Is brown sugar better than white sugar?

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

In France, almost all white sugar marketed is beet sugar, a naturally white sugar. But there is also brown sugar.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

In the end, what to choose? White sugar or brown sugar? Do alternatives exist?

Is brown sugar better for your health than white sugar?

In fact, if you want to split hairs, brown sugar is 5% healthier than white sugar.

When we make cane sugar, we interrupt the refining just before 100% to preserve some impurities. The reason is that the impurities in the sugar cane give an absolutely delicious taste to the sugar, a sugar with notes of vanilla and cinnamon.

In the case of sugar beet, the impurities taste bad, so we refine 100%.

Certainly, brown sugar contains more minerals and water than white sugar. But the content is so low that it is not significant in terms of daily micronutrient needs. Whether you consume brown sugar rather than white sugar is a matter of taste.

Both sugars are composed of sucrose, a “fast” sugar, which causes a “glycemic shock” when it enters the bloodstream, and which puts the liver into overdrive every time you drink a sweet coffee.

The fact that brown sugar contains 5% less sucrose than white sugar does not make it any healthier. Since it is slightly less sweet, the user will naturally add 5% more on average.

Let us also remember that consuming sugar, white or brown, in large quantities, can lead to diabetes, obesity or other health problems.

And brown sugar, sugar, what are these sugars?

There is brown sugar and… brown sugar.

In fact, when it comes from sugar cane, it is red at the first crystallization because the cane stem contains coloring precursors. This sugar is marketed under the name “brown sugar”. It can be recognized depending on the origins, with its notes of cinnamon, rum or vanilla….

Brown sugar is also the sugar in desserts and condiments of English origin: crumble, pudding, cake, pie, or even chutney and pickles. Its very particular scent further enhances the aromas of certain tangy fruits, such as apple or rhubarb. Finally, to give an even more exotic note to sweet and savory dishes, the use of brown sugar is recommended.

But brown sugar can also be obtained from beets. This gives a white sugar from the first crystallization, it is then left to cook a little longer to obtain a red or blond color. The name of this brown beet sugar is “vergeoise”, whose taste is reminiscent of caramel.

Finally, be aware that most of the brown cane sugar is sent to refineries. These will eliminate the coloring materials and produce white sugar.

At this point, it is almost impossible to distinguish a difference in taste between white cane sugar and white beet sugar. In both cases, it is sucrose.

Does the brown sugar scam mean anything to you?

You should not do the following shortcut:

brown sugar = brown sugar = whole = unrefined.

Most brown sugars are not whole sugar, but white sugar colored with caramel. So, check the packaging information carefully.

What about other alternatives to sugar? Stevia, Agave, etc.

There is no miracle but it is still possible to replace sugar with several components: honey, stevia, agave syrup, Xylitol, etc.

Honey, which is a sweet substance produced by bees, contains 82% sugar and above all it contains minerals and vitamins that are very interesting for your health.

Agave syrup, which is a sweetener produced from several species of agaves, contains approximately 75% sugar. Agave syrup is less viscous than honey and has a milder taste.

Stevia has a sweetening power up to 300 times more intense than sucrose without providing a single calorie. It is found in the form of sugar cubes, powder sachets or liquid packaging.

If you can stand the bitter aftertaste, go for it!

Xylitol is extracted from birch bark and has the advantage of not being cariogenic (does not cause cavities) and is ideal for diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar (blood sugar) .

However, be careful of overconsumption which causes diarrhea.

So, be careful of overconsumption of sugar-free chewing gum, for example, where you can find this type of sweet substitute: look, it’s written in very small letters that this can cause real digestive discomfort!

And can we also make desserts without sugar?

It is true that you can make desserts with sweeteners. Special recipes have even been designed for this type of product. But it is certain that for many desserts, it is mission impossible.

Let’s take the example of cookies whose characteristic is to be soft on the inside and crunchy on the top. Water that is close to the cooking surface causes part of the sucrose to recrystallize. The surface is then dried. It cracks regularly, giving the expected appearance of the cookies. So it’s the sugar that makes the cookies crispy…

Sugar also acts as a plasticity agent, its ability to retain water helping to increase the viscosity of the dough. So the sweet doughs hold together better. The same goes for mousses or creams, which, thanks to the sugar, are firmer.

And have you tried sugar-free jams? Without sugar, they don’t take. They remain liquid. In addition, sugar is a “natural preservative” of choice. By retaining the water contained in the fruits, it prevents the proliferation of microbes, which need water to develop. This is why jams and fruit jellies which contain between 50% and 75% sugar can be kept for a long time without getting moldy. Finally, sugar has a coloring role. Thanks to the caramelization reaction (the famous Maillard reaction), it brings color and a pleasant aroma when cooking your desserts!

To sum up :

  • Brown sugar and white sugar are almost identical nutritionally.
  • Honey, Agave syrup, Stevia, Xylitol are interesting alternative sugars.
  • Sugar-free desserts are possible.