What’s the Difference Between Light and Dark Brown Sugar?

When a recipe calls for brown sugar, how do you know whether to use light or dark brown sugar? Or worse, what if you don’t have the right kind of brown sugar the recipe is asking for?

The difference between light and dark brown sugar really comes down to how much molasses is used in each. Dark sugar has almost double the molasses per volume as light sugar and has a deeper caramel flavor.

Light brown sugar is most commonly used in baking, aside from gingerbread and other recipes where that deeper molasses flavor of dark brown sugar might be desired. However, when a recipe lists “brown sugar” but doesn’t indicate which type, you can usually bet that it’s calling for light brown sugar.

Can you substitute light brown sugar for dark brown sugar and vice versa?

If you’re stuck in a pinch and must make do with one or the other, you can use them interchangeably. Although the increased amount of molasses in dark brown sugar does make it heavier and moister, the difference isn’t significant enough to change the composition of your baked goods.

The main changes you may notice are:

1. Color

Obviously, the dark brown sugar will result in a darker final product of your baked goods.

2. Taste

The deeper caramel flavor of dark brown sugar can make a small difference, but one you’d probably only notice if you already knew about the swap out. But if you’re making, say, gingerbread, and only have light brown sugar, you might consider adding an extra tablespoon of molasses to deepen the flavor and get the taste you’re after.

3. Rise

The higher acidity level of dark brown sugar can cause your baked goods to rise ever-so-slightly higher, meaning they won’t spread as much as cookies made with white sugar, for instance.

What if you don’t have any brown sugar at all?

If all you have is table sugar and the recipe you’re working from calls for brown sugar, you can easily make your own! Mix 1 cup white sugar with 2 tablespoons of molasses for dark brown sugar or reduce to 1 tablespoon for light brown sugar. Simply mix the white sugar and molasses together in your Bosch blender attachment. Find other helpful substitutions in our previous blog post here!

Try these tried-and-true reader recipes using light and dark brown sugar, respectively, and let us know in the comments how they turned out!