Home » Cooking Tips » Can you Substitute Dark Brown Sugar for Light Brown Sugar?

Can you Substitute Dark Brown Sugar for Light Brown Sugar?

Consider how sugar is made to understand brown sugar, such as the granulated white table sugar your grandmother stole from the diner.

The short version: Sugar is simply sucrose (C12H22O11). This molecule occurs naturally in various plants, though most of the sugar we consume in the United States comes from sugarcane stalks.

Sugarcane stalks are cut and crushed with rollers until juice is extracted to make refined table sugar. To clarify, the juice, lime milk, and carbon dioxide are added, and it is then passed through an evaporator to remove the water and concentrate it into a syrup. The sugar in the syrup crystallizes, resulting in a large vat of raw sugar crystals (which will be refined further into white sugar) covered in molasses. Yum.

While molasses-coated raw sugar crystals are now technically brown sugar, most of what you buy in the store labeled “brown sugar” is sugar refined to the white sugar stage and then re-mixed with molasses to produce a consistent shade and flavor.

Can you Substitute Light Brown Sugar for Dark Brown Sugar?

Yes. The only difference will be in color and taste. To state the obvious, light brown sugar produces lighter-colored baked goods with a milder molasses flavor; dark brown sugar produces darker-colored baked goods with a more assertive (but still very mild) molasses flavor.

The two sugars work in the same way structurally. One could argue that dark brown sugar, with its higher percentage of added molasses (and thus liquid), causes cookies to spread more; however, this effect is so minor that you and I would typically not notice the difference between cookies made with light and dark brown sugar.

What is the Distinction Between Light and Dark Brown Sugar?

The only difference between light and dark brown sugar is the amount of molasses in each. According to Rose Levy Beranbaum, light brown sugar contains fewer molasses per total sugar volume (about 3.5 percent), whereas dark brown sugar contains more (6.5 percent ). You can tell the difference with your eyes: dark brown sugar is darker in color and appears more like molasses syrup. You can taste it, too: dark brown sugar has a slightly more complex flavor that people often compare to caramel or toffee.

Changing Light and Dark Sugar

While replacing light brown sugar with dark brown sugar will not ruin a recipe, it will alter the finished product. You can expect your cookies or whatever else you’re baking to be darker in color and have a richer flavor. As a general rule, the more light brown sugar a recipe calls for, the more likely you will notice a difference if you substitute dark brown sugar. You can keep the dark brown sugar to light brown sugar ratio at 1:1.

The distinction between light and dark brown sugar is most noticeable in recipes that call for baking soda, and this is due to brown sugar’s acidic moisture reacting with baking soda. If you use dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar in a dessert recipe that calls for light brown sugar, the cookies will expand slightly more, and the cake will rise slightly higher, though the difference may be subtle.

Can I Use Both Dark and Light Brown Sugar in My Cooking?

Given that you’ve probably Googled yourself into this article while panicking, hands full of flour, and halfway through a recipe, the answer is, in general, yes. (We want to say that no matter how many years pass, no matter how many cakes, cookies, and bread we make, you can start a recipe without having all of the ingredients on hand.) Many recipes don’t specify what shade of brown sugar to use, so it’s best to assume that “brown sugar” refers to light brown sugar.

That doesn’t mean they’re the same. Dark brown sugar weighs more, has more moisture, and is more acidic because it contains more molasses.

What doesn’t That Make a Difference?

True, but not entirely. The moisture content is so low that you’d never have to compensate by adding more dry ingredients to your recipe. There are two subtle differences you’ll notice: taste and texture. Sweets made with dark brown sugar will have a slightly deeper flavor with those caramel and toffee notes I mentioned. I only use dark brown sugar when making gingerbread; however, depending on the recipe, you might not notice a difference. In terms of the extra acidity of dark brown sugar, acid activates baking soda, so if you use dark brown sugar to make cookies, your cookies will rise slightly higher.

What Recipes can you Make with Brown Sugar?

Shortbread Cookies with Brown Sugar

The recipe discovered brown-sugar shortbread in  December 1948 issue and adapted it to work with modern ingredients. Delicious!

Steak Tips with Bourbon Brown Sugar

We can make the flavorful marinade for these bourbon brown sugar steak tips ahead of time. Simple and delicious!

Brown Sugar Rolls from Hartwell Farm

The Hartwell Farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts, was famous for its brown sugar rolls. The chicken fat may have been the secret, but don’t worry; you can replace it with soft butter.

Brown Sugar Toffee Cookies

Ultra-soft and chewy Brown Sugar Toffee Cookies have a hint of cinnamon, a touch of cream cheese, and tons of crunchy toffee for big flavor in every bite.

Ferrero Rocher Cookies

The amazing flavors of Ferrero Rocher Chocolates® are baked into a bakery-style treat in these delicious Ferrero Rocher Cookies. These soft homemade chocolate cookies are loaded with toasted hazelnuts and mini chocolate chips.

What if I Don’t have any Light or Dark Brown Sugar on Hand?

You can make your substitute if you have molasses and granulated white sugar on hand. One cup (198g) white granulated sugar and two teaspoons (14g) molasses for every cup of brown sugar called for in your recipe; or 1 cup (198g) white granulated sugar and one tablespoon (21g) molasses for dark brown sugar. There’s no need to combine the molasses and sugar; simultaneously, incorporate both into your recipe.

