Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar: Differences and When to Use Each

Light Brown Sugar vs Dark Brown Sugar

Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar: Differences and When to Use Each

Sugar is a common ingredient used in coffee, tea, and many recipes. It adds that extra sweetness most people enjoy. However, there are two types of brown sugar, light and dark. The main difference between light vs. dark brown sugar is their molasses content. In this article, we will explore the key differences between light vs. dark brown sugar and when to use each one.

Heap of soft light brown sugar close up isolated on white background
Light brown sugar is commonly used in cooking and baking.

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Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar: What Is the Difference?

The key difference between light vs. dark brown sugar lies in the amount of molasses added. You may be wondering what molasses is, but don’t worry, momswhothink have you covered. Let's take a look.

What Is Molasses?

Molasses originates from the Portuguese word “melaço”. Molasses is the thickness of refined sugarcane when being processed into sugar. It is more often used to sweeten and flavor foods. It is also a main ingredient used to distill rum. Light brown sugar contains less molasses than dark brown sugar, resulting in a sweeter flavor.

Before the 20th century, cane molasses was very popular in America and was one of the most common sweeteners to use when cooking and baking. In addition, George Washington created a notebook that contained a beer recipe using molasses.

To make molasses, you first need to harvest the sugarcane and strip the leaves. Next, by crushing the leaves the liquid is extracted and then boiled to create a concentrated sugar. Furthermore, you can boil the leaves for a second time to create a less concentrated sugar that has a bitter taste. However, boiling it for a third time creates blackstrap molasses giving it a dark color and hearty flavor.

Nutritional Values of Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar

Molasses is high in vitamins and minerals and is comprised of 22% water and contains manganese, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, and iron, it doesn’t contain any protein. Furthermore, as mentioned above, blackstrap is boiled three times and is a good source of potassium.

How Long Does Brown Sugar Last?

When stored correctly, brown sugar can last between 18 and 24 months. It is best to store it in an airtight container or resealable bag in a cool dry place.

Dark muscovado sugar texture, background.
Dark brown sugar has a more bitter flavor.


How To Soften Brown Sugar?

It can be quite annoying when you open the pantry and discover that your brown sugar has gone hard. A quick way to soften it is to place covered with a damp towel in the microwave for about 20 seconds and give it a toss with a fork.

How Long Has Light vs. Brown Sugar Been Around?

It was in the Caribbean during the early 1700s when brown sugar was first created. As it was cheaper than white sugar it became popular in America and England.

Baking and Cooking With Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar

With this in mind, when it comes to baking, if the recipe calls for brown sugar the worldwide standard refers to light brown sugar as the accepted default. Where dark brown sugar is required it will be specifically noted in the ingredients list.

If you are making cookies or muffins then you could use light brown sugar which is sweeter and gives a more caramel flavor to enhance your dish. Light brown sugar is also often used for meats and marinades.

On the other hand, dark brown sugar pairs well with brownies and chocolate cake adding that slight bitterness to enhance the flavor that also goes well with a cup of coffee or a latte.

Besides from baking brown sugar can also be used in creating savouring dishes. It pairs well with a Boston butt, ribs, and skilpadjies. I guess you're wondering what a skilpadjie is. Let me share a  popular South African dish with you, that is super tasty. Skilpadjies are minced lamb liver wrapped in a fatty membrane called netvet. Next, add chopped onion, coriander, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and roll into balls about 80mm then wrap the balls in the netvet and secure with a toothpick. They taste great when basted with a sweet sticky bbq sauce or a brown sugar marinade and then grilled on a barbecue until the fat is crisp.

Skilpadjies are quite fatty, high in cholesterol, and rich they are normally served with toasted bread or mielie pap.


Infographic comparing light brown and dark brown sugar.
The biggest difference between the two is the amount of molasses used in the sugar.

In conclusion, light brown sugar has a milder sweetness, whereas dark brown sugar has more of a bitter-rich flavor. By understanding the differences between light vs. dark brown sugar you will be able to achieve the perfect balance of sweetness for your next sweet or savory dish.


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Brown Sugar Meatloaf

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  • Author: MomsWhoThink.com


Units Scale
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup finely crushed saltine cracker crumbs (about 10 crackers)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 5 x 9 loaf pan.
  2. Press the brown sugar into the bottom of pan and spread with ketchup.
  3. In a mixing bowl thoroughly mix all remaining ingredients and shape into a loaf.
  4. Place loaf on top of ketchup.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour or until juices run clear.
  6. Serve with mashed potatoes, buttered corn and brown-n-serve dinner rolls.
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