Skip to Content

Which brown sugar is best?

Brown sugar is a popular sweetener used in baking, cooking, and beverage making. With its characteristic tan color and slight molasses flavor, brown sugar adds rich depth to everything from cookies to coffee. But not all brown sugars are created equal. The best brown sugar for you depends on factors like taste, texture, and baking performance. This comprehensive guide examines the pros and cons of light brown sugar vs. dark brown sugar to help you determine the right variety for your needs.

What is brown sugar?

Brown sugar starts out as white table sugar (sucrose). To make it brown, molasses is added back into the sugar. The molasses provides the characteristic color, moist texture, and toffee-like flavor.

There are two main types of brown sugar:

  • Light brown sugar – 3.5% molasses content
  • Dark brown sugar – 6.5% molasses content

The higher molasses content gives dark brown sugar a deeper color and stronger molasses flavor. Light brown sugar has a milder, more delicate flavor.

Brown sugar nutrition

Since brown sugar is simply white sugar with added molasses, its nutritional value is similar:

Nutrient Light brown sugar (per 100g) Dark brown sugar (per 100g)
Calories 375 381
Total fat 0g 0g
Carbs 96g 97g
Fiber 0g 0g
Sugars 95g 96g

As you can see, both varieties provide nearly 100% carbohydrates by weight, mostly from sucrose and fructose. There are trace amounts of molasses minerals like calcium, potassium, and iron, but not enough to make a significant nutritional impact.

Light brown sugar vs. dark brown sugar

So what’s the difference between light and dark brown sugar besides molasses content? Here’s a detailed comparison:


Light brown sugar has a delicate butterscotch flavor, while dark brown sugar is more robust with stronger caramel/toffee undertones from the higher molasses concentration. Dark brown sugar’s fuller flavor stands up well in bold baked goods like gingerbread and pumpkin pie.


As the names imply, light brown sugar is lighter in color than dark brown sugar. Specifically, light brown sugar is a warm golden brown and dark brown sugar is a deeper reddish-brown.

Moisture content

The extra molasses in dark brown sugar gives it more moisture. Light brown sugar has a dryer, crisper texture. Store brown sugar in an airtight container to prevent it from drying out.

Baking properties

The higher moisture content also makes dark brown sugar more dense and compact. This can affect baking performance. Dense, compact dark brown sugar helps make soft baked goods like chocolate chip cookies chewy. Drier, lighter brown sugar creates crisper cookies and pie crusts.


Dark brown sugar is slightly more expensive than light brown sugar due to the higher molasses content.

Which is better for baking?

For baking, both light and dark brown sugars work well. Light brown sugar offers a mild sweetness that lets other ingredients shine, while dark brown sugar’s caramel-molasses notes add complexity.

Here are guidelines for choosing light vs. dark brown sugar in recipes:

  • Light brown sugar is better for delicate baked goods like snickerdoodle cookies, shortbread, and pie crusts.
  • Dark brown sugar is ideal in recipes where you want a deeper flavor like spice cakes, gingerbread, baked beans, and barbecue sauces.
  • They can be used interchangeably in small amounts in marinades, rubs, and glazes.
  • Either works for simple recipes like oatmeal cookies and muffins – dark brown sugar will impart a little more flavor.

For the best results, look for the specific type of brown sugar called for in the recipe. For example, chewy chocolate chip cookies may use dark brown sugar while a crumbly streusel calls for light brown sugar.

Storing brown sugar

To retain moisture and prevent hard clumps, store brown sugar in an airtight container at room temperature. If your brown sugar does get hard, place a piece of bread or apple slice in the container overnight to soften it up.

Properly stored, brown sugar keeps for 4-6 months. For longer storage up to a year, consider freezing brown sugar in a freezer bag after pressing out all the air. Defrost frozen brown sugar before using by placing the sealed bag at room temperature for several hours.

Popular brown sugar brands

There are several quality brands of light and dark brown sugar for both retail and commercial kitchens:

  • Domino – A widely available brand that produces high-quality light and dark brown sugars. Their sugars have finely granulated crystals that dissolve easily.
  • C&H – Offers very light and dark varieties of brown sugar with deep, rich flavors. Their brown sugars have excellent moisture retention.
  • Florida Crystals – Makes natural, minimally-processed light and dark brown sugars. These unrefined sugars have large, sparkling crystals.
  • Wholesome Sweeteners Organic – For organic brown sugars, Wholesome offers light and dark varieties made from organic sugarcane.
  • India Tree – Makes premium dark brown sugar sprinkled with flecks of molasses. India Tree sugars are less processed than conventional brands.

Gourmet and speciality stores may also carry more unique artisanal brown sugars like maple sugar, coconut sugar, and muscovado sugar.

Brown sugar substitutes

In a pinch, you can make DIY brown sugar substitutes at home:

  • Mix white sugar with molasses – For every 1 cup of white sugar, mix in 1 tablespoon molasses for light brown sugar or 2 tablespoons for dark brown sugar.
  • Blend white sugar with maple syrup or honey – For light brown sugar flavor, use 1 tablespoon per cup of white sugar. For dark, use 2 tablespoons per cup.
  • Pulse white sugar in a food processor – Processing crystallized sugar will give it a light brown color.

Store-bought sugar substitutes like Stevia and erythritol can also be used in place of brown sugar, but may change the texture. Always adjust other liquids in the recipe to account for the substituted sweetener.


Light and dark brown sugars both add sweetness, moisture, and rich flavor to recipes. Light brown sugar offers delicate butterscotch notes, while dark brown sugar’s full-bodied molasses flavor shines through. When baking, look for the specific brown sugar called for in the recipe – light for shortbread and dark for gingerbread. With proper storage and clever swaps, you can always have the right brown sugar on hand for all your recipes.