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Light vs Dark Brown Sugar

Differences between light vs dark brown sugar and when you should use each one when baking. How each one tastes, what it does to recipes, and how to decide which one is best.

light vs dark brown sugar

Have you ever wondered about the difference between light vs dark brown sugar? Many baked goods will specifically state in a recipe to add which one, but do you know that there is actually a difference? (affiliate links present, originally published 8/21)

If you’re ready to learn about the types of brown sugar, you’re in the right place. The next time a recipe calls it, like our Baked Apples with Brown Sugar, you’re going to know exactly what it means.

When a recipe calls for brown sugar Is it light or dark

Light and dark brown sugar is a pretty standard ingredient in most baking recipes. I always have brown on hand for that reason. Before I really dove into the differences, I had no clue that they were actually two different things. 

dark brown sugar

Anytime that a recipe just only says “brown sugar”, you can rest easy knowing that they’re talking about the light version. Due to the complex flavor of dark, it’s not as common. This means that it will be specifically asked for in recipes so that you know the difference. 

Can I use light brown sugar for dark brown sugar

Even though you know that if not specified, you’ll use light, it’s fine to use either. The lighter has a sweeter taste to it that people love.

The darker sugar has a molasses flavor that is a little bit more subtle than sweet. There is also a chance that the texture of the baked good might change as well, but that isn’t always the case. 


Should I buy light or dark brown sugar

I tend to keep light brown sugar in my pantry at all times because it goes better with more recipes that I cook. It’s also important to note that both types of sugar have molasses in them but what makes them different is the amount of molasses that they have. Dark has more molasses content added than light. 

What is the best way to soften brown sugar?

What a pain when the sugar crystals form! This is because of the moisture content in the air more than likely and it’s actually quite common for brown sugar to become hard.
All you have to do is put it in the microwave for about 20 seconds, covered with a damp napkin or towel. That would soften it up and then use a fork, or food processor to make it nice and ground. 

light brown sugar

What is the shelf life of brown sugar

Some people will keep theirs forever because they think that it won’t go bad. In all reality, this does have a shorter life span than granulated sugar at about 18 months, tops. 

What can I substitute for brown sugar

What happens if you’re making a recipe and you don’t happen to have any brown sugar in the house? Don’t fret, there’s always a way to improvise. Take some refined white sugar and a couple of tablespoons of molasses and mix them together.

Since it is refined and the molasses will darken it and give it that smokey flavoring, you’ll have a simple brown sugar substitute easily. I have done this at times when making our Caramelized Onions with Brown Sugar.

gingerbread cookies with cake mix

What does dark brown sugar do in cookies

If you happen to bake with dark brown sugar, you’re going to notice a different texture in certain baked good items that you’re making. Chocolate chip cookies are the perfect example of one dessert that will have its texture altered.

Using dark brown sugar will have the cookies become thin and crisp so if that’s the texture you’re going for, use dark brown sugar in your recipe. 

small batch chocolate chip cookies

Should you refrigerate brown sugar

While it’s important to store the sugar in a cool place, you don’t actually want to keep it in the fridge. A pantry is just fine as long as you’re keeping it in a sealed container or sealed bag. You can even actually freeze brown sugar for later. Just wrap it tightly and do everything possible to keep the air out of it. 

Since both of these can be used in many baking recipes, it’s important to understand which one you prefer. The light brown sugar is going to have a milder taste while the dark brown will have more of a smokey flavor.

brown sugar

Dark brown sugar is more popular in spice cake recipes and flavors like that. Light brown sugar is more commonly found in cookie and pie recipes. 

You can always try out a recipe by making it with both dark and light brown sugar!  See which one you prefer. You might just be surprised by the difference in how they come out of the oven.

There’s a good chance that they’re going to look really different from one another and taste different as well! (but you can be certain that they’ll both taste amazing no matter what!) 

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