Coconut Sugar Vs. Brown Sugar: SPICEography Showdown

Coconut sugar looks a lot like brown sugar and the two are often considered interchangeable, but are they? The answer is not as clear-cut as you might think. Below, we will take a look at the flavors of these two sugars and consider how well they work as substitutes for each other in another SPICEography Showdown. 

How do the flavor of coconut sugar and the flavor of brown sugar differ?

These sugars come from two completely different sources, but are still similar in terms of their chemical makeup.

When considering coconut sugar, it is important to note that it does not taste like coconut any more than beet sugar tastes like beets. It is taken from the buds of the coconut tree, not from the coconut itself. Sap from the buds is processed using methods similar to those used for converting maple syrup to maple sugar. It does taste similar to brown sugar and provides very mild caramel notes.

Brown sugar is simply granulated white sugar with added molasses for color and a mild flavor. Because molasses is used, brown sugar has a moister and stickier texture when compared to that of coconut sugar. It is usually made from sugar cane, but it can be made from sugar beets. What you will get from it in terms of taste is sweetness accompanied the deep and slightly bitter notes of molasses, which are also caramel-like.

Can you use coconut sugar in place of brown sugar and vice versa?

Coconut sugar is very similar in appearance and flavor to brown sugar, which means that it can serve as an effective substitute for it. Some bakers have found that because of its softer texture, coconut sugar does not blend as well with butter as brown sugar does. This results in some pastries turning out dry or overly dense. The grains also tend to be coarser than those of brown sugar, which can lead to speckling and a more porous texture in some baked goods. You can compensate for the dryness by adding extra butter and you can prevent the speckling and texture issues by grinding the sugar in a food processor or blender. In applications where it is melted or sprinkled, coconut sugar is virtually identical to brown sugar.

Brown sugar can be used to replace coconut sugar in all cases as long as you are mindful of the difference in health benefits. While coconut sugar is widely touted as having a lower glycemic index, this benefit is unproven; however, it does contain inulin. Inulin is a prebiotic carbohydrate that can be beneficial for health. Brown sugar does not provide inulin.

When should you use coconut sugar and when should you use brown sugar?

Coconut sugar is a great sweetener for beverages like coffee and tea. It is just as good in candies like caramel and toffee, as well as in frostings. Use it in dishes where you want brown sugar’s flavor and color with the added nutritional benefit of inulin. Brown sugar is an excellent all-purpose sweetener that can be used in any recipe where its deep brown color and molasses flavor are desired. In addition to being widely available, it is relatively inexpensive when compared to coconut sugar. Use it if you are on a budget or simply cannot find coconut sugar in your local grocery store.