What is Brown Sugar?

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Brown sugars are as sweet as table sugar but have a strong cane molasses flavor. They may be either partially or highly refined. Partially refined brown sugars, often referred to as ​unrefined sugars, are made from cane only. On the other hand, refined brown sugars, which are the most widely available on store shelves, are produced from cane, beet, or are a blend of both. Keep reading to learn how they compare.


Aka Traditional Artisan Brown Sugar

  • The so-called unrefined sugars are in fact partially refined cane sugars. Unrefined sugars (90 to 95% sugar) are not much less refined than white sugar (99.9% sugar), but are much less processed.

  • Are produced directly from the cane juice in sugars mills around the world, close to cane fields, using hundreds of years old know-how. Are often made in small scale for local markets with simple equipment and little capital.

  • Have many different local names worldwide, muscovado of Mauritius Island and Phillippines, rapadura of Brazil, panela of Colombia, piloncillo of Mexico, kokuto of Japan, and jaggery of India.

  • Put simply, their refining process involves collecting the cane juice, clarifying it, and boiling its water off through slow simmering in open kettles.

  • As cane juice is concentrated, a sticky dark syrup, called cane molasses, surrounds the pure sugar (sucrose) crystals. The color of the resulting brown sugars depends on the amount of the molasses they retain.

  • The processes used to refine and concentrate the cane juice vary with the manufacturer, but traditional unrefined sugars are typically not centrifuged to remove the cane molasses at any stage during their refining.

  • Traditional brown sugars retain all or most of the original cane molasses around the sucrose crystals. They contain 8 to 14% molasses, and consequently, have a strong molasses flavor and a very dark brown color.

  • Historically, sugar mills used to separate the sugars crystals from the molasses by using upright conical pots, and over a period of days, if not weeks, the molasses drained through a hole at the base of the cone, leaving sugar loafs.

  • Sugar loafs are still sold shaped like a cone or a block, but today the convenient granulated form is more popular. The disadvantage of the sugar in cone and block form is that they are not so easy to use and dissolve.

  • As opposed to white sugar, which is made up entirely of sucrose, unrefined sugar contains sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Typically, it has 90% sugars, being 80 to 90% sucrose, and 2 to 7% invert sugar (glucose plus fructose). The main remainder is mostly water.

  • Traditional cane sugars contain trace amounts of micronutrients, such as minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants but these sugars are not a significant source of nutrients other than calories. They provide about 4 calories per gram, or 16 calories per teaspoon.

  • They may be perceived as more nutritious or healthier than refined sugars but you would have to eat a truly unhealthful amount of them (100g or even a cup) to get your daily micronutrients requirement or the positive health effects from them.

  • In the United States, unrefined brown sugars may cost 3 to 12 times more than regular (light or dark) refined brown sugars. One pound of unrefined cane sugars range from $3.50 to $12.50. On the other hand, refined brown sugars cost an average of $0.98 per pound.


  • Sucanat, which stands for Sugar Cane Natural, is not a traditional brown sugar but it is an unrefined cane sugar, organic and fair trade certified, produced by a more sophisticated refining process.

  • The production process starts by cane stalks being crushed to extract the juice, which is then clarified and heated in large vats. Hand paddling cools and dries the syrup by a drying process developed by the Swiss company Pronatec.

  • Sucanat does not clump, cake or harden as regular brown sugars do. It does not dissolve quickly into doughts and batters, but it can be grinded in a coffee grinder or pulsed in a blender to help incorporate it.

  • Sucanat is a registered trademark of Wholesome Sweeteners Inc, Sugar Land, TX. All brands I found, see images below, look and taste the same. Check them out: Wholesome!, Now Foods, and Frontier.

For more about unrefined sugars, read two of my previous posts:

Cane Sugar: Unrefined, Raw and Refined and

What is unrefined sugar, anyway?

Visit my Unrefined Sugar page to explore them all.


  • The brown sugars we often purchase in grocery stores are not naturally brown, they are refined sugars from cane or beet produced in two different facilities, a Sugar Refinery or Sugar Factory, respectively.

  • Brown sugars from cane are made in Sugars Refineries, which are often located far away from cane fields but close to areas of heavy sugar consumption. It uses raw cane sugar, shipped from Sugar Mills around the world, as starting material.

  • Brown sugars from beet are produced in Sugar Factories by refining beet juice all the way to white sugar and then adding a film of cane molasses (a by-product of the cane sugar refining process).

  • Light (golden) and dark brown sugars are simply a mixture of sugar crystals and cane molasses that may be produced by one of the methods described below. They vary in flavor and color based on the amount of cane molasses.

  • Light or golden brown sugar contains from 2 to 3% molasses and consequently has mild molasses flavor & lighter brown color. Dark brown sugar contains 6 to 8% molasses resulting in a richer color and flavor.

  • They generally have 93-98% sugars being mainly sucrose with 1.5-5% invert sugar (glucose plus fructose). Light brown sugars typically contain 2 to 5% water; dark brown sugars have 2.5 to 5.5% water.

  • They tend to become dry, hard and lumpy due to loss of moisture during storage particularly after the original package is opened. For tips on soften them read this 5 Best Ways To Soften Brown Sugar

  • The cost of light and dark brown sugars range from $0.86 to $1.10 per pound, with an average of $0.98 per pound.

For more about refined sugars, read my previous posts:

Cane Sugar: Unrefined, Raw and Refined

What Is Refined Sugar?

Cane vs Beet Sugar: A Difference?

