Can You Swap Light and Dark Brown Sugar? (With A Couple Tasty Recipes!)

Brown sugar is one of my favorite ingredients! It’s such a rich, delectable way to add sweetness and depth to your recipes. Not to mention the amazing moist and chewy factor! But have you ever wondered what the difference is between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar? And most importantly- can you swap one out for the other?

What is Brown Sugar?

Basically- brown sugar is refined, white sugar with some added molasses. Dark brown sugar has about twice as much molasses as light brown (3.5% vs 6.5%).

Can I Swap Them?

For the most part, yes! If you did a side-by-side comparison, you might notice that if you use dark brown sugar in place of light your baked goods are darker, with a slightly richer taste. You also might notice that they have risen slightly higher, and that’s because the acidic molasses in brown sugar actually reacts with the baking soda. And so with dark brown sugar, where we have more molasses, you’ll see more of a reaction. As for taste- because dark brown sugar has more molasses, you’ll definitely notice more of that flavor. Some people say it gives more of a caramel or toffee taste.

But the differences will be subtle enough that in a pinch you should be totally fine swapping them out. Especially for recipes that are only calling for a minimal amount of brown sugar, like a couple tablespoons. Recipes that are requiring more, like 2 cups of brown sugar- you’ll definitely see a bit more difference, but nothing so drastic that doesn’t allow for an easy swap between the two!

What If I Don’t Have Either?

If you’re completely out of brown sugar, you can’t just sub with white sugar, as the flavor and texture will change drastically. But you can actually make a pretty adequate substitute on your own. For a light brown sugar, just mix 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of molasses and mix it until completely blended. For dark brown sugar, use 2 tablespoons of molasses. Here is a simple recipe you can add to your Cook’n:

Make Your Own Brown Sugar

Follow this simple recipe to make your own brown sugar by combining white sugar and molasses.

Prep time:
Yield: 1 cup
Serving size: 16
Calories per serving: 49

1 cup granulated sugar granulated sugar
1 tablespoon molasses molasses

Gather the ingredients.

Combine white sugar and molasses in a bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon or mixer until thoroughly blended.

Store brown sugar in an airtight container to prevent from drying out. Enjoy in your favorite recipes.


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I Need Some Recipes!

If you want to try your hand at a couple brown sugar cookie recipes, I’ve included 2 below. Try them with light brown sugar, and then make it again and try swapping for dark brown sugar to compare the difference! While both recipes are brown sugar cookies, the second one has the addition of cinnamon and cornstarch for a slightly different flavor and texture.

Brown Sugar Cookies

Chewy and warm, with a crackly brown sugar crust, these sugar cookies take less than 30 minutes, start to finish.

Serving size: 16
Calories per serving: 221

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (7 ounces; 200g)
1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar, divided (12.25 ounces; 350g)
3/4 teaspoon Diamond crystal kosher salt ; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same by weight (3g)
1 large egg (55g)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (10ml)
2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces; 285g)
1 teaspoon baking powder (4g)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (2g)

Getting Started: Adjust 2 oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Stir butter, 1 1/2 cups (10.7 ounces; 300g) brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl until combined. Stir in egg and vanilla until combined. Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda to bowl and stir until combined.

Scoop 1/4-cup sized balls of dough onto rimmed baking sheets (7 to 8 per pan). Add remaining 1/4-cup (1.5 ounces; 50g) brown sugar to now empty (unwashed) bowl. Roll each dough ball into sugar, return to pan, and press to about 1 inch thick.

Bake until tops have puffed and cracked, and edges are golden, 9 to 11 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Let cool on pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool.


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Chewy Brown Sugar Cookies

An easy recipe for super chewy brown sugar cookies. No mixer required! Author: Sally

Cook time:
Serving size: 20
Calories per serving: 162

2 cups all-purpose, (250g) flour (spoon & leveled)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (use 1 teaspoon if you love cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled*
1 1/4 cups (250g) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar, for rolling

Toss together the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together until no brown sugar lumps remain. Whisk in the egg. Finally, whisk in the vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together with a large spoon or rubber spatula. The dough will be very soft, yet thick. Cover the dough and chill for 2 hours, or up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and allow to slightly soften at room temperature for 10 minutes if you had it chilling for more than 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

Pour the granulated sugar into a bowl. Take 2 scant Tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball, then roll into the sugar. Place 3 inches apart on the baking sheets.

Bake for 8-9 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently press the top of the cookie down with the back of a utensil or even use your fingers. You’re trying to obtain a crinkly top. Place back into the oven for 2-4 more minutes. The total time these cookies are in the the oven is 10-13 minutes. The cookies will be puffy and still appear very soft in the middle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for ten minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. They will continue to cook in the center on the baking sheet after being removed from the oven.

Cookies will stay fresh covered at room temperature for 1 week.


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Let me know which one is your favorite!

    Camille Hoffmann
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
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