brown sugar [broun shoog-er] noun
Brown sugar is made two different ways. With cane sugar there is an option that manufacturer can make. They can choose to make “boiled brown”, which is where the molasses inherent in the product is boiled along with the sugar being refined and the product is crystallized, or it can be “painted brown”, which is where they take refined white sugar and then paint it (coat it) with the molasses. Most sugar cane companies will tell you they use the former process. If the sugar is derived from sugar beets, then it is always “painted brown”, and, the molasses painted onto the white sugar crystals is derived from cane sugar. This is because the molasses derived from sugar beet production does not have a good sensory profile and it is usually sold off to be used in animal feed.
When the “boiled brown” process is used, more molasses can be left in to create the darker brown sugars; less can be left in for light brown. According to sugar beet manufacturers, to make dark brown sugar it is not just a matter of more being painted on, it is actually a different molasses blend that has a stronger more intense sensory profile so that the color, aroma and flavor of the dark brown sugar is more pronounced.
Brown sugar is available in both light (left) and dark brown forms (right). Light brown is also sometimes called “golden”. In general, the darker the brown sugar, the more robust the flavor.
Brown sugar is usually sold in 1-lb. boxes or plastic bags, which should be airtight to keep the contents moist. Soften hardened sugar by adding it with a slice of apple to an airtight plastic bag (it may take a day or two to soften). You can also try microwaving it briefly.
To measure, read directions carefully. Some recipes might specify whether you need lightly packed or firmly packed brown sugar, while others simply ask for brown sugar. All of these measurements will yield different amounts. Try to stick as closely to the recipe as possible. Use the exact-size dry measuring cup called for, if possible. Firmly packed means just that; pile the ingredient into the cup and pack down as firmly as possible until it is level with the top of the cup. One cup of firmly packed brown sugar can be substituted for 1 cup granulated sugar. Products called granulated brown sugar and liquid brown sugar are also available, but cannot be substituted for regular brown sugars in recipes.
Though similar in color, brown sugar should not be confused with Demerara or turbinado sugars, which are coarse textured, granulated, light brown colored sugars. Both of these measure cup for cup with granulated white sugar, but will impart a light brown sugar taste and might take longer to dissolve in your recipe. Barbados sugar sugar, or dark Muscovado is moist and packable like commercial dark brown sugar, with a deeper color and strong molasses flavor. Other sources of sugar include maple sap, palm sap and sorghum.
1. Interviews with representatives from Michigan Sugar
2. Interviews with representatives from Zulka Sugar