Brown sugar is a sweetener made from sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum). It's similar to white sugar, but contains varying amounts of molasses. Brown sugar can be refined or unrefined, but most brown sugar that you find in the baking section of the grocery store is refined. There are also other (less common) types of brown sugar, including turbinado sugar, muscovado sugar, and free-flowing brown sugar.
Like all sugars, brown sugar provides calories and carbohydrates but no substantial vitamins or minerals. Brown sugar can be included in eating patterns if consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Brown Sugar Nutrition Facts
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDAfor 1 teaspoon (4.6 grams) of brown sugar.
- Fat:0 g
- Sodium:1.3 mg
- Carbohydrates:4.5 g
- Fiber:0 g
- Sugars:4.5 g
- Protein:0 g
All of the calories in brown sugar come from carbohydrates. There are 17.5 calories in a 1-teaspoon serving of the sweetener and all of the calories are sugars. There is no fiber or starch in brown sugar.
The glycemic load of brown sugar is estimated to be 3, which is very low. However, glycemic load takes portion size into account. So if you consume more than a teaspoon, the estimated glycemic load will increase.
There is no fat in brown sugar.
Brown sugar provides no protein.
Vitamins and Minerals
When consumed in typical amounts, brown sugar provides no significant micronutrients. However, in larger amounts, the sugar may provide some minerals. A one-cup serving provides 183 milligrams of calcium and smaller amounts of iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, and potassium.
Health Benefits and Concerns
Brown sugar, like all sugar, is a simple carbohydrate that provides quick energy (glucose) to the body and the brain. Glucose is the brain's preferred energy source. However, excess calories and carbohydrates from sugar and other sources are stored as fat. So it is important to consume sugar in moderation.
Excess sugar consumption is often blamed for increased rates of disease including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, some experts assert that when sugar is consumed at recommended levels, it does not contribute to increased risk of disease.
The 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the upper limits of sugar consumption should not exceed 10% of total calories each day. Note that everyone has different needs and that the recommended levels are not an exact science. Using the recommended amounts as a guide, figure out what works best for your body.
Some people believe that brown sugar is a healthier alternative to white (refined) sugar because it contains molasses. Molasses is known to provide vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, choline, and some B vitamins. But brown sugar only contains a small amount of molasses. When brown sugar is consumed in levels that are considered healthy, the micronutrients provided by the molasses are insignificant.
Molasses Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), reports of true sugar allergy are rare, when sugars are defined as simple sugars. However, in response to an inquiry, the organization did report one case of fructose-induced anaphylaxis when a patient consumed Coca-Cola.
However, there have been controversial reports of sugar allergy in children leading to hyperactivity. Sugar allergy in children was most widely reported in the 1980s with reports diminishing in the years that followed. In 2019, AAAAI reported that there is "no definitive confirmation of this phenomenon in the medical literature."
Lastly, in explaining sugar allergy and related conditions, AAAAI notes that there are metabolic intolerances to sugars that are related to enzyme deficiencies in the human intestinal tract. Symptoms may include diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems. The most common intolerance is acquired lactase deficiency, but sucrose may also cause problems in some people.
There are drawbacks to over-consuming sugar, especially added sugars. In addition to the potential medical effects already noted, those who consume too much sugar may experience dental problems.
In November 2015, the American Dental Association formally endorsed the World Health Organization's recommendation to limit added sugar consumption to less than 10% of daily caloric intake. The organization explains that added sugars, especially those found in sugary drinks, promote unhealthy bacteria and acids in the mouth. The acid damages teeth, causing cavities to form or erosion to occur.
It can be easier than you might imagine to consume too much sugar. You may see brown sugar and other types of sugar on food labels where you don't expect it. For example, foods like spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, ketchup, salad dressings, and other savory foods may contain added sugar. Given the fact that sugar is often "hidden" in some foods, it is not uncommon for people to consume too much sugar without knowing it.
What Is a No Sugar Diet?
