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Dark Brown vs Light Brown Sugar in Baking

Brown sugars

Brown sugar is white sugar that has had a small amount of molasses added to it. The molasses gives it a richer, deeper flavor than white sugar and also makes the sugar very moist. Dark brown sugar has a very strong molasses flavor, while light brown sugar is a little drier and has a much milder flavor. The two most common brown sugars are light brown and dark brown.  Many grocery stores also stock golden brown sugar, which falls somewhere in between light and dark. Muscovado, which is a very dark and strongly flavored brown sugar, is also available in many grocery stores.

Although there are quite a few types of brown sugar out there, not many recipes specify what type of brown sugar they call for. Recipes don’t usually specify because the different types of brown sugars are interchangeable and will perform the same way in just about every cookie, cake, bread or other recipe that they’re included in. When recipes do make a recommendation for dark brown over light brown sugar, it’s not because of the way that the sugars function, but because of the flavors that they impart in a recipe. A darker brown sugar brings that slightly bitter molasses note to gingerbread and can add depth of flavor to chocolate cake. A lighter brown sugar is a better choice for butterscotch pudding or caramel corn, where you might want a subtler flavor in the finished product.

Since light brown and dark brown sugar are generally interchangeable, it is worth taking a chance and playing around with their flavors, seeing what they add to different recipes (such as chocolate chip cookie) and what type of sugar produces your favorite result.

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  • Sumaiyyah
    September 28, 2011

    This is very interesting, I always wondered what the difference was (and was too lazy to Google for info). By the way, I really like and appreciate all the baking info that you’ve posted, they’re really interesting and helpful, so thank you, Nicole!

  • Mandy
    October 2, 2011

    Thanks for this blog…just this Friday I sent my husband to the store with a list & got dark brown sugar instead of the light brown I usually used. We actually like the dark brown sugar better but I was uncertain of the difference.

  • Sue
    December 17, 2011

    Thank you for this information! I, too, have always wanted to know the difference and finally took the time to look it up!!!!!

  • Karol
    July 22, 2014

    Will dark brown sugar darken my light gold pie glaze?

    Thank you, I appreciate the help.

  • Nicole
    July 22, 2014

    Karol – It could certainly help and is worth a shot!

  • Dianna
    November 20, 2014

    Lol. I had always used dark brown sugar….until I sent my husband to the store and he came back with light brown. I’m really enjoying it. I’m seeing now the difference and will definitely be using different types for different recipes. I’m also going to have to find the darkest brown one mentioned above!

  • Diane
    December 20, 2014

    Could you please inform me as to why a recipe (gingerbread cookies ) calls for dark brown sugar AND molasses? I only have reg. brown sugar and don’t want the cookies to not be as moist as they should be ! Thank you! I loved reading the questions and answers here !!

  • Nicole
    December 21, 2014

    Diane – Thanks! They’re both used in many recipes to create an even richer molasses flavor without adding more bitterness (molasses itself is slightly bitter). You should be just fine with regular brown sugar.

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