We were sitting in the office when the question was asked: Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?
[For informative reading, read the complete article. Otherwise, scroll down for the summary!]
We have been trained to believe all things brown are better for us: brown rice, brown bread, brown pasta… but what about sugar? Being a carbohydrate like the others it has been led to believe that brown sugar is healthier. I wanted to examine this claim.
What is sugar made from?
Sugars are found in the tissues of most plants but are only present in sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction in sugarcane and sugar beet. Sugarcane is a giant grass and Sugar beet is a root crop, both create sugar but grow in different climates, Sugarcane in hot, and sugar beet in cooler temperatures.
But this is just the base ingredient, it requires processing before it reaches the table of the consumer.
How is it made?
The sugar cane is taken to be refined. The first stage involves immersing the sugar crystals in a concentrated syrup which softens and removes the sticky brown coating without dissolving them. The crystals are then separated from the liquor and dissolved in water. The resulting syrup is either treated by carbonation (a type of chemical reaction process).
Both involve the precipitation (dissolve the fluid) of a fine solid in the syrup and when this is filtered out, a lot of the impurities are removed. The sugar syrup is concentrated by boiling, cooled and seeded with sugar crystals causing the sugar to crystallize out. The white crystals are dried in hot air, ready to be packaged or used.
What does the refining process achieve?
- The increase in alkalinity transforms proteins in the juice.
- Calcium carbonate absorbs colourants
- Alkalinity destroys some sugars, mostly glucose and fructose
So we are talking brown sugar versus white sugar, which is more healthy? The question first must be: Exactly what do we mean by that?
There are raw unrefined regular sugar, refined white sugar and brown sugar.
Raw Unrefined Sugar
It’s not the same as the brown sugar that you see in the store, even though they are both brown.Unrefined raw sugar is made from the juice from the sugar cane plant and has trace minerals and nutrients present.
Raw sugar contains roughly eleven calories per teaspoon and has the same vitamin and mineral consistency that is found in the juice from the sugarcane plant. These minerals include Phosphorus, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, and Potassium.
Refined White Sugar
Refined sugar is devoid of all nutrients. Typically, white sugar is made of pure carbohydrates. when sugar is refined and processed there are many harmful ingredients that are added to the sugar as a result. Some of these include: Phosphoric Acid, Sulfur Dioxide, and Formic Acid.
When the term “refined” is used in reference to food products, most people think of a highly processed or altered product. However, in the case of sugar production, the term “refined” simply means “to make pure.” During the refining of sugar, natural sugar is extracted from the whole plant material to make a granulated product that can be easily used in food and beverage preparation.
Brown sugar is sugar that has been refined and then molasses has been added to it. Brown sugar varies in color according to the amount of molasses that has been added to it. Like white refined sugar, brown sugar does not have the nutritional content found in unrefined. Both white refined and brown sugar are comprised of sucrose.
So what is the difference between brown and white sugar?
When people talk of brown sugar, they are generally comparing two grocery products one stating ‘brown sugar’ one saying ‘white sugar’ and I have made that comparison on that basis.
So to help you make your decision I have made a Summary below:
- They are equally unhealthy, equally void of nutritional substance.
- The only difference is the colour, obviously, which is due to the addition of molasses.
- Molasses also may create a mild difference in flavour between them.
- White sugar is more processed as the colour is whitened, but this near to no effect on the end of products nutritional values. Refining of white or brown sugar, does not mean it is processed and unhealthy, it just removes substances we cannot or would have difficulty consuming.
Of course, if your referring to RAW SUGAR (Which is brown) then there is a difference, and it is healthier – but as rule in cookery if used as a substitute, it weighs differently to brown and white sugar, so recipe measurements must be adapted when swapping them around.
Hope this helps!