. Of course, you need a little of each item in your diet. Whether you need to add either item to your food is a matter of personal taste, but you can usually get enough of booth just by eating a balanced diet. Salt is an absolute in many respects. Yes, you can eat sea salt and get some other minerals with your salt, but basically, salt is salt. However, sugar is different. When viewing sugar, you need to consider both the kind of sugar and the amount that the sugar is processed. It’s the latter item that is the topic of this post. Most notably, brown sugar.

Like most people, I look for ways to save money at the store. So, for a while I was buying just any old brown sugar—the least expensive I could find. However, I’ve taken to actually reading labels. When you review the list of ingredients for most brands of inexpensive brands of brown sugar, you see sugar and molasses as the ingredients. What this really means is that the vendor has highly processed the sugar, making it into white sugar, and then colored it brown using molasses. What you’re getting is a processed product, not a rawer form of sugar. What you really want to see on the label is one ingredient, brown sugar.

The reason for this post is that actual brown sugar is different from white sugar mixed with molasses. Creating a rawer form of the sugar makes a difference in its texture and how it bakes. Yet, most of the material I’ve read online seems to assume that every kind of brown sugar out there is simply white sugar mixed with molasses. The less expensive forms of brown sugar are moister and tend to taste just a bit caramelized. In addition, what you may be getting is beet sugar, not cane sugar, when you buy the less expensive brands. The less expensive brown sugars may not even be brown all the way through the crystal, which tends to change the result you get.

As to whether there are any health benefits to using real brown sugar, I’ve read a few bits of research that seem to indicate that the real brown sugar has a few extra minerals. However, if you’re diabetic, you still need to take the same precautions with brown sugar that you take with white sugar (or any other sugar). The main differences that you’ll notice is that the items you make with real brown sugar will tend to taste better and your baked goods will come out better. The important thing is to make an informed choice. Choose to read product labels before you purchase items in the store and then take a little time to research what these ingredients are all about. Let me know your thoughts about real brown sugar versus white sugar sprayed with molasses at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.