What’s the difference between coconut sugar and brown sugar? While they look somewhat similar, there are several big differences between the two when it comes to flavor, texture, nutrition and health benefits.
What is coconut sugar?
Coconut sugar has gained in popularity over the last decade and is commonly used as a natural sweetener in “healthier” versions of sweet treats like cookies and brownies. But while it may be considered “new” here in the United States, it’s been used in Southeast Asian cuisine for years in various applications.
The process of making coconut palm sugar is rather laborious. It is made from coconut sap, derived from coconut palm tree blossoms found on coconut trees. The sap is heated over an open flame and regularly shaken to keep it thick and prevent coconut crystals. Finally, the coconut sugar is selected and sieved to leave you with the final product.
Who knew the sap of coconut palm tree flowers could turn into something so glorious? The color of the final product can vary quite a bit, but typically it has a light brown sugar, similar to light brown sugar.
One tablespoon of coconut sugar contains about 30 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrates and 0 grams of protein or fat. It has 7 grams of sugar and 0 grams of fiber. It does contain a small amount of micronutrients with 30 milligrams of calcium, 70 milligrams of potassium and 10 milligrams of sodium.
Where to find
You can likely find coconut sugar at your local grocery store. But, if you can’t find anything, I would recommend checking out a health foods store or something like Whole Foods or Sprouts. If you still are having no luck, you can always purchase coconut sugar online. Here are a few options to try out:
What is brown sugar?
Brown sugar is sometimes viewed as a healthier alternative to regular sugar, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, brown sugar is made from white sugar, it just has molasses added to it during production to give it its brown color and caramel taste.
Both varieties of sugar come from the sugar cane or sugar beets. The sugary juice of both of these crops are extracted and cooked down into a syrup called molasses. The crystallized sugar that comes out of this is processed and becomes white sugar. Brown sugar has the molasses added back in.
The added molasses does provide some additional health benefits and micronutrients compared to white sugar. The amount of molasses added back into the sugar determines if it becomes dark or light brown sugar, with dark brown sugar having more added molasses.
The nutritional value of brown sugar is a bit higher than white sugar, but the differences are pretty minimal. One tablespoon of packed brown sugar contains about 53 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrates and 0 grams of fat and protein. It contains 14 grams of sugar and 0 grams of fiber.
It contains a small amount of micronutrients, about 18 milligrams of potassium, 3 milligrams of sodium and 11 milligrams of calcium. Compared to coconut sugar, it is slightly less nutrient dense.
Where to find
You should be able to very easily find both dark and light brown sugar at your local grocery store. But, if you have any difficulty finding these products, you can always purchase them online, especially if you are looking to buy in bulk. Here are a few options to try out:
Differences in taste
Coconut sugar and brown sugar do have subtle differences in taste, with coconut sugar having a light