Brown Sugar (213g per cup) weighs slightly more than white sugar, but don’t worry. Once the molasses are added, your DIY brown sugar’s weight will be very close to the “real” brown sugar weight, and your recipe will not require any further adjustments.

Can I Substitute Brown Sugar for White Sugar?

In addition to adding wonderful flavor and color to baked goods, Brown Sugar is acidic and lowers pH, so many brown sugar recipes rely on baking soda for leavening. Low pH brown sugar + high pH baking soda = leavening reaction

Your cookies may spread less if you use white sugar instead of Brown Sugar (or more, depending on the other ingredients in the recipe). Cake and muffins may or may not rise, depending on the mixing technique used (stir-together or creaming). In short, substituting white granulated sugar for brown sugar will yield unpredictable results; sometimes, the swap works perfectly, sometimes not so much.

Want to Improve your Chances of Success?

You can probably get away with the substitution in recipes that call for baking powder (no baking soda) and where the amount of brown sugar is less than that of white sugar.

Consider our Cinnamon-Streusel Coffeecake. The cake contains 1 1/2 cups (298g) granulated sugar and 1/3 cup (71g) Brown Sugar and baking powder as a leavener. Because the small amount of brown sugar does not affect the cake’s structure, you can use granulated sugar instead.

The cake’s filling contains a cup of brown sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa powder but no granulated sugar. Substituting white sugar here is fine in terms of structure (the filling lacks structure), but you’ll lose the wonderful caramelized flavor of Brown Sugar, and the coffee cake will suffer. After all, you have to pay the piper at some point.

Can I Use a More Natural Brown Sugar Instead?

Browse the sugar aisles at your local supermarket; you’ll find the familiar light and dark brown sugars, but you might also come across packages labeled sugar in the Raw, turbinado sugar, or even Demerara or muscovado sugar. Instead of adding molasses to white granulated sugar, these “natural” brown sugars, which range in color from light hazelnut to deep-dark mahogany, are made by centrifuging evaporated sugar cane juice.

Unfortunately, the grain size of these sugars can vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer, affecting your baking results. Most are packaged in a bag with a window that allows you to inspect the grain size. Substitution should be fine as long as the turbinado sugar is fine-grained (like granulated sugar).

Larger-grained sugar (similar to coarse white sparkling Sugar or sanding Sugar) may be unreliable for baking and is best used for decorating and garnishing. For example, the turbinado sugar I usually use to sweeten my tea works well as a substitute for brown sugar in the cake, but it does cause drop cookies (like the Buttersnaps pictured above) to spread more.

What can be Used in Place of Brown Sugar?

What should you do if you’re all set to bake but don’t have the specific brown sugar specified in the recipe? In descending order, here are your most dependable options:

The flavor and color of your baked goods will change slightly if you substitute light brown sugar for dark brown sugar.

To make brown sugar, combine white granulated sugar and molasses.

Use “raw” sugar; for best results, choose one with the grain size closest to white granulated sugar.

In some cases (see above), use white granulated sugar instead of Brown Sugar; you’ll lose the flavor and color of brown sugar and may experience textural issues.

What is the Ratio of Dark Brown Sugar to Light Brown Sugar?

-Use 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses plus 1 cup granulated sugar for every 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar called for in a recipe. To make light brown sugar from dark brown sugar, follow these steps: -Use 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar and 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar to make light brown sugar from dark brown sugar.

What Happens When Dark Brown Sugar is Substituted for Light Brown Sugar in Cookies?

So, they behave similarly in the dough in baking, but the taste and color will differ slightly. If you use dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar in the cookie recipe, the cookies will be slightly darker in color and have a slightly more caramelly/toffee flavor.

Can Dark Brown Sugar be Used to Make Cookies?

Use more brown sugar than white sugar to make chewier, more flavorful cookies. Dark Brown Sugar: In most recipes, We can interchangeably use light brown sugar and dark brown sugar. Though either work in this chocolate chip cookie recipe, I prefer dark brown sugar because it contains more molasses.

Should you Make Chocolate Chip Cookies with Light or Dark Brown Sugar?

Dark brown sugar adds more moisture to cookie dough than light brown sugar, making the finished cookies softer and chewier. Try these chocolate chip cut-out cookie recipes to make shaped cookies.

Which Should you Pick?

The choice between white and brown sugar comes down to personal preference, as the main differences between the two are taste and color.

Although brown sugar contains more minerals than white sugar, the amounts of these minerals are so small that they have no health benefits.

Importantly, sugar is thought to be a factor in the obesity epidemic and a major cause of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

As a result, it is recommended that you consume no more than 5–10% of your daily calories from added sugar. However, for optimal health, this should be limited even further.

While it is acceptable to indulge in a sugary treat now and then, We should limit all types of sugar to a healthy diet.

Allow your personal preference to guide you when deciding between brown and white sugar, as they will have the same effect on your health.


The two most common types of sugar are brown and white sugar.

Brown Sugar is often processed as white sugar with molasses, even though it is produced differently, resulting in distinct tastes, colors, and culinary uses.

Contrary to popular belief, they are nutritionally equivalent.

Brown Sugar has slightly more minerals than white sugar but has no health benefits. You can use them interchangeably without hesitation.