Brown sugar is basically white sugar to which some molasses have been added or white sugar that has not completely been drained off molasses. While the two are processed differently, the major difference is in color and flavor, and none is better than the other.

You might get confused with the many types of sugars in the industry, including granulated, powdered, white, light brown, dark brown, and fine sugars. As such, many wonder which is which. Nonetheless, there are basically two types of sugars; brown and white sugar. While there are significant differences in flavor, color, and processing methods of these two types of sugar, they are technically the same. Their calorific contents differ slightly, and so do mineral compositions, but these variations are minuscule and don’t have a bearing on the health profile of the sugars. Here is everything you need to know about white and brown sugars.

The basics about sugar

Sugar is a natural sweetener, just like honey and maple syrup or the natural versions of agave sweetener. Sugar is naturally produced from sugar beet or sugar cane plants by extracting the juice, evaporating it to leave crystals, and centrifuging the crystals to remove molasses. Although maple syrup and honey may have some potential benefits, sugar is technically zero-calorie; meaning that it puts in calories to the body with no health or nutritional benefits. However, brown sugar contains trace amounts of potassium, iron, and calcium minerals, but their percentages are negligible. As such, you would not go for sugar in the name of getting the nutrients contained therein. Sugar compares differently with other sweeteners, with some like honey boasting more calories, but others having fewer. It is used to sweeten coffee or tea at home and also for baking and in the confectionery industry.

What is white sugar?

As the name suggests, white sugar is the white version of the sweetener naturally produced from sugar cane or sugar beet plants. To produce white sugar, sugar cane or sugar beet juice is extracted, heated, and purified to produce molasses, which is a brown syrup. What follows next is further purification using a centrifuge to separate sugar from molasses.

What is brown sugar?

Brown sugar is the brown version of the sweetener produced from sugar beets or sugar canes by extracting the juice in the plants then heating and purifying it to produce molasses. The unrefined dark brown sugar usually does not go through the centrifuge and is slightly healthy, considering that molasses that owe it the health benefits are still intact. Contrarily, refined dark brown sugar goes through the centrifuge with two possibilities. The process might not be so intense and intentionally leaves behind some molasses content in the brown sugar. The second option is where centrifugation is intense and clears out all molasses, but some are added to the cleared white sugar so that it turns slightly brown. There are different categories of brown sugars, whose intensity of the brown color depends on the percentage of molasses and whether it is refined or unrefined.

White versus brown sugars: how do they compare nutritionally?

Although there are small variations in the nutritional profiles of brown and white sugars, these two types are ideally the same. Their nutritional profiles are alike since they both come from the same plant, either sugar cane or sugar beet. The only small difference is that brown sugar packs slightly more potassium, iron, and calcium minerals than white sugar. However, this difference is minuscule, considering that these very nutrients are present in brown sugar but in insignificant proportions. As such, you would not reason that brown sugar is healthier or more than white sugar.

Furthermore, there is a small difference in the calorific composition of brown and white sugars, which, again, is insignificant. Because of having molasses in its structure, brown sugar has more calories than white sugar. For instance, you would reap 15 calories from a 4 g serving of white sugar but would get 16.3 calories from brown sugar of the same amount. This, again, is a negligible difference. As it stands, both sugars are high in calories and should only be consumed in moderation. Besides, they are both simple carbs, meaning that they both raise blood insulin, and sugar levels, set the system into a rollercoaster action with sugar spikes and sudden energy drops, are increase a person’s risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Brown and white sugar differ in how they are manufactured

There is a difference in the manufacturing processes for white and brown sugar. As said at the outset, brown and white sugars all originate from brown or white sugars. However, the manufacturing processes start the same but differ towards the end. White sugar passes through filters made up of bones or chars to separate white crystals from the brown molasses. Contrarily, brown sugar goes through the same process but has molasses added to it after passing through centrifuges and filters, especially for refined brown sugar. On the other end, unrefined sugar does not pass through the filters or centrifuges. As such, it has its molasses intact and packs slightly more calcium, iron, and potassium minerals and other benefits.

Brown sugar versus white sugar: culinary applications

Brown and white sugar taste differently and are unlike in color. As such, they have different culinary applications that favor each of them. For instance, brown sugar attracts moisture because of the molasses and results in denser and softer baked products. As such, it is ideal for making chocolates or fruit cakes that blend well with its color. Contrarily, white sugar allows sufficient rising and produces airer products. Consequently, it is appropriate for baking goods like meringues or mousses that call for adequate rising. Some people use brown and white sugar interchangeably but produce foods with different color, flavor, texture, and density.


Brown and white sugar are nutritionally similar since they are all produced from sugar beets or sugar cane plants. Although the mineral composition and calorific contents slightly differ between the two, these are minute differences. However, they differ in color, taste, processing methods, and culinary applications. As such, it is your personal preferences and the intended final product that determines which sugar you will use.

Ieva Kubiliute

Ieva Kubiliute is a psychologist and a sex and relationships advisor and a freelance writer. She's also a consultant to several health and wellness brands. While Ieva specialises in covering wellness topics ranging from fitness and nutrition, to mental wellbeing, sex and relationships and health conditions, she has written across a diverse range of lifestyle topics, including beauty and travel. Career highlights so far include: luxury spa-hopping in Spain and joining an £18k-a-year London gym. Someone’s got to do it! When she’s not typing away at her desk—or interviewing experts and case studies, Ieva winds down with yoga, a good movie and great skincare (affordable of course, there’s little she doesn’t know about budget beauty). Things that bring her endless joy: digital detoxes, oat milk lattes and long country walks (and sometimes jogs).

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