Brown sugar is simple. It consists of white granulated sugar to which a certain amount of molasses has been added for flavor and appearance. Brown sugar can be made from sugar beets or from sugar cane. Cane sugar is more complex as there are multiple types of sugar that can be fall under the cane sugar umbrella. Examples include sucanat, turbinado and evaporated cane sugar. All three of which are cane sugars in that they are made exclusively from sugar cane juice.
What are the differences between brown sugar and cane sugar? How are they used differently? We will look at these and other questions below.
How are brown sugar and cane sugar different?
The big difference between brown sugar and cane sugar has less to do with the actual components than with how they are processed. When it comes to sugar made from sugar cane, both brown sugar and cane sugar start out as cane juice. The cane juice that is destined to become brown sugar is filtered and then boiled until it crystallizes. The crystals are refined by being washed with a syrup solution and by being spun in a centrifuge. The result of the refinement process is white granulated sugar to which molasses is added to create brown sugar.
Most types of cane sugar only undergo the boiling and filtration process, which means that they reach the consumer with more of their natural molasses intact. The different types of cane sugar may differ as far as how much of the molasses remains and how moist they are.
How do brown sugar and cane sugar differ in flavor?
Light brown sugar, demerara sugar and evaporated cane sugar have a similar flavor due to the light molasses content. All three have a slightly metallic sweetness with notes of toffee and caramel.
Dark brown sugar will have more of the caramel and toffee notes when compared to evaporated cane sugar and demerara sugar. Turbinado may be a closer match to dark brown sugar.
Can you use one in place of the other?
Light brown sugar and evaporated cane sugar look similar and both sweeten effectively. From an appearance and sweetness standpoint, they are interchangeable.
Dark brown sugar has a higher molasses content. If your intent is to replace a dark brown sugar with evaporated cane sugar or demerara sugar, your dish may be paler and less flavorful than intended. Of course, this depends on the type of cane sugar. For example, some forms of cane sugar are dark and may be more similar in flavor to dark brown sugar. However, all of them should still be sufficiently sweet as there is no difference in sweetening power.
As you might expect, the reverse will be true if you replace evaporated cane sugar or demerara cane sugar with dark brown sugar. The dish will be both darker and have more flavor than it would be if made with the lighter types of cane sugar.
What are the best ways to use brown sugar and what are the best ways to use cane sugar?
Brown sugar is used mostly in baked goods and as a condiment to sweeten hot cereal. It can also be used for making barbecue sauces and in dry rubs.
Evaporated cane sugar and demerara sugar are a little more versatile as they can be used in the same applications for which brown sugar is used as well as to sweeten beverages like coffee and tea.