Raw Sugar Vs. Brown Sugar: SPICEography Showdown

Raw sugar and brown sugar are very similar products. Both refer to crystallized sugar with a significant percentage of molasses; however, there is more to each of these sweeteners. They are not always interchangeable for a number of reasons, which means that you will need to learn what sets each of them apart and how to use them appropriately. We will take a look at how they match up against each other in this installment of SPICEography Showdown.

How does raw sugar differ from brown sugar?

Raw sugar is made with sugar cane juice that has been reduced by boiling until almost all of its water content has evaporated. The resulting syrup is centrifuged before being cooled until it hardens. Once it is hard, it can be ground to the fine golden brown grains that we associate with raw sugar. Raw sugar has the remains of its original molasses, which means that there are trace amounts of nutrients as well as ash and other impurities.

Brown sugar consists of white sugar to which molasses has been added. White sugar has its molasses removed during extensive processing to produce pure white crystals. To make them brown again, a certain percentage of molasses is added. The amount of molasses added back to the sugar determines the type of brown sugar. Light brown sugar has less molasses while dark brown sugar has more.

Raw sugar is refined until it is 96 percent sucrose with about 4 percent of impurities including molasses. Brown sugar has been completely refined to have all of its molasses removed then 3.5 percent is returned to get light brown sugar. Dark brown sugar contains about 6 percent molasses.

Can you use raw sugar as a substitute for brown sugar and vice versa?

Raw sugar makes a decent substitute for brown sugar. It is especially good if you use it as a substitute for light brown sugar. The most common type of raw sugar will be a little drier than brown sugar, but not enough to make a significant difference. It will also have less of the toffee-butterscotch taste for which brown sugar is known.

Note that the acidic nature of molasses is what allows brown sugar to react with baking soda in some recipes. Some recipes depend on that reaction for leavening. When you use raw sugar as a brown sugar substitute, you will be getting less of that acidity so you may want to adjust your leavening agents accordingly.

Brown sugar can work in most of the applications that require raw sugar, but note that it has a deeper brown color. It will make your dishes darker than they would be if you had used raw sugar. The more intense molasses flavor may not work in all dishes that require raw sugar.

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

Use raw sugar to get a pale brown color and a hint of molasses flavor. It works best as a slightly more flavorful alternative to white sugar. Brown sugar works best in darker dishes and ones where you want a stronger molasses flavor than you could get from raw sugar. It is great in chocolate-flavored baked goods and barbecue sauces.