Brown sugar is a general term to describe sugars with a brown or yellowish brown color. Brown sugar may refer to sugar made from sugarcane or sugar beet, and varieties include raw cane sugar, muscovado, light brown sugar, and dark brown sugar. There is very little difference between brown sugar and white sugar in terms of nutritional value and health effects.
Brown sugar is a popular ingredient. The sugar’s brown color gives many people the feeling that they are eating “healthier sugar.” However, with most types of brown sugar this is not the case. Brown sugar is particularly popular for baking cakes and biscuits with a darker mixture. Many types of brown sugar contain molasses, which gives dishes a caramel taste. Muscovado, in particular, has a unique strong taste (caramel, licorice), which can significantly change the flavor of a dish. A variety of popular sweet foods contain muscovado, including chocolate, nut nougat spreads, powdered chocolate drink mixes, and mueslis. All types of brown sugar can be used to sweeten drinks (often cocktails), pastries, and desserts, as well as spicy sauces and dishes.
To make this recipe for two servings, bring 150 mL coconut milk, 250 mL soy milk, and 4 tbsp brown sugar to a boil. Then add 4 tbsp tapioca pearls and 2 tbsp shredded coconut and let the mixture simmer until the tapioca thickens. Top the pudding with fresh berries or other fresh fruits and enjoy cold or warm. You can find the complete recipe HERE.
We will briefly outline some of the main types of brown sugar. Brown sugar can be divided into two broad categories based on whether the sugar is produced from sugarcane or sugar beet. Cane sugar is made from sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum). There are two different processing methods for sugarcane, producing two subtypes of cane sugar. Raw cane sugar is partially refined cane sugar, colored with sugar cane syrup (also known as turbinado sugar or demerara sugar). Raw cane sugar contains 2 to 3 % molasses, which binds with the sugar crystals and gives them their brown color and a slightly caramel-like taste. Muscovado is unpurified and unrefined brown cane sugar. It is made by filtering sugarcane juice and boiling it until it reduces to a thick syrup. Dried, it is ground into coarse granules. As an unrefined sugar, muscovado contains about 5 % molasses and its production involves very little machine processing. Raw cane sugar and muscovado are usually found in organic and health food shops, and fair trade varieties are usually available.
Other brown sugar varieties are made from sugar beets (Beta vulgaris). The beet ingredients are largely retained when producing the sugar.1 Once purified, thickened, and dried, sugar beet juice also contains molasses. Sugar beet is grown in many Western European countries, so from an ecological perspective it is better to buy brown sugar produced from sugar beet if you live in this part of the world. In the US, both types of sugar are grown, with sugar beet accounting for around 50 to 55 % of sugar production.12 Brown sugar can be found in all major supermarkets including Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (Canada); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl (Great Britain); Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, and Harris Farm (Australia).
If you are looking for organic brown sugar, try health food stores, organic supermarkets, or online stores. Brown sugar is a very broad term. We often distinguish between types of brown sugar based on their color: light brown sugar and dark brown sugar. The color is based on the amount of molasses in the sugar and does not necessarily indicate whether the sugar comes from beets or cane, or how it was produced. Brown sugar may be pure, white, crystallized sugar from sugar beets that has been colored with caramelized sugar syrup, or sugar cane syrup.1 Equally, it may be unrefined beet sugar or cane sugar whose syrup residues have not been removed. Brown sugar contains slightly more water than refined white sugar. Brown sugar can be purchased at almost all supermarkets.
There are no food laws that define the characteristics of these types of brown sugar; there are only legal definitions for types of sucrose processing (such as refined sugar and gelling sugar).2
Sugar should be stored in a dry, dark place in an airtight container. In these conditions, it can be kept for several years. Normally, sugar is too concentrated (refined to nothing but sucrose) for microorganisms, but brown sugar does offes ideal conditions for mold and other microorganisms because of the higher water content and minerals it contains. This is why you should make sure that you store your brown sugar in a very dry place.
Animals such as ants and cockroaches may also gnaw through paper packages to get to the sugar.
Refined sugar has its vitamins, minerals, and flavoring removed through a calcium carbonate purification process.3 The vitamin and mineral content of sugar is therefore highest in unrefined muscovado. However, as sugar is typically consumed in relatively small quantities, the amount of vitamins and minerals consumed is negligible. Brown sugar contains contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, and selenium (100 g sugar contains between 2 and 10 % of the recommended daily intake). It also contains pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and panthothenic acid (B5).4
Isolated sugar is generally regarded as an unhealthy food that should not be consumed in large quantities. The term superfood is highly inappropriate for describing brown sugar and raw cane sugar.
Detailed nutritional information on brown sugar can be found in the nutrient tables below the text.
