Muscovado vs brown sugar: what’s the difference?

Muscovado sugar and brown sugar

A reader was making my salted peanut butter biscuits and asked if she could substitute brown sugar for muscovado sugar, and the short answer is yes, absolutely. They are totally interchangeable in most cases and are, in reality, almost the same thing. Almost.

In the photo above, muscovado sugar is on the left, and brown sugar is on the right. Technically, they are both the “light” varieties, which I’ll get into in a second. Both have the wet-sand look and feel characteristic of brown sugars.

While we’re used to brown versions of food being the less refined – brown rice, brown bread, wholemeal pasta – that’s not necessarily the case with sugar, however.

Brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added back to it. Muscovado sugar is less refined, so it retains much of its molasses component. The amount of molasses determines whether it is “light” or “dark”: the darker the sugar, the more molasses it contains.

The major difference between them, from a cook’s point of view, is taste, and it’s especially noticeable in recipes where the sugar is a star ingredient. Muscovado has more complex flavours, with more pronounced caramel and toffee notes. I use it in my peanut butter biscuits, and much of my other baking, because its flavour really comes through in the finished product.

Make your own brown sugar

You can make your own brown sugar at home just by adding molasses (or dark treacle) to white sugar. A molasses-to-sugar ratio of 1:3 will give you a dark brown sugar, and 1:6 will give you light brown sugar, like the standard kind you buy in supermarkets. You can’t DIY muscovado sugar unless you own a sugar refinery. (If you do own a sugar refinery, we need to talk.)

How to store brown sugar

Storing brown sugar or muscovado presents the same challenge: how do you stop it drying out and turning into a solid brick that you have to hack away at to use? The answer is as old as sugar itself: terracotta. You can buy a purpose-made little object if you want, but the saucer for a tiny terracotta pot, about the size of the bowl of dessert spoon, is what I use. Soak it in water for half an hour and drop into whatever container you store your sugar in, then pour the sugar on top. If the container is airtight, your brown sugar will always be ready to use every time for at least six months.

The blog-Paul Hayes