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Whatever happened to real brown sugar?

 
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Here in the US, it seems that "brown sugar" used to be a type of sugar all to itself.  It was brown and something like a damp powder.  Maybe a decade or two ago the labeling requirements may have changed and I started seeing brown sugar that had the ingredients listed as sugar and molasses.  That "brown sugar" looked and tasted like granular white sugar with molasses added.

This week I went to pick up some organic brown sugar and the ingredient listed was "sugar".  But it's clearly white sugar with molasses added.  I think C&H still makes the traditional kind of brown sugar but I don't think it's organic.  

How/where do you find organic brown sugar that is made the old fashioned way?  It is now called "unrefined" or some other word?  This one seems to maybe be the correct thing but it doesn't say it's brown: Dulcie organic raw unrefined sugar

This is the disappointing one I bought and it is clearly a combination of white sugar and molasses (despite what the label says):
Wholesome organic dark brown sugar
 
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I don't know if this will be of help, Mike, but possibly some information here:  https://www.whatsugar.com/post/complete-guide-to-brown-sugars

Cane-sourced sugar would likely be the source for a natural, unrefined brown sugar.  The molasses naturally found in beet sugar is pretty foul tasting and typically used for livestock feed and for industrial purposes.
 
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Hi Mike,

A very timely post.  I was in a grocery store about a week ago, and went through similar confusion.  To add to the problem, I strongly suspect a couple of the specialty shops I used to rely on have been repackaging Walmart.

When I asked about their store brands, they told me their supplier was from Arkansas.
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Johns!  John W, that blog was quite informative but didn't seem to match with my personal history.  Maybe I'm just remembering wrong.  It seems like the brown sugar I was used to was not square granules.  It was a variety of sizes and slumped when put in a pile.  There was just one ingredient and I thought it came off the manufacturing equipment in its final state.  And it melted nicely on hot oatmeal and melted in your mouth.  The stuff I bought the other day does not melt in your mouth.  

So either I'm losing it or that's what Big Sugar wants me to think
 
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We can get what's called "demerara" sugar which is darker than "golden sugar" that is what most people get as "brown sugar" for baking. Yes - most of our sugar (Canadian) comes from sugar beets, but in the past my understanding was that "brown sugar" from sugar cane was "less refined" and had more of the "natural molasses" left in giving it the moistness, colour and texture I remember from my childhood.

Many processes used to take food from "plant" to "finished product" have changed to be "faster" or "cheaper", but rarely "better" from the nutritional standpoint, as our food chains have become more industrialized. That could be what you're experiencing Mike.
 
Mike Haasl
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My favorite "brown" sugar is maple syrup sugar.  But it's hard to make successfully so I rarely make it from my syrup.
 
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What I think of as the real brown sugar you are describing, I now find marketed as "turbinado". So looking for that label might help
 
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Growing up, we routinely used white sugar plus molasses in recipes calling for brown sugar.  My mother explained that that's all the "real stuff" was anyway, and I remember checking an ingredient label in about 1980 that confirmed it. Likewise the label currently in my kitchen: sugar, invert sugar, cane molasses.  

However she did admit that "brown sugar" used to be (in her understanding) a less-refined single-ingredient product from the sugar mills.  But even in 1980, she claimed not to have seen any of that in many years.
 
John Weiland
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I suspect 'economies of scale' come into play here, much like refined white flour versus whole wheat and gasoline versus diesel.  In both cases, the latter item is cheaper to produce, but other factors beyond cost of production drive down the price of the more refined version of the product.  So it might be cheaper, for instance, to make a pseudo 'whole grain flour' by adding coarse-ground back to unbleached white flour to get a similar effect.  Since sugar milling can produce anything from powdered confectioner's sugar to large crystals, it could be that there previously was a brown sugar sold that used a finer crystal that then fell out of production along the way for some reason.  All of the 'turbinado' that I've come across is pretty coarse-ground, but that's not from any kind of exhaustive survey,--- just from what I've seen on the shelf.  The 'invert' sugar mentioned also will be in the molasses fraction from the processing, a sequence that removes inverts and molasses to allow for the crystallization of the sucrose to occur.  Inverts are the break-down monosaccharide products from splitting sucrose (disaccharide) into the constituent molecules that make up sucrose.  Don't know if others can comment on the following, but a colleague once mentioned making sure to mix molasses into the white sugar first when making cookies to aid in getting a 'softer' cookie end-product....???
 
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John Weiland wrote: So it might be cheaper, for instance, to make a pseudo 'whole grain flour' by adding coarse-ground back to unbleached white flour to get a similar effect.  




Worse, I've seen some "whole wheat flour" that was made by adding sawdust and food coloring!
 
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i remember the product you’re talking about, mike, but i don’t know that i ever thought of it as anything but sugar with some molasses in it. could it be that as labeling law changed just saying ‘brown sugar’ at some point wasn’t accurate enough? or maybe efficiencies in processing made the old kind of brown sugar (sugar without all the molasses removed) almost non-existent and to keep marketing a product that approximates it they had to add molasses to sugar that was already too ‘clean’?

i dunno, but i do remember a product that was wetter and tended to stay in clumps, and could really be ‘packed’ into a measuring cup.
 
