Now this is very different from the story going around in 1900, when sugar refiners were trying to create an oligopoly to stop the plummeting price of pure white sugar. As part of their effort to control the market, they released micrographs of harmless (but scary-looking) bacteria that lived on brown sugar.
This was so successful that the 1900 edition of the Boston Cook Book warned that brown sugar was undeniably inferior to “pure” white sugar, because it was infested by “a minute insect”.
To a chemist, “simple” sugars include glucose, fructose and galactose. They each have six carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms and six oxygen atoms arranged into a rough circle, with the atoms arranged differently for each sugar. Sucrose (our regular table sugar) is the combination of glucose and fructose.
During processing, the stuff that is removed to leave behind pure white table sugar is called “molasses”. In addition to various sugars, it can contain microscopic amounts of hundreds of vitamins and minerals.
Amounts of these micro nutrients can range from totally absent to micro-quantities, depending on the type of plant, season, rainfall, altitude of growth, fertilizers, hours of sunshine, soil, and so on. But while tiny amounts of, say, antibiotics, hallucinogens of nerve poisons can really change your day, not one of the micro nutrients in molasses has any similar power to affect you.
Today, brown sugar can be made in two ways.
One is to sell it at the partially processed brown stage, before you get to the white sugar stage. The other way is to add molasses back to the pure white sugar – the advantage of this being that the consistency of the “brown sugar” can be more tightly controlled.
As for nutrition? Well, white sugar is 99.9 per cent sucrose, while brown sugar is about 97 per cent sucrose, 2 per cent water and 1 per cent other stuff. The United Nations health bodies recommend that sugars should make up no more than 10 per cent of your daily energy.
Even if brown sugar made up 10 per cent of your daily energy, it would contribute less than 10 per cent of your daily calcium, magnesium and potassium. There are simply not many nutrients in sugar-cane juice.
Brown sugar is only marginally different from white sugar – and they are both sweet nothings.