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How interchangable are white and brown sugars?

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I recently made a peach cobbler following a recipe that called for equal parts of white sugar and brown sugar in both the fruit mix and the topping. This got me wondering about the functions of the two sugars and to what extent they are interchangable. Brown sugar has more of a flavor (from the molasses), but are their baking properties different? If I wanted to use only one type of sugar or only had one type, and used the same combined quantity, how would this affect how the dish bakes (fruit or topping or both)? Or would it only change the flavor?

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2 answers

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Don't use the same combined "quantity" == (in my mind) volume. This is definitely a case where density matters. Either use a conversion based on typical difference in density or, even better, measure by weight. Commercial recipes are typically by weight because that is the reliable way to get repeated results. In a quick search on white (granulated) sugar vs. brown sugar, I found:

Imperial Sugar Conversion Charts - a bunch of information, including:

  • 1 lb. granulated = 2-1/4 cups
  • 1 lb. brown = 2-1/3 to 2-2/3 cups

Using the average, that would be ~ 2-1/4 vs. 2-1/2 = ~ 11% difference.

Quora:

  • granulated sugar: 849 kg/m^3
  • brown sugar: 721 kg/m^3

This is a bit more ~ 17% difference.

My guess is that it won't make much difference for something like a cobbler where it is in the fruit mix (which itself will vary depending on the source and quality of the fruit) or topping, but that this is enough to make a difference in a bread dough or cake batter where the chemistry determines how things rise, etc.

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TL;DR

This does not answer your direct question on how to change the proportions. Instead it just solves the problem. Simply buy a bottle of molasses, and then you will never need to consider this, because you can create the brown sugar from white sugar with molasses.

Long version

They are 100% interchangeable with a little trick. First, let's have a look at how brown sugar is manufactured. It's just white sugar mixed with molasses. Yes, that's actually true. There's nothing magic about brown sugar. You can buy the molasses separately. There's no need to buy it premixed.

A drawback with brown sugar is that it becomes like a brick after a while. It's much harder to store for a long time than white sugar. So just buy some molasses, and whenever a recipe calls for brown sugar, use white sugar and molasses. Molasses also lasts virtually forever, so just buy a bottle. This also gives you the benefit of being able to mix in more molasses without adding more sugar if that's what you want. It's like if a recipe calls for salted butter, then you can use unsalted butter and add some salt.

It works very well in all situations I have come across. Not only when you want to mix the brown sugar in a dough or something else. You can also very easily create brown sugar on demand to use for topping. Just put white sugar and molasses in a mixer and * poff * you have brown sugar.

To be honest, since I discovered this, I see actually no reason whatsoever to buy brown sugar. So buy a bottle and never have this worry again.

Here is a good video explaining it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LF8cWXlNSEM

6 comments

Apparently, in the US, white sugar is (often?) filtered using bone char, while unrefined brown sugar isn't. To e.g. non-vegetarians, this likely doesn't matter all that much, but it'll matter to some people Mithrandir24601 2 months ago

I never heard that one. If true, it could have serious kosher-status implications - which is why I doubt it is true. In fact, while most brands of sugar in the US have kosher certification, general consensus is that, except for Passover (special rules - confectioner's sugar in particular has issues for Passover), ordinary sugar (white or brown) does not need any kosher certification at all. manassehkatz 2 months ago

@manassehkatz That's what PETA, Wiki, the BBC, as well as various other vegan websites, say Mithrandir24601 about 2 months ago

I don't trust anything from PETA. The Wiki reference is unsourced (as is often the case with stuff in Wikipedia, though generally I consider Wikipedia fairly reliable except on political/controversial stuff.) The BBC article is actually relying on a HuffingtonPost article. And that actually quotes from an article in The Vegetarian Journal (not on my top 10 list of media outlets) which says "Refined sugar does not contain any bone particles and is therefore kosher certified." Which is good manassehkatz about 2 months ago

enough for me. So I'm still dubious, but while Vegans may have an issue, Kosher certification actually does recognize that things can be changed enough to make them different - that's how kosher marshmallows (which according to most opinions do need to start with a kosher animal) are actually considered Pareve - i.e., not Meat - despite the starting point being meat bones. manassehkatz about 2 months ago

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