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Here in Canada I haven't noticed a difference between the brown sugar of my youth and that of today. My understanding as well was always that it was white sugar with molasses added back in.

That Dulcie product you linked to looks like it would be dry sugar, not moist like brown sugar.

If you're not finding what you want and have access to an Asian grocery look for jaggery. It's a less refined cane sugar that usually comes molded into blocks. You see it in Indian recipes all the time.  I think piloncillo might be that same thing.
 
Mike Haasl
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Good detail Greg, the old stuff could be packed into a measuring cup well.  This new stuff doesn't seem like it would act the same way...
 
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Here in the UK I use rapadura (aka succanat), which is like the Australian brown sugar I remember. Basically it's unrefined cane sugar that's dried into a solid lump then crushed. Muscovado sugar is also very good.
What they call brown sugar in the UK is what you describe, white granular sugar crystals with a small amount of cane molasses added back in. Not the same at all.
 
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I recall that kind of brown sugar, too. My mom used to keep it in a big tupperware bin with a fancy (tera cotta clay?) thing to keep it from clumping TOO much, and she'd always let me eat a clump or two of the brown sugar when she'd open it for baking. It did pack well, and was very fine. I grew up in the 90's, and it was totally around then (either that, or we just used it so sparingly and my mom bought it in bulk, that we never ran out.)

I've honestly never seen it in an organic version. I wonder if it's a marketing thing. Most people who buy organic want the pretty, fancy crystals that seem to say "I'm actually sugar cane!" It seems more natural and fancy, and so that's what they sell. It's probably never occurred to them to make the normal-looking brown sugar in organic form?
 
Nicole Alderman
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This looks like the stuff I remember



https://www.chsugar.com/products/golden-brown-sugar

Ask for C&H® Golden Brown Sugar – don't settle for less! C&H® Golden Brown Sugar has a nutty, caramel flavor, moistness, and subtle molasses flavor. It's ideal for cookies, shortbread, spiced cakes, brownies, and crumble toppings. Generally, if a recipe doesn't specify Dark or Golden Brown, it is intended that Golden Brown be used.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Maybe this one from Nuts.com would be good:



All-natural organic light brown sugar made from pesticide-free sugar cane. Light brown sugar lends a more buttery, mild flavor compared with the deep, butterscotch flavors of dark brown sugar. Perfect for any recipe calling for brown sugar or use it to sweeten fruit or coffee. Freshness and excellence guaranteed.



This review seems like it might be the same sort of brown sugar texture we're thinking of: "it's too sticky and wet, not easy to pour out. Disappointed!"

I recently discovered nuts.com when trying to find chestnut flour. I've been pleased with everything I've ordered from them (especially being able to buy chestnut flour in bulk. I can finally bake bread that tastes like bread and doesn't mess with out guts!)

 
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Are you looking for what is now marketted as "Raw sugar" (Also known as "turbinado sugar")?
 
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The normal sugar we get here (also the organic) comes from sugarbeet, but I do buy brown sugar for recipes.
This one from the Philippines is quite expensive, organic and fairtrade (normal supermarkets carry it) and it says: unrefined pure cane sugar, which cristalizes under constant stirring. It is like a crumbly powder, not coated crystals. I do remember that brown sugar with crystals, not sure if it still exists.
Mascobado.jpg
Organic Mascobado
Organic Mascobado
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks for all the replies everyone!  I think Nicole's experience and mine are about the same.  I think C&H was the brand that is what I considered "normal" and now consider "that real stuff from way back when".  It's pretty easy to feel the difference when looking at it in the store so I'll just keep fondling the bags in the hopes of finding the stuff I think I like, only in an organic form.  
 
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"Here in the US, it seems that "brown sugar" used to be a type of sugar all to itself.  It was brown and something like a damp powder.  Maybe a decade or two ago the labeling requirements may have changed and I started seeing brown sugar that had the ingredients listed as sugar and molasses.  That "brown sugar" looked and tasted like granular white sugar with molasses added.

This week I went to pick up some organic brown sugar and the ingredient listed was "sugar".  But it's clearly white sugar with molasses added.  I think C&H still makes the traditional kind of brown sugar but I don't think it's organic."

Well:

1) Being an old Cracker, 'brown sugar' meant raw sugar, cane syrup crystallized, no bleaching. Generally looks like a lighter shade of 'light brown sugar'.
2) 'Market brown sugar' as I call it, its the white with molasses added. What most folks call brown sugar. Most recipes are based on this.
3) 'Bee Brown' that is honey that crystallized. A regional kind of thing I have heard as brown sugar, typically midwest thru my travels.

Raw sugar to my knowledge is always organic if rendered from syrup. Why anyone buys market brown sugar is beyond me. If you have a stand mixer you can whip up your own in a matter of 15mins.  Link to make your own. To me crystallized honey is to die for. Use as is or if its still tacky dry it out some more then grind to a powder. Its much sweeter to my taste than sugar so I can use less of it for the same result. (And most folks think is to be thrown away if crystallized. Shame.)