Brown sugar isn’t actually healthier than white, refined sugar. The minerals and vitamins that brown sugar contains barely contribute to the supply of nutrients that you need in a healthy diet. If you are choosing between white and brown sugar, you should do so based on which taste you prefer. Both sugar types have the same number of calories, cause a rise in blood sugar levels, and contribute to tooth decay.
It is important to understand that consuming excess amounts of rapid-acting sugars (foods high on the glycemic index (GI)) is a well-known risk factor for developing a resistance to sugar absorption.5 Excess sugar consumption promotes metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A balanced diet is therefore one of the most important and effective preventative measures against illness and to maintain a healthy lifestyle, alongside physical activity.6
While sugar in natural quantities is an important source of energy, in the food industry it is frequently used to increase the sale on processed foods. When combined with salt and fat, sugar helps to create the “bliss point” of deliciousness to entice consumers to keep buying the product. More information can be found in our review of Michael Moss’ book Salt Sugar Fat.
Interestingly, we now know that even the nutrients that parents consume before the conception and birth of their children can have epigenetic influences on a child’s health. Your nutritional choices therefore shape not only your own health, but may also involuntarily influence the health and behaviors of future generations. More information can be found in this article by Professor Gottfried Schatz or in this detailed article on nutritional programming. Here you can also find more information on preventing diabetes.2
In India, muscovado is used as a remedy. The sugar is boiled over an open fire to create treacle (blackstrap molasses).7,8
Sugar is produced from sugarcane and/or sugar beet. Sugarcane is grown in subtropical and tropical regions and sugar beet in places with temperate latitudes, for example, in Central Europe. Genetically modified sugar beet has been approved in the US. Sugar beets emerged in 1801 by selectively breeding the white Silesian fodder beet, which had itself been selectively bred from the beet plant (Beta vulgaris) since 1750. On the other hand, humans have been planting sugarcane in Melanesia and Polynesia for about ten thousand years. Planting sugarcane also began two thousand years later in India and Iran.9
Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) is a reed-like plant of the sweet grass family (Poaceae), which grows to a height of 5 to 9 m and can live for up to 20 years. Unlike most cultivated plants that are cultivated for their flower or fruit, the most important part of the sugarcane from the perspective of food production is its stem. This stem contains the sugar juice and can have a diameter of up to 7 cm. The simplest reproduction method for sugarcane is stem cutting. To do this, take the cane stems, preferrably with two to four nodes in the stem, and plant them in the soil.5 Leave some soil to earth up the plant later. The plant needs a lot of water; however, it shouldn’t be left to stand in water as this increases the risk of rotting. The sugarcane should be ready for the first cut approximately 9 to 24 months after planting, depending on the sugar content and how ripe it appears. Cut the stalks directly above the ground. This can be done by hand or with sugarcane harvesters. These stumps will sprout again and can be harvested after another 12 months. Depending on the region, you can harvest up to eight times from the same plants. Sugarcane is usually pressed hot to create sugarcane juice. This is then crystallized and undergoes a process of refinement to create cane sugar. The sugar content in sugarcane pulp is 10 to 20 %.
Sugar beets (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris, Altissima Group) should be planted as early as possible in March or April in deep, nutrient-rich loam or loess soil. Since sugar beets have a self-incompatibility mechanism and are very susceptible to nematodes, it is important to have a well-thought-out crop sequence. Harvest begins in September and can continue until December, when the beet’s sugar content is higher. Following the harvest, the beets are cleaned and sliced into thin strips. They are then taken to extraction plants, where they are extracted with a diffuser by mixing the strips with hot water. This produces raw juice containing the dissolved sugar. The juice is then filtered through a process called carbonation, where small clumps of chalk are grown in the juice to remove non-sugar substances. What remains is a thin, light yellow juice containing approximately 16 % sucrose. This juice is then concentrated through a first stage of evaporation, where it is reduced to a viscous, thick juice with a sugar content of 75 %. The remaining liquid is evaporated in vacuum pans seeded with sugar crystals. These crystals start the process of crystallization; sugar from the thick juice forms around the crystals until the desired crystal size is reached. To produce white sugar, the sugar further undergoes centrifugation. This process separates molasses and crystals, which dissolve again in water and crystallize.10
From an ecological perspective, organic beet sugar is preferable to organic fair trade cane sugar, especially in Europe. Not only do sugarcane’s transport costs and their associated environmental impact make beet sugar a more favorable product, their sugar yield is better. One ton of sugar requires about 6.6 tons of beet or 11.4 tons of sugarcane.11
Brown rock candy is coarse rock candy crystals that are formed from caramelized sugar solutions through a special crystallization process. The water evaporates and the crystals then form and grow on a string or stick that is suspended in the sugar solution.
Brown sugar is also called demerara sugar, soft brown sugar, raw sugar, raw cane sugar, unrefined sugar, crude sugar, cassonade, unrefined cane sugar, and whole cane sugar.