What is Brown Sugar?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Brown sugar gets its distinctive color and flavor from the presence of molasses. It may be either unrefined or partially refined, so that it naturally retains molasses, or it may be produced by adding molasses to refined white sugar. The latter method is more common in commercial products. In addition to its brown color and rich flavor, brown sugar differs from white sugar in its consistency, which is finer, softer, and moister.

Natural brown sugar.
Natural brown sugar.

Natural brown sugar, or raw sugar, is unrefined and minimally processed, produced from the first crystallization of sugar cane juice. It gets its color and flavor from the sugar cane itself, rather than from any additional ingredients. This sugar is often darker and has a stronger molasses taste than other types, and it also contains more minerals. Raw sugar from different parts of the world often takes on the unique taste of the plants it is extracted from.

Raw sugar.
Raw sugar.

Most brown sugar for sale in supermarkets is simply refined sugar with molasses added. The amount of molasses determines whether the sugar is light or dark — consisting of 3.5% and 6.5% molasses respectively. The type used in a recipe is usually a matter of personal preference.

A wedge of apple can be used to help soften brown sugar.
A wedge of apple can be used to help soften brown sugar.

Brown sugar is notorious for clumping after the package is opened and has been on the shelf for a while, as it begins to dry out. This can be prevented by keeping it in an airtight container. However, if the sugar is hard as a brick, cooks can restore it to a usable consistency by placing it in a tightly sealed container with an apple wedge for one to three days. Alternatively, people can purchase a terracotta disk at many kitchen supply stores that will keep the sugar free flowing, or it can be liquified in the microwave before adding it to a recipe. If all these methods are too much trouble for, cooks can also buy brown sugar in granulated or liquid form, neither of which will ever clump.

A blend of white sugar and molasses, brown sugar is often used to sweeten baked goods.
A blend of white sugar and molasses, brown sugar is often used to sweeten baked goods.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


@cloudel - My mother told me that we pack down the brown sugar because it is equally as sweet as white sugar. This means that you need to get the exact same amount of brown sugar to equal the sweetness of the white sugar.

So, if you simply poured brown sugar into a cup, it wouldn't be equal. Brown sugar is lighter and fluffier than white sugar, so you have to pack it tightly to get the desired effect.

I see that you mentioned making chocolate chip cookies with brown sugar. To me, the taste of brown sugar has become so synonymous with that type of cookie that if I use it to make plain cookies without any chocolate, they still taste like chocolate chip cookies!


@wavy58 - I didn't know that raw sugar wouldn't pack down easily. That sounds like it would make for a better sweetener, because if you use packed brown sugar, then you are actually getting more per spoonful than you need.

I wonder why every recipe that I have used that has called for brown sugar has instructed to pack it down in the measuring cup. It seems like this would make you use too much.

My baked goods always turn out fine, though. I guess there must be a good reason for packing the sugar down, because there is definitely nothing wrong with the way it makes chocolate chip cookies taste.


You can use honey and brown sugar to make a delicious glaze for salmon. You only need a couple of other ingredients, and it will make your fish taste so much better than if it had no glaze.

I melt honey and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Then, I stir in some brown sugar and lemon juice. When it is all blended together and in liquefied, then it is ready to be used.

You can keep it on the stove on low heat for thirty minutes or so if you need more time to prepare your fish for cooking. I like to make the glaze before I even have the fish out of the package so that it will be completely ready when I need it.

I just drizzle a little in the pan before plopping the fish on top of it. Then, I drizzle it all over the fish and bake it for ten minutes in a 375 degree oven. I take out the fish and drizzle the rest of the glaze over it, and then I cook it for ten minutes more.


I have been using white granulated sugar to sweeten my coffee for years. Recently, my husband talked me into buying some raw sugar. It looked nearly identical to commercial brown sugar, except that the grains were more defined.

It came in a clear jar, and it didn't appear packed down like bagged brown sugar. Large crystals rolled about loosely.

It actually made my coffee taste much better than regular white sugar does. I like the flavor, and I will continue using it as a sweetener in drinks.

Even though it wasn't packed, I did notice that when the jar was about halfway gone, some clumps were starting to form. I believe this was because the spoon I dipped into the jar had a few drops of moisture on it. You have to keep raw sugar free of moisture for it to stay separated.


Which is more healthy? Brown sugar or white sugar?


what is the difference between normal brown sugar and illegal brown sugar?


what kind of sugar I can use for my diet or sweetener? please answer me.


i would like to know what i could use instead of brown sugar, as i can't get brown sugar in my area.


i want to produce brown sugar from white sugar, how can i do yhat? what equipment or system i need for production of 2000kg per day?


What is "loaf sugar"?

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