When choosing foods at the grocery store, check the ingredients label on packaged foods. Beginning in January 2021, the Food and Drug Administration will require manufacturers to list both "sugar" and "added sugar" on the nutrition facts label.
Lastly, those with diabetes need to be especially careful about sugar consumption. Those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes need to maintain healthy blood sugar levels in order to avoid hyperglycemia.
Carbohydrates, including brown sugar, can cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. If you have diabetes, work together with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator to determine whether or not including brown sugar in your diet is safe.
Brown sugar comes in light and dark brown varieties. Brown sugar is also very similar to another type of sugar called muscovado sugar. While these three sugars can be used interchangeably in most recipes, there are notable differences.
Light brown sugar has a caramel color and a light caramel taste. This variety is refined white sugar that has had some molasses added to it. Dark brown sugar is also refined white sugar but it has more molasses added which gives it a darker color and deeper taste. Muscovado sugar—also called Barbados sugar—is unrefined cane sugar that naturally includes molasses. It has the deepest flavor and is more often used in savory dishes.
Some people consider turbinado sugar to be brown sugar. Turbinado sugar is partially refined and naturally retains some molasses. Free-flowing brown sugar is also called granulated brown sugar. It has a texture similar to white granulated sugar and doesn't stick together as light and dark brown sugar does.
When It's Best
Sugar cane—the raw material used to make brown sugar—is harvested from June to December, but supermarkets carry brown sugar all year long. You'll find bags or boxes of light and dark brown sugar in the baking aisle.
Storage and Food Safety
According to the USDA, brown sugar never spoils but it is best if you use it within two years of opening the package. Once the package is opened, it can keep for 18 to 24 months if stored properly in the pantry. Sugar manufacturers advise that the quality of brown sugar is best when consumed within six months of purchase and opening.
However, storing brown sugar properly can be a challenge. Because most forms of brown sugar are sticky, they have a tendency to clump together and get very hard if exposed to air. Some sugar manufacturers recommend that you store it in a cool, moist area in a rustproof container with a tight-fitting lid or in any type of re-sealable, moisture-proof plastic bag.
Refrigerating brown sugar is not recommended. But freezing brown sugar is advised if you don't plan to use it right away. Be sure to freeze the sugar in an airtight bag. When it's time to use brown sugar, thaw it and use a fork to separate clumps. If ice crystals have formed in the sugar, stir it while it thaws to prevent the sugar from being affected by pockets of moisture.
How to Prepare
If your brown sugar has hardened, you'll need to soften it before you use it in recipes. Softening it allows moisture to return to the sugar so it is easier to measure and use. There are three basic ways to soften brown sugar.
Quick microwave method: Place the hardened brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and cover it with damp paper towels. Then cover the entire bowl with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for up to two minutes. Remove from the microwave and mash the sugar with a fork to separate the clumps. Once the sugar cools it will become hard again, so only microwave the amount that you plan to use.
Quick oven method: Place sugar in a heat-proof dish and put in an oven preheated to 250 degrees. Watch the sugar carefully and pull it out when it becomes soft. It may take several minutes depending on the amount. This is the fastest method, but you only want to soften as much as you will use immediately. Once the sugar cools, it will become hard again.
Slow softening method: If you need to soften brown sugar that you might not use right away, this is the preferred method. It takes more time, but the sugar will stay soft after it cools.
Begin by placing the sugar in a tightly- sealed container. Then add a source of moisture. Some cooks use a piece of plastic wrap covered with damp paper towels. But you can also use a slice of bread or several marshmallows. Seal the container for two days. When you re-open the sugar, mash it with a fork to separate the clumps. The sugar should remain soft as long as it stays in a tightly sealed container.
Once brown sugar is soft, you can cook with it just like you cook and bake with other types of sugar. If you have a baking recipe that calls for white refined sugar, you can use brown sugar instead. But because brown sugar is naturally softer and moister, the baked goods may also be moister.