Brown Sugar vs Cane Sugar: Sweetness Showdown

Find yourself trying to choose between brown sugar vs cane sugar? These sugars can look and feel remarkably the same, though they don’t always sport a similar appearance. Their appearance is largely due to the presence of molasses. 

Conventional white, granulated sugar sees most molasses removed and hence sports a white color. Brown sugar and cane sugar have molasses content and have a touch of the molasses flavor with their sweetness.

So, let’s have a closer look at what really sets these sugars apart.

Brown sugar vs Cane Sugar – The Differences

The Appearance Of These Sugars

Let’s start with the simplest way to tell these sugars apart – their appearance. I should point out that appearance isn’t a foolproof method to tell apart these sugars. They have a considerable overlap. However, a simple visual check can often be helpful, or even the only thing necessary to tell these sugars apart.

Cane sugar always sports a blond color. It’s not as refined as granulated sugar, so it still has some molasses content. These molasses are responsible for the color of the sugar and to some degree, its taste. Although it should be noted that molasses don’t form an important flavor here.

Cane Sugar

Brown sugar crystals are usually larger and less uniform as compared to cane sugar. Its color can vary depending on the amount of molasses used for its production. In most cases, it has a fairly dark color, which is definitely darker than cane sugar.

Brown Sugar vs Cane Sugar

Production – How Cane Sugar And Brown Sugar Are Made

Many people assume that cane sugar and brown sugar aren’t as processed as typical granulated sugar. That claim is somewhat true but may not be entirely true. 

Cane sugar is produced by processing sugarcane juice. It’s only slightly less refined than granulated sugar, which is why it has a blond color. This implies it still contains some molasses, as opposed to granulated sugar which is almost entirely sugar (sucrose).

Brown sugar has an entirely different production method and can be obtained through different methods. Brown sugar can be conventional granulated sugar dipped in molasses. Alternatively, molasses could be added to boiling sugar crystals during the manufacture of sugar. These crystals may be spun in a centrifuge to create a more uniform coat of the molasses.

Sometimes, the use of raw materials is also seen as a difference between cane sugar and brown sugar. For cane sugar, the raw material is sugarcane or sugarcane juice. Processing this material further leads to the production of cane sugar. On the other hand, brown sugar can use granulated sugar or sugar crystals and molasses as the raw material. 

This last difference is somewhat dependent on individual processes. You could very well have a manufacturing facility for brown sugar that starts with sugarcane juice.

Nutrition – How Do These Sugars Compare?

Often, it is assumed that the presence of molasses or a lower degree of refining is a sign of healthier production for sugar. This is not really true. Comparing nutritional values of sugars can essentially come down to splitting hairs. You may find some amount, rather trace amounts, of one mineral or the other, but it isn’t necessarily useful.

Sugars being sugars, are full of carbs and don’t really offer remarkable nutrition. The refining or presence of molasses doesn’t quite offer a big or notable nutritional advantage.

Taste, Flavor, And Uses

By virtue of their production, both these sugars have a clear difference in taste and flavor. Due to the presence of molasses, cane sugar shows a slight taste. However, it doesn’t have enough molasses to have a strong molasses flavor, so it ends up with something like a vanilla flavor.

Brown sugar has a coat of molasses and shows a stronger molasses flavor. The brown sugar that has a slight coat of molasses presents a toffee flavor. When there’s a stronger flavor of molasses, the sugar ends up with a caramel flavor.

The way these sugars are produced, both of them have a fair amount of moisture. The moisture content is largely down to the presence of molasses. Presence of this moisture is useful for a variety of recipes, though it’s pretty useful for baking. 

Brown sugar has a higher moisture content and finds great use in baking recipes. Apart from its moisture, it also adds a nice touch of flavor and color for the recipe. Breads, brownies, cakes, and fudge can all benefit from some brown sugar. 

Cane sugar is good for baking too and adds some moisture, flavor, and color to the recipe. It’s great for baking and lends itself well to other common uses where sugar might be needed.


Is Cane Sugar Brown Sugar?

Though cane sugar has a tinge of brown color, it’s different from brown sugar. Cane sugar has its molasses content as part of the sugar grains (crystals) themselves. For brown sugar, the molasses are usually a coat on the sugar crystals. 

Brown sugar tends to have a deeper, more prominent brown color sourced from molasses. Cane sugar has a tinge of brown color, which is practically blond. As we see, there are structural, color, and taste differences between cane sugar and brown sugar. 

Additionally, cane sugar is essentially made from sugarcane. On the other hand, brown sugar can come from other sources as well (like sugar beet), but it must get a coat of molasses.

Is Pure Cane Sugar Bad For You?

Cane sugar is mostly made of sucrose and gets some touches of color from the presence of molasses. It would be a stretch to call any kind of sugar healthy and cane sugar is in the same boat. However, it wouldn’t quite make sense to say that it’s bad for you. 

It’s a sugar and it behaves the same way as any sugar. Cane sugar has a lot of carbs, no practical nutritional value, and can be a risk for diabetics or similar groups. Of course, all these negatives apply to practically all sugars, cane sugar included.

Types Of Brown Sugar

There are two major types of brown sugar. These are:

  • Light Brown Sugar: This is the most common type of brown sugar. It’s made by mixing conventional white sugar (granulated sugar) with molasses. It employs a relatively small amount of molasses, so the color isn’t as strong. 
  • Dark Brown Sugar: This sugar is quite similar to light brown sugar but it employs a relatively larger amount of molasses. The larger presence of molasses makes this sugar have a dark brown color and a deeper flavor of molasses.

Additionally, the following types of sugar are often seen as brown sugar. However, they have a different manufacturing process. These sugars aren’t really types of brown sugar, but are sometimes included simply because of their color, which often is varying levels of brown.

  • Turbinado Sugar: This sugar is the result of the first processing of sugarcane juice while making conventional white sugar. Since it is the result of the first press, it contains a significant amount of molasses. Turbinado sugar has a larger grain size as compared to conventional sugar and often has a dark brown color, though light brown turbinado sugar is available as well.
  • Muscovado Sugar: This is an umbrella term used to represent unrefined cane sugar. As an unrefined cane sugar, it contains a good number of nutrients found in sugarcane. These include several mineral salts and iron. Perhaps the best-known type of this sugar is the khand or khaand from India. There is no international or legal nomenclature for Muscovado Sugar, so a lot of products use this name on the label, though it may not necessarily be actual Muscovado sugar.
  • Demerara Sugar: This type of sugar is slightly more refined than turbinado sugar, though not nearly as refined as granulated sugar.

Can You Use Cane Sugar Instead Of Brown Sugar?

It is possible to substitute brown sugar with cane sugar. These products are often interchangeable, though keeping their characteristics of both in mind is important. Both of these sugars are sweet and have flavor undertones of molasses. However, some brown sugars, like dark brown sugar, have a higher molasses content. If cane sugar is used instead of dark brown sugar, there is likely to be a change in flavor, though the sweetness is unlikely to change. 


A comparison of brown sugar vs cane sugar is a good way to understand the nitty-gritty of these famous types of sugar. Both of them have a molasses content with sweetness, which adds another dimension to their flavor and uses. Both of these are good choices and offer various uses, especially for baking. 

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