Coconut sugar and brown sugar are popular types of sugar, that look and taste similar. But what are their main differences?
The main differences between coconut sugar and brown sugar are the ways in which they’re produced, along with their Glycemic Index (GI) levels. Coconut sugar is produced from the sap of coconut palm tree flowers, whereas brown sugar is essentially white sugar with molasses added to it. The GI of these sugars is also different, with the GI of coconut sugar being between 50 – 54 and brown sugar holding a GI of between 55 – 65.
Here’s everything you need to know about the differences between coconut sugar and brown sugar, and whether they are similar enough to be substituted for one another.
How they’re made: Coconut sugar vs brown sugar
Coconut sugar is made from the nectar of coconut palm tree flowers. The nectar/sap is mixed with water, boiled into syrup, and dried. This then crystalizes to provide its traditional sugar consistency.
Brown sugar on the other hand is made from molasses and granulated white sugar. Molasses is a dark syrup derived from crushed sugar cane/ sugar beets, and granulated white sugar is beet/cane sugar that has been crystallized. To make brown sugar, molasses from sugar cane is mixed with white sugar, which is what gives brown sugar its distinctive color.
Brown sugar can be purchased in both light and dark varieties. The difference between the two is the level of molasses, affecting both the color of the sugar and how stick in texture it is.
Common food/drink uses: Coconut sugar vs brown sugar
Coconut sugar is often used in cakes, cookies, and other sweet goods, plus it can be sprinkled on dishes such as granola/cereal. Many people also like to stir it into tea/coffee as a healthier alternative to white sugar. Here’s how to find the best coconut sugar to buy.
Brown sugar is also used in hot drinks and sweet goods and is particularly popular when making baking sauces such as toffee and butterscotch. In my experience, it generally holds more moisture than coconut sugar, making it my preferred option when making any sweet sauces.
It has also become a key ingredient in skincare items such as exfoliants and scrubs due to its fine and nonabrasive texture.
Can you substitute coconut sugar for brown sugar?
You can substitute coconut sugar for brown sugar as they are similar in taste. There are some subtle differences, however, they’re similar enough that they certainly make good substitutions for each other.
Both types of sugar are gluten-free and have a similar number of calories. However, their GI levels are quite different, with coconut sugar having a GI of 50 – 54 and brown sugar having a GI of 55 – 65. If you’re watching your sugar levels or are diabetic for example, you may not want to substitute coconut sugar for brown sugar due to the higher GI.
It’s worth also bearing in mind that, unlike coconut sugar, brown sugar isn’t always considered vegan. This is because brown sugar is often refined using a process involving animal bone char[AC5] . If you’re vegan and looking for a substitute for coconut sugar, you’ll need to double-check this when making your purchase.
If you’re baking and looking to substitute brown sugar for coconut sugar, it’s worth bearing in mind that coconut sugar contains significantly less moisture than brown sugar. This is because brown sugar contains molasses, which gives it moisture and stickiness. Brown sugar is often preferred when baking, as the moisture it contains offers certain benefits when baking certain recipes. Coconut sugar holds some levels of moisture but will generally result in dryer baked goods than if brown sugar was used as an alternative.
Nutrition comparison: Coconut sugar vs brown sugar
While coconut sugar and brown sugar are similar in taste, they do hold significant differences nutritionally.
Here’s a little more detail comparing coconut sugar and brown sugar:
|Per 1 Cup Serving||Coconut Sugar||Brown Sugar|
|Glycemic Index||50 – 54||55 – 65|
|Allergens?||Coconut (Tree Nuts)||None|
Sources: Wildly Organic, USDA
Here are a few FAQs to give some more ideas on the difference between coconut sugar and brown sugar.
Take a look to see how these types of sugar compare!
Coconut sugar does taste like brown sugar, and they are often used as substitutes for each other. Both offer a less sweet taste than traditional white sugar and are used as a subtle sweetener rather than a big sugar kick.
The difference between them in taste is that coconut sugar tends to have more of a caramel taste, whereas brown sugar tastes more like molasses, depending on the level of molasses used during the manufacturing process.
For a different twist, you can even infuse coconut sugar with vanilla.
Interestingly, coconut sugar does not taste or smell like coconut. This is because is it made from the sap of coconut trees, as opposed to the coconut fruit itself. The sap from coconut trees is said to have a sweet, caramel flavor, and offers no indication that it’s from a coconut tree taste-wise.
The flavor of coconut sugar can vary depending on the brand, but in general coconut sugar tastes more like caramel or brown sugar than coconut itself.
Coconut sugar and brown sugar are very similar nutritionally, with slight differences in calorie numbers and carbohydrates. However, coconut sugar could be seen as the healthier option because it has a significantly lower GI than brown sugar.
GI indicates how quickly your blood sugar levels are affected when eating individual foods, so if you’re looking for a healthier option between the two, coconut sugar is the better option for you. However, we’ll leave the specifics of this for nutritionists to decide!
The texture is similar between coconut sugar and brown sugar, as they are ultimately crystalized and granulated in a similar way. If you were comparing the texture of coconut sugar and brown sugar when trying them in a cup of coffee, for example, it’s unlikely that you would notice any difference at all texture-wise.
However, brown sugar tends to be moister and stickier than coconut sugar, due to the molasses it contains. This makes it the preferred ingredient when making baked goods, as moisture is key when baking certain types of food.