What’s the Difference Between Light and Dark Brown Sugars?

Brown sugar is a staple ingredient in most American pantries. Of the many types of sugar available, it’s one of the most useful because it’s so flavorful and versatile. It gives everything from glazed Easter ham to oatmeal cookies a rich, caramel flavor. Many recipes simply call for “brown sugar” but of course, if you’ve ever been down the baking aisle of a grocery store, you know you’ll probably find boxes or bags labeled “light” and “dark.” So, what is the difference between light brown sugar versus dark brown sugar, you might ask? We’re here to explain all the sweet details.

First, there’s not just a difference in color between the two brown sugars; there’s a flavor difference, too. You may have guessed this given that some recipes specifically call out one versus the other. It all has to do with how they are made. Read on for more details!

light brown sugar vs dark brown sugar

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What is brown sugar?

It might be helpful to start with defining what brown sugar is first, because that will easily explain why there’s a difference. Brown sugar is typically white granulated sugar with molasses added to it. This explains why brown sugar is softer and moister with that distinct caramel flavor and gives baked goods like Cowboy Cookies their chew. It’s also why adding molasses to white sugar is a popular brown sugar substitute.

Brown sugar doesn’t keep as well in storage as granulated white sugar due to that added moisture as well. It will eventually evaporate, leaving the sugar hard. Not to worry though, because you just need the secrets of how to soften brown sugar when you’re in a pinch and prevent that from happening by buying a brown sugar bear.

Brown Sugar Bear Original Sugar Saver

Brown Sugar Bear Original Sugar Saver

Brown Sugar Bear Original Sugar Saver

What is the difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar?

The color and flavor differences between the sugars is simply how much molasses is in the sugar. A light brown sugar has about 3.5% molasses and dark brown sugar has about 6.5%. That added molasses in dark brown sugar is what gives it more depth of flavor, which is why you’ll see it in recipes where it’s an important ingredient like when you make barbecue sauce.

Can you substitute dark brown sugar for light brown sugar?

In general, yes, the sugars are interchangeable in most recipes. Especially in most standard baking recipes that call for a mix of sugars like cookies and/or when brown sugar isn’t the star ingredient for flavor, you can use one versus the other. You can also mix them together in a recipe if you’re running low. When a recipe calls for brown sugar, it is most likely light brown sugar as it is more popular and universal. But again, in most applications, it won’t matter either way.

Pro tip: If a recipe calls for dark brown sugar and only have light brown sugar on hand, add a tablespoon of molasses for every cup of lightly packed light brown sugar!


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