From gingerbread cookies to banana bread to the crumble on top of a coffee cake, many types of classic pastries call for brown sugar. This type of sugar is also a key ingredient in some savory dishes, like baked beans. You will find two types of brown sugar at the grocery store: light and dark. In many cases, light and dark brown sugar can be used interchangeably in recipes; however, doing so can change the look, taste and texture of the finished product.
Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar
Refined brown sugar is just white sugar that contains molasses. As a result, brown sugar has much more moisture than white sugar. Refined brown sugar is a different product than raw sugar, also known as turbinado, which has a brownish tint. Turbinado naturally contains molasses, but it is drier than refined brown sugar and has larger-sized grains than sugars that have been processed.
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The only difference between light and dark brown sugar lies in the amount of molasses content. According to Bon Appetit magazine, the light brown sugar available in most grocery stores contains about 3.5 percent molasses, while dark brown sugar typically contains almost twice as much molasses, with 6.5 percent. Because it contains significantly more molasses, dark brown sugar has a more intense caramel flavor than light brown sugar.
Interchanging Light and Dark Sugar
While substituting light brown sugar with dark brown sugar won't ruin a recipe, it will change the finished product. You can expect your cookies or whatever else you are baking to be noticeably darker in color and have a richer flavor. As a general rule, the more light brown sugar a recipe calls for, the more likely you are to notice a difference if you use dark brown sugar in its place. That said, you can keep the ratio of dark brown sugar to light brown sugar 1:1.
The difference between light and dark brown sugar will be most pronounced in recipes that call for baking soda. This is because the acidic moisture in brown sugar reacts with baking soda. If you substitute dark brown sugar in a dessert recipe that calls for the light variety, you are adding more moisture, so you can expect the cookies to expand a little more or the cake to rise a little higher, though the difference may be quite subtle.
Brown Sugar Substitutes
If a recipe calls for brown sugar, but you don't have either light or dark brown sugar in your pantry, you can substitute either by creating your own mixture of white sugar and molasses. For recipes that include light brown sugar, simply add an equal amount of white sugar, plus 1/4 cup of molasses per cup of sugar.
If you need a substitute for dark brown sugar, follow the same process but increase the molasses to 1/2 cup per 1 cup of white sugar. Because of the size of the grain, it is best not to use raw sugar in place of brown sugar, according to the Martha Stewart website, as it will alter the texture.