What’s The Difference: Brown Sugar vs. Raw Sugar

It can get confusing.

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For some, sugar is sugar, whether it's white or brown sugar. Sugar is extracted from sugar canes and in its original state, this sugar crushed from sugar canes is not white. It's actually brown. Through the process, sugar is bleached so that what emerges from the mill is white sugar. 

Other kinds of sugar do not go through as much processing as white does. In fact, if you think about it, brown sugar hasn't gone through as much processing, such as muscovado sugar which is also made from sugar canes. However, there another kind of sugar on the market that's a little confusing: raw sugar.

What is raw sugar? It's not white sugar but it's not quite brown sugar either. Here's what you should know about raw sugar and brown sugar: 

1 Brown sugar has a dark brown color. Raw sugar is a pale tan. 

If you go by looks, raw sugar is actually white sugar that wasn't bleached. It's pale in color because while it's not bleached like white sugar, it has gone through most of the same processes as white sugar has. Sometimes, raw sugar may be identified as "washed sugar". This is a particularly confusing term because sugar from sugar canes is basically "washed sugar" since that's part of the process of extracting it from the plant. 

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Brown sugar meanwhile goes through a slightly different process to retain the molasses content that makes the sugar a gorgeous but translucent chocolate brown. It isn't bleached. Brown sugar can actually be divided into dark and light brown sugar. That's because brown sugar in the market varies from a dark, almost chocolate-hued brown sugar to a paler light brown to tan-colored brown sugar. These are all classified and simply labeled as "brown sugar" but you can choose which to buy just by looking at the color of the brown sugar in the package!

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2 You can taste the molasses in brown sugar. 

The big difference between brown sugar and white sugar is the presence of molasses. Raw sugar crystals actually still contain molasses but the amount is minimal. It's this that gives raw sugar the slightly tanned color that makes it look different from white sugar. 

Brown sugar meanwhile has a lot more molasses in its crystals. Molasses has a dark and sweet taste that can border on almost bitterness, depending on how dark the molasses is. It's a thick syrup that's about as viscous as pure honey. It can also taste a little smoky and this syrup is what gives brown sugar its distinct almost caramel taste. Molasses determines how dark or light in color brown sugar will be. The more molasses brown sugar has, the darker it is and the less it has, the lighter in brown color it will be.

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3 Raw sugar is more affordable than white sugar but more expensive than brown sugar.   

If you are shopping for sugar in the market, you'll notice that there is a difference of a few pesos between the different kinds of sugar. Raw sugar is not as expensive as white sugar but it's cheaper than brown sugar. It might not be much but for those working with a budget, these small differences can mean savings especially in the long run. 

Comparing the averages of the price differences of these three kinds of sugar in five different supermarkets*, raw sugar on average is more expensive by more than P5 per kilo compared to brown sugar. In relation to white sugar, raw sugar is about P3 more affordable than refined sugar. Here's the rundown:

  • • brown sugar = P47.014
  • • raw sugar = P52.50
  • • refined (white) sugar = P55.40

* Supermarket prices are current as of publishing

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4 Raw sugar is a good substitute for white sugar, especially in baking recipes.

Raw sugar is closer to white sugar as an ingredient in baking than brown sugar. That's because brown sugar, in general, contains more molasses than raw sugar which makes it a more acidic ingredient. This is why brown sugar cannot always be a direct substitute for white sugar in all recipes. It will depend on the recipe as well as the other ingredients in it. 

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Use raw sugar however in a recipe that is light in color or even white can tint those baked goods a light yellow-tan color. This is the residual molasses in raw sugar that tints it yellow-tan in color. 

If you do not mind the slight coloration that raw sugar imparts to your final dish, it can be used as a direct substitute for white sugar. 

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