Food Industry Recipes

What’s the difference between muscovado, demerara and brown sugar?

Be honest. Prior to reading this title, how many of you thought there was no difference between muscovado and demerara sugar? We see a few hands…

And and, how many of you thought they were just different types of brown sugar? Okay, now we’re getting somewhere…

And *and* and, how many of you didn’t even know there was any difference between the three? You just picked up whichever sugars looked brown because who needs to waste their life worrying about stupid fancy labels? Wow, a full house.

Well, as this interactive intro has so helpfully intimated, there are major differences between the three. Read on to find out what the hell they are.

What are the different types of brown sugar?

Brown sugar

While it’s easy to believe the tale that every brown foodstuff (bran flakes, whole-wheat bread, brown rice, etc.) is better than the white variety this is simply not the case with brown sugar.

In fact, brown sugar is just refined white sugar (yep, exactly the same as caster or granulated sugar) except the molasses are added in after treatment. In which case, the added molasses makes brown sugar more unhealthy than white sugar. Tell that to your health-conscious friend.

Aside from health, brown sugar is a good low-cost alternative for recipes that don’t depend on a big caramelly flavour punch to make it fantastic.

When to definitely use brown sugar: Sponge cakes, fruit flapjacks, choc chip cookies

Muscovado sugar

Muscovado sugar is a type of brown sugar that is heavy on molasses. This is thanks to its low refining – and labor-intensive – process. As such, muscovado sugar is usually slightly more expensive than plain ‘brown sugar’, which is more refined.

Muscovado sugar is sometimes labelled ‘dark’ or ‘light’; dark varieties have more molasses in them – and they’re also more moisture-rich. Recipes that ask for dark muscovado sugar will be those that depend on heavy caramel or toffee flavours and a sticky consistency.

When to definitely use muscovado sugar: Smoky BBQ sauces, brownies, cookies, flapjacks, marinades. 

Demerara sugar

Like muscovado, demerara sugar is made from evaporated cane juice but it is processed for less time and so has a drier, coarser texture than muscovado. It is also usually lighter than muscovado in colour as it has a lower molasses content.

The crystals of demerara sugar are characteristically large, so they are best applied as a topping, rather than a mix-in. On the other hand, the large crystals hold a big sugary toffee-like punch, so taste great mixed into liquids, like warm beverages.

When to definitely use demerara sugar: Tea or coffee sweetener, sprinkled on cookies and cakes.

Can I switch between the three?

Technically, yes. Although if a recipe asks for a certain type of brown sugar, it’s probably for a reason. Whether this is because it demands rich toffee notes or a sticky, gooey bite, it’s always worth having all three in your cupboard, just in case.

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