White, Raw, Brown – Sugar: What are the Differences?

Despite sugar being one of the most important and commonly used items in a kitchen, most people are not aware of the fact that apart from the white sugar they use, there are two other varieties of sugar, called raw sugar and brown sugar, available in the market. But what are the differences?

White sugar (also called table sugar)

Pure sucrose naturally found in many fruits and vegetables. In nature, it can be found in either sugar cane or sugar beets, but by the time it has been refined to a white crystal, the two are chemically identical.

Raw Sugar

To make sugar, machines are used: sugar cane (or sugar beet) is initially pressed and the juice is then mixed with lime to achieve the desired ph balance and to help settle out impurities. Reduction of this solution through evaporation produces a solid mass that is passed through centrifuge to get sugar crystals. It is then dried further to produce granules. This sugar is light brown in color and is termed raw sugar. The brown color of raw sugar is due to presence of molasses. Raw sugar is the most natural sugar you can hope to lay your hands on.

Brown Sugar

Do not confuse raw sugar with brown sugar. Brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with a molasses syrup mixed in, then dried again.

What is the difference between raw sugar and white sugar?

To make white sugar, sulfur dioxide is added to cane juice before it gets evaporated. This gas does the bleaching of the juice so that it does not turn brown and produces white sugar. At later stages, phosphoric acid, calcium hydroxide or carbon dioxide is added to absorb impurities. This juice is then filtered through a bed of carbon and then crystallized in a vacuum many times. Finally the crystals are left to dry on their own to get paper white crystals of sugar.

Is raw sugar better?

In my opinion: yes, although nutritionally speaking, there is no meaningful difference between any of these types of sugar. Why I think it’s better:

  • Environmentally speaking, the less processing required means the less energy used, less waste products and fewer chemicals: raw sugar is the more earth friendly option and brown sugar oddly enough is the worst choice.
  • As brown sugar contains some amount of water, it has a slightly lower caloric value by weight than white sugar: calorific value per teaspoon is 11 kcal for raw sugar, 16 kcal for white sugar.
  • Because of the presence of molasses in raw sugar, it has a distinct flavor that is missing in white sugar.
Although raw sugar is less processed, all types of sugar provide roughly the same number of calories, and when it comes to digestion and metabolism, your body cannot tell the difference. Excess intake of sugar can be bad for you no matter what kind you use. Too much sugar can be very calorific and cause many health problems (including diabetes and obesity).

What type of sugar do you use at home?


  1. says

    Wow those stats are scary.

    I prefer to use unprocessed sweet foods where I can in my muffins, pancakes and so on. Maple syrup, agave syrup, dates or even banana or apple sauce are my staples. I’m also now using a blend of Stevia and Erythritol when I need extra sweetness.

    For the occasional special cake or pudding, I’ll just use whatever kind of sugar the recipe calls for (usually white or brown). If it’s not something we eat often, I’m not going to worry too much about it. Indulgences in small amounts are good for the soul. :)

    • says

      Hi Natalie, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I actually don’t know much about coconut sugar, palm sugar, (don’t know what rapadura is, will look at it right now) etc. I guess these types of sugar are not widely use in France, hence I never come across them. But I’ll look into it, thanks for the tip.

  2. says

    Oh no, I just lost my first long comment- bloody Blogger!!! Aaarrghhhh… but was just saying that I keep all types at home but use raw sugar more now and just whizz it in the Thermomix to make it finer before baking. I just added raw sugar to raspberry smoothies which I made for three little kids first breakfasts- they move ALL the time and none are overweight , far from it, so I am happy to give them sugar and sugary cakes etc.

    Not for me though!! The low fat milk and no-sugar smoothie is next for me.

    • says

      Hi Seana, thanks for your comment and sorry to know you’re having so much troubles with blogger :(
      When I use raw sugar in baking I actually don’t notice a difference in terms of texture. Do you really need to make it finer?

  3. says

    FANTASTIC post. I love learning about this stuff. I use raw sugar, don’t know WHY people use white sugar.

    I didn’t know that they had the same nutritional value though. So less is best!

    This definitely encourages me to have less when I can!

    The Sydney Girl

    • says

      Yes Raw sugar have lots of benefits and it also tests sweet but it also hav some disadvantages based on its hardening and moist which can drop some recipes. So make use of it carefully you can keep it in airtight vessel to get rid of moistening and hardening.

  4. says

    This is a very cool article. I prefer the less processed Raw sugar… One question – Does Raw sugar break down in the body like white sugar? i.e: Does the body break Raw sugar down into Glucose and Fructose. I guess I am asking for the chemical composition of Raw sugar. What I am trying to do is limit my intake of Fructose and this information would be great.


    • says

      Hi Geoffrey, thank you for your comment and sorry for the late response. My understanding is that yes, the chemical composition of raw sugar is the same as refined sugar. It is made from the same ingredient (generally from cane or beet). the only difference is that raw sugar is less processed (not bleached). So it is better for the environment and may retain more of the ‘original’ taste.

  5. Anonymous says

    Thanks for the article,I always used raw sugar as an excuse to add extra but now I have no excuse as all 3 types have the same number of calories,Lol.

  6. Joselyn says


    I liked lots this info. However, I have to say that actually THERE IS DIFFERENCE between the type of sugar we use. Because of the chemical process white sugar requires, the minerals, vitamins and other nutritional elements are taken away; and the resulting product when it is consumed by our body creates some acid remains that in order to be eliminated from our system takes the mineral reserves from our bones causing osteoporosis.

    So, if we want to take care of ourselves, we need to take this into account.

    Joselyn G.

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