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Brown vs white sugar - what are the differences?

Sugar is a naturally occurring ingredient in many foods that humans have enjoyed since we discovered honey, fruits and vegetables. Different foodstuffs provide different levels of energy, sweetness, nutrition and taste to the human body giving us a wonderful array of naturally sweet foods to choose from. 

The same can be said about processed sugars. There are many different types that vary in their nutritional value, sweetness and taste. Given that most sugars come from two main sources (sugar cane or sugar beets), the variety of products that can be produced from these two humble crops is remarkable. 

White sugar and brown sugar are two of the most popular processed sugars available on the market today. We explore the difference between brown sugar and white sugar to help you make informed decisions when incorporating these types of sugar into your diet. 

Nutritional Differences

Nutritionally, white and brown sugar are very similar, with brown sugar containing slightly fewer kilojoules. For example:-

1 teaspoon of white sugar = 68 kilojoules

1 teaspoon of brown sugar = 62 kilojoules

One of the most notable nutritional differences between white and brown sugar is that brown sugar has slightly higher levels of potassium, iron and calcium than its white sugar counterpart. In saying that, the differences between these two sugars is insignificant and unlikely to make any significant difference if small amounts are incorporated into a healthy diet. 

Production Differences

In Australia, almost all sugar products are derived from the sugar cane plant, including brown and white sugar. Both sugars start off as raw sugar which then go through a process called affination where raw sugar is combined with a hot concentrated syrup to help soften the molasses coating on the raw sugar crystals. The sugar is then dissolved in hot water and turned into a sugar liquor, ready to move onto the next phase. 

The next step in the sugar’s life cycle is purification where a series of elements are added to the sugar liquid to help remove gums, amino acids and other impurities. Then the sugar moves onto decolourisation where the ‘raw liquor’ is passed over bone char, granular carbon or ion exchange resin to remove unwanted colours. 

Once the liquor becomes clear, it’s then put through a crystallisation process as well as sterilisation and final filtration. The final product can be graded into different crystal sizes for different uses. 

Both brown sugar and white sugar go through the same production process, brown sugar however, has had the syrup derived from the previous processes added back into the crystals giving it its distinctive brown colour and deeper, more caramel flavour. 

Taste Differences

Both white and brown sugar have very different flavour profiles. White sugar is sweeter than brown sugar so it’s possible to use less of this product to attain the same levels of sweetness in cooking and baking. White sugar also has a fairly neutral flavour and colouring so is incredibly versatile, which is why it’s used extensively for pastries, sponges, cakes and other baked goods. 

Brown sugar on the other hand will add a different flavour and colour to products or foods it’s added to. Brown sugar will give a slightly amber or light-caramel colour to foods that it’s added to and its deep, caramel or toffee-like flavour adds a different taste profile to things like cakes and biscuits. 

Which one is better?

Given there is very little nutritional difference between brown and white sugar the main difference for most people comes down to taste and colour difference in cooking and baked goods. 


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