What Are the Benefits of Brown Sugar vs. White Sugar?

grains of sugar cane
A bowl of brown sugar. (Image: Ruggiero_S/iStock/Getty Images)

You might place raw brown sugar instead of refined white sugar in your shopping cart, feeling virtuous, thinking you're buying a healthier sugar for your family. Unfortunately, brown sugar, whether raw or refined, has little to recommend it over white sugar in the health department. Brown sugar's main benefits are its appearance, a molasses flavor and slightly more minerals.

Manufacturing Process

Raw sugar, which looks brown, undergoes less processing than white sugar or brown sugar. After manufacturers remove the juice from sugar cane, they boil the juice and filter it. Spinning the crystals in a centrifuge produces raw sugar crystals, which contain molasses. White or table sugar undergoes further processing and granulation to make the crystals finer; this removes the molasses. Brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar with just the surface molasses washed off.

Appearance

Raw sugar has coarser crystals than refined white or brown sugar, which gives the product a more organic look. This might appeal to you aesthetically, since it gives the appearance of a more "natural" product. In some foods, brown sugar adds to the color of the finished product.

Minerals

Raw and brown sugar both contain slightly more minerals than refined white sugar, but only because they contain molasses. While brown sugar does give you a dab of calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium in your sweetener, the amounts are too small to have any real health benefit, "The New York Times" explains. A 1-teaspoon serving of brown sugar supplies just 0.02 milligrams of iron, for example -- a miniscule amount of the daily 8 milligram requirement for men and 18 milligrams for women of childbearing age.

Taste

The molasses in brown and raw sugar gives it a slightly different taste, which might be a benefit if you like the taste of molasses. Brown and raw sugar contain between 5 percent and 10 percent molasses, according to "The New York Times," with darker brown sugars containing the higher amounts.

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