 
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We can still easily get it here in the UK.... we call it soft brown sugar which comes in light and dark. It's a less refined form of cane sugar. The dark one is also sometimes called Muscovado sugar. They are both very different from Demerara, which is also less refined but can be made by adding molasses to refined sugar. I don't understand why you would do that tbh, but that's just my opinion Demerara tastes good, but is very granular.

Molasses is good for you though - all the vitamins and minerals from the original plant are in it. White sugar has all that stuff stripped away in the refining process.

Incidentally, we get both cane and beet sugar here
 
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Linda Secker wrote:We can still easily get it here in the UK.... we call it soft brown sugar which comes in light and dark.



Yes but look on the ingredients list for Tesco soft light brown for example - sugar, molasses, glycerol.

I'm trying to work out whether it really matters.  I can buy unrefined cane sugar from a health food store but it's come from Argentina (environmental questions) and costs twice as much.  Whatever it is that's "good" about less refined sugar is presumably "best" in molasses, so does it really make a difference if you get to brown sugar by partially refining the raw product, or making very refined white and then mixing it back in with molasses?
 
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Wow!
What a great educational thread.   I spent a couple hours reading all the links everyone posted.
Did not know there was that much differences in the sugars.

I do know that my chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies taste better with "pure cane brown sugars" versus some of the cheaper brown sugars.  

I do remember reading about sugarcane sugars a few years ago when we toured an old sugar mill on Antigua, but it did not "stick" to the grey matter between my ears.

 
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Linda Secker wrote:We can still easily get it here in the UK.... we call it soft brown sugar which comes in light and dark. It's a less refined form of cane sugar. The dark one is also sometimes called Muscovado sugar. They are both very different from Demerara, which is also less refined but can be made by adding molasses to refined sugar. I don't understand why you would do that tbh, but that's just my opinion Demerara tastes good, but is very granular.



My understanding of this is that demerara sugar is raw cane sugar, it's a golden brown colour, granular, and quite dry, almost as dry as standard white beet sugar. There is no molasses added to demerera sugar, on the contrary molasses is washed off the sugar crystals during production. "Brown" sugar comes in "light brown" and "dark brown" and both are white beet sugar with variable amounts of molasses added. You can definitely taste the molasses in the dark brown stuff. It's also much more sticky in the packet and goes rock solid if you let it dry  Demerara is much less processed than "brown sugar". To ad to the confusion though, those little packets of sugar you get in a coffee shop are inevitably called "brown sugar" but are in fact demerara. If you reach for the brown packet of sugar to put in your coffee (raises hand!) you're using demerara. If you put "brown sugar" (i.e. white sugar with added molasses) in your coffee it would taste very different.
 
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after El Salvadore kicked out a certain chemical company i made a point of trying to buy their sugar from the grocery store
although i have not bought it recently because it is at a more expensive store which i normally would not buy from
it seemed a little heavier on the molasses

redpath and lantic are two of the bigger brands you see around here
the sugar comes on ships and you can see it being offloaded to the factory
 
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I have difficulty with finding the sugar I want too. It isn't exactly about 'brown sugar' (but probably that's the same as in the USA, it's white sugar with added molasses).
All un-refined organic sugar here is made of sugar cane. Sugar cane doesn't grow in the Netherlands. So that has to be imported from far away.
Sugar beets grow here very well. I know many years ago there was organic (or maybe bio-dynamic) un-refined beet sugar. And I know it still exists, because I can see it in the ingredients list of cookies a.a. But the shops don't sell it just as is.
 
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I stopped buying “brown sugar” years ago. It was one of my “great! I don’t have to buy this any more.” Things. I add molasses to white sugar as much as I need for whatever I’m making. Want it darker and more moist? Add more molasses. We do buy Demerara for Dh’s coffee, since that’s what he likes. I like not having a pantry staple I hardly ever used, subject to clumping, etc. but that’s me.
 
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Granulated and brown sugar in Spain has always been a disappointment for me.  It is all beet based and is more course than that typically found in North America.  The brown sugar is the worst, with it's course texture and very light addition of molasses.  

I tried grinding some brown sugar to the "right" consistency to make some cookies for my nieces.  That didn't work too well, though they ate all the cookies without complaint.  

Who could complain about clumping brown sugar?  Popping a big clump of brown sugar in my mouth and savoring it's flavor as it dissolves is one of life's great pleasures for me.  Eating the dissolving clumps that are strewn on top of oatmeal is another joy.  My mouth is watering now....
 
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My first post here, and I spelled "coarse" incorrectly not once, but twice!  Agh!   Lurk more....post less.
 
Mike Haasl
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You're doing fine Tt, there is an edit button at the top of posts that you can hit to go back in and make changes.  Sometimes it goes away after a while....
 
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My Dad (from southern Ontario, Canada) talked about the brown sugar when he was a kid (in the 1940s) being much different from what there is now.  I found out about sucanat and thought that might be what he remembered but he said, unequivocally, no, it's not the same thing.  He said it was similar to the white sugar with molasses added, but different, but couldn't explain how.  This isn't too helpful, I know, but at least we now know it's not sucanat.  Also, for the young 'uns here talking about the 1990s sugar, it had already changed by then.  
 
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