The Difference Between Light Brown Sugar and Dark Brown Sugar

Apr 06, 2016
The Difference Between Light Brown Sugar and Dark Brown Sugar

Baking minds want to know: What is the difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar?

It's easy -- the short answer is molasses.

Both light and dark brown sugar contain molasses, but dark brown sugar contains more. Along with the increased amount of molasses comes a deeper, darker color, slightly more moisture and acidity, and a stronger flavor with more pronounced caramel undertones.

So -- when a recipe calls for "brown sugar," what should you use? And can you interchange the two sugars? Generally it means light brown sugar should be used. In a pinch, dark brown sugar can be substituted for light brown; however, when baking recipes sensitive to moisture and density (such as cakes) the difference in moisture content between can affect how well the cake rises. Swapping the two will also affect the recipe's taste and color. Dark brown sugar has a deeper molasses flavor, and of course, a deeper color.

Carrot Cake Cookies

When you think brown sugar, you most likely think sweet treats -- and you aren't wrong. Brown sugar is a staple in cookie and cake recipes like these: Carrot Cake Cookies, Pecan Pie Cake and Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

But what about desserts where brown sugar plays a starring role? You won't believe your taste buds when you bite into these brown sugar delights. Brown sugar gives these desserts a taste like no other:


Brown Sugar Toffee Cookies


Brown Sugar Toffee Cookies


Caramel apple bars


Caramel Honeycrisp Apple Bars


Beeville Honey Cakes


Beeville Honey Cakes


Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies


Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies with Brown Sugar Frosting


Brown Sugar Brownies


Brown Sugar Brownies


Firecracker Shrimp Kabobs


On the flip side, brown sugar can deepen, brighten and slightly sweeten a wonderful savory dish. Brown sugar plays a starring role in some of our most savory recipes like our Firecracker Shrimp Kabobs, Baby Back Ribs with Brown Sugar Spice Dry Rub and our Brown Sugar Rubbed Beer Can Roasted Turkey.

The added moisture content of sugar is what makes it soft and clumpy. When exposed to air, the moisture in brown sugar evaporates, resulting in hard brown sugar. To avoid this, store your brown sugar in an airtight container in a cool area.

If you find that your brown sugar has hardened, you can easily take it back to its soft, fluffy form.

  1. Place hard brown sugar in an open microwave-safe container with 1/2 cup of water in a second container and microwave for 1-3 minutes until soft. Measure and use as soon as sugar becomes soft. Brown sugar will harden again when cool.
  2. Place a slice of apple or a moist paper towel in the bag or container with the hardened brown sugar. Seal and let sit for 24 hours.
  3. Place hardened brown sugar in a food processor or blender and process until usable.


You can learn more about light brown sugar and dark brown sugar on our website in the Sugar 101 section as well as in the following video.