Brown Sugar From Cane

  • Are produced in a Sugar Refinery, by two different methods described below. Both methods use crude raw sugar as stating material, not the cane juice. To learn how crude raw sugar is produced, go here What Is Refined Sugar? and Cane vs Beet Sugar: A Difference?

  • The resulting sugar crystals may be brown all the way through or on the outside only. It is not easy to say whether one brand of brown sugar is just painted or is brown all the way through. One way or another, both brown sugars give a molasses flavor to your recipe.



Crude raw sugar is a non-food-grade raw sugar produced in a Sugar Mill, that is not to be confused with the raw sugars available on store shelves (aka washed sugar, demerara, turbinado or evaporated cane juice). Crude raw sugar is off-white, looks a lot like sand, and is sold only to Refineries, not to consumers. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is unsuitable for human consumption due to its high level of impurities. The main difference in the production of these two raw sugars is in the way cane juice is clarified; also, the same food-grade sanitary standards are not followed. The crude raw sugar is normally 90-99% sucrose and is the principal 'sugar' shipped in world trade. Sugar Refineries buy crude raw sugar for further purification through melting, filtering, evaporation, and centrifuging to extract the remaining impurities and leave what is called Refined Sugar (i.e., greater than 99.9% sucrose).


  • Brown sugar crystal is brown all the way through

Crystallization Method: Brown sugar is made by redissolving raw sugar, which is then concentrated and recrystallized till a brown thick paste with sugar crystals is formed. It is then centrifuged in a large perforated basket spinning very rapidly, much like a washing machine in the spin cycle, where the loaded laundry is spun and dried. During the centrifugation, the molasses is not completely washed off. So, the resulting brown sugar retains some of the molasses after being refined.

  • Brown sugar crystal is brown on the outside only

Coated or Painted Method: Raw sugar is refined all the way to white sugar (granulated, fine granulated, extra fine granulated sugar, table sugar) and its surface is coated or ‘painted’ with a small amount of molasses. White sugar crystal has a thin film of cane molasses on its surface. Brown sugars from beet are made through this method.

Here are some cane sugars that are brown all the way through: C&H Dark Brown, C&H Golden Brown, Domino Dark Brown, Domino Light Brown, and Bob's Red Mill Old-Fashioned Brown Sugars

Brown Sugar From Beet

  • Are produced in a Sugar Factory by the painted method. Refined white sugar produced from beet is simply coated with a film of cane molasses. Cane molasses is always used because beet molasses, which is produced in sugar factories during the refining of beet sugar, is not palatable and has a strong, unpleasant odor.

Pourable Brown Sugar

  • This is a refined sugar also known as free flowing brown sugar, molasses granules or Brownulated® sugar.

  • The advantage of this refined brown sugar over regular brown sugars is that it pours easily, and does not clump, cake or harden.

  • Pourable brown sugars contain 91-94% sucrose and 2.5-3% invert sugar (glucose & fructose); plus about 0.75% water. Having less moisture than regular brown sugars, so it weighs less.

  • It is an easy-to-measure brown sugar, to be used as a cup for cup replacement for regular brown sugar. Check these out: Domino Pourable Light Brown Sugar, C&H Pourable Golden Brown. See them in the unboxing video below.

  • Is produced by a CoCrystallization method: starts with extremely fine sugar crystals which are cocrystallized (agglomerated) with a cane syrup. Each granule of the resulting sugar consists of many tiny crystals that are held together by the syrup in a porous sponge-like structure.

Organic Brown Sugar

Make your own brown sugar

  • Table sugar (granulated, fine granulated or extra fine granulated sugar) combined with molasses is an easy substitute for store-bought brown sugar.

  • Make light brown sugar by pulsing 1 cup (7 ounces or 200 grams) of table sugar in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of dark (or blackstrap) molasses or 1/4 cup of light molasses

  • Make dark brown sugar by pulsing 2 tablespoons of dark (or blackstrap) molasses or 1/2 cup of light molasses for 1 cup of table sugar (7ounces or 200g).

  • If a recipe calls for brown sugar, simply add the amount of molasses along with wet ingredients and table sugar along with the dry ingredients.

Please refer to previous posts to learn 5 Best Ways To Soften Brown Sugar and The Right Way To Measure Brown Sugar

Unboxing videos

The Takeaway

  • Unrefined sugars and regular brown sugars can be used interchangeably

  • Unrefined brown sugars cost much more than refined brown sugars

  • Unrefined cane sugars have a slightly more complex flavor

  • One does not necessarily taste better than the other

  • Both unrefined and refined brown sugars will give a molasses flavor to your recipe

  • Nutritionally speaking, one is not healthier than another

  • All brown sugars provide about 4 calories per gram or 16 calories por teaspoon

  • Choose any brown sugar for their unique taste, your satisfaction, or culinary benefits.

Share Your Experience and the Sweeteners You Love Here!

If you are a user of any of those sugars, take a minute to say something about it.

Share anything you'd like. Point out pros or cons. What is your favorite brand? How does it taste? How does it look? Any good or bad experience? What do you like about it? What drove you to purchase it? What is your favorite way to eat it? Why do you like to eat it? How is the taste? It goes well with some specific foods? How much did you pay ($ and size)?

#unrefinedsugar #refinedsugar #brownsugar #canesugar #muscovadosugar #sucanat #sweetenerreview #bestsweetener

Copyright © 2020  WhatSugar Blog by Adriane Mulinari Campos 

Everywhere in the USA | Based in Richmond,VA | Email me at info@whatsugar.com

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