The Difference Between Light and Dark Brown Sugar

Wondering which one to use in your recipe? Turns out, there is a slight difference.

Ever found yourself in the baking aisle, wondering which variety of brown sugar to choose for your recipe? Before you make that next batch of cookies, read up on the difference between light and dark brown sugar to see which type is your best bet.

What’s the Difference?

Thinking about brown sugar brings to mind sweet potato casserole, coffee cake and honeybaked ham—recipes that wouldn’t be the same with plain ol’ granulated sugar. The ingredient that separates brown sugar from the others is molasses, added after white sugar is refined. The darker the brown sugar, the more molasses it contains.

For light brown sugar, that usually means 3.5% molasses. For dark brown sugar, that amount is nearly doubled—6.5% molasses! This helps dark brown sugar have a more deep, complex flavor that’s closer to toffee or caramel.

(Did you know that sugar can last forever? Here are the other foods with incredible shelf lives.)

What Sugar Should I Use?

If your recipe doesn’t specify “light” or”dark,” it probably assumes you’re going to use light brown sugar. (It’s more common.) The exception is when you’re making gingerbread—the molasses flavor in dark brown sugar better complements the cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Here’s the trick to measuring brown sugar—and other common baking ingredients.

How to Substitute for Light or Dark Brown Sugar

Don’t worry if you’ve been using them interchangeably. You don’t have to compensate for one type of sugar or the other by adding or subtracting any ingredients, so it’s safe to switch between the two based on what you happen to have in your pantry. To improve your sugar repertoire, make sure you also know the basics of turbinado sugar.  Happy baking!

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Emma B. Kumer
Emma Kumer is a marathon-runner, magazine-writer, and graphic design addict. She was a digital editorial intern for Taste of Home Magazine for Summer 2017. She is also a junior in Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.