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Light Brown Sugar vs Dark Brown Sugar: What’s the Difference?

Light brown sugar and dark brown sugar are both commonly used sugars in baking. But what separates them from one another? The simple (and not-so-simple) answer is molasses.

Light vs Dark Brown Sugar

Light vs Dark Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is one of the most used ingredients in baking. Used on its own or along with other sugars, it gives baked goods great flavor, sweetness, and texture.

The main difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar is the molasses content. Light brown sugar has less molasses than dark brown sugar, which gives it a lighter color and flavor. Dark brown sugar has a higher molasses content (about twice as much!), which gives it a darker color and richer flavor. The amount of molasses in each type of sugar will affect how your baked goods turn out, so the kind you use can be quite important.

What Is Brown Sugar?

Brown sugar is a type of sugar that is made by adding molasses to white sugar. The molasses gives brown sugar its characteristic color and flavor. Depending on how much molasses has been added, brown sugar can be light or dark.

Light brown sugar has less molasses and will be a lighter color, while dark brown sugar has more molasses and will be a darker color. The flavor of brown sugar also depends on the amount of molasses that is added. Light brown sugar will have a milder flavor, while dark brown sugar will have a stronger flavor.

What is Molasses?

Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar-making process. It’s made from boiling sugarcane or sugar beets to extract the sugar, and then boiling the syrup again to remove water. The molasses that remains is a thick, sticky substance that is used in many different types of foods.

What Brown Sugar Does in Baking

Brown sugar is often used in baking for the flavor and moistness it adds to baked goods. The molasses in brown sugar also helps to prevent cookies and cakes from drying out.

It generally makes baked goods softer and moister. While it can be used as the main sugar in a recipe, it’s also frequently used alongside other sugars.

overhead view of light brown sugar in a wooden measuring cup

When to Use Light Brown Sugar

Light brown sugar is used to provide a subtle sweetness to baked goods and even to savory dishes. It has a light color and a light flavor that’s less sweet than white sugar.

It’s often used in cookies to help make them soft and moist. In fact, I’m not likely to make a batch of cookies without it! It’s also commonly used in many other baking recipes, too, from cakes to muffins and a whole lot in between.

When to Use Dark Brown Sugar

Dark brown sugar provides a richer, more complex flavor for baked goods. Its dark color and rich flavor are often used in baked goods that benefit from a deep molasses flavor. It also provides more moisture because of the higher molasses content.

You’ll often taste something akin to toffee or caramel in baked goods made with dark brown sugar. Many recipes for gingerbread and spice cakes will use dark brown sugar.

overhead view of dark brown sugar in a white bowl

Are Light and Dark Brown Sugar Interchangeable?

Light and dark brown sugar can usually be used interchangeably in recipes. However, keep in mind that the flavor and color of your baked goods may be affected by the type of sugar you use.

Of course, the degree of difference you’ll find in using one kind of brown sugar versus another depends on how much brown sugar is in the recipe. If the brown sugar is a small portion of the ingredients, then you’re not likely to tell much difference. But if it’s a main ingredient, you’re more likely to find appreciable differences.

Considerations When Substituting Light and Brown Sugar

If a recipe calls for a specific type of brown sugar, your best bet is to use the kind listed. But sometimes you may find yourself with only one kind in your pantry when you need the other. If you’re debating the light vs dark brown sugar debate or just prefer to substitute light for dark or vice versa, then there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • The color of your baked goods will be affected by the color of the sugar. Using light brown sugar results in a lighter color than using dark brown sugar.
  • The molasses content in dark brown sugar will make your baked goods moister than if you use light brown sugar. That means that not only is the flavor affected, but the texture will be, too.
  • Light brown sugar will result in a subtler flavor, while dark brown sugar will give your baked goods a richer flavor.
  • The heavier molasses flavor of dark brown sugar can potentially overpower the other flavors in the recipe.
light and dark brown sugars in white bowls

Recipes Featuring Brown Sugar

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use light and dark brown sugar interchangeably?

You can substitute one brown sugar for the other without making any other changes to the recipe, but keep in mind that the flavor and color of your baked goods will be affected by the type of sugar you use. Dark brown sugar provides more moisture and a darker color than light brown sugar. Ultimately, using light vs dark brown sugar is a matter of flavor preference.

How do I store brown sugar?

Keep brown sugar in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Over time, it can begin to harden as the moisture evaporates. There are ways to fix that and to prevent that from happening in the first place. You can learn more here: How to Soften Brown Sugar

Can I use white granulated sugar instead of brown sugar?

If you need to substitute white sugar for brown sugar, keep in mind that the flavor and texture of your baked goods will be affected. White sugar is much sweeter than brown sugar, so you’ll need to use less of it to achieve the same level of sweetness. You may also consider adding molasses to your recipe to achieve the desired flavor. Additionally, white sugar will make your baked goods drier than if you use brown sugar. So, you may need to add an extra tablespoon or two of liquid to your recipe to account for this. especially if you’re reducing the amount of sugar used.

What is old-fashioned dark brown sugar?

Old-fashioned brown sugar is another name for dark brown sugar.

What if the recipe doesn’t specify light or dark brown sugar?

When a recipe’s ingredient list just says “brown sugar,” it’s safe to assume it uses light brown sugar, as it’s more common. However, you can use dark brown sugar if that’s your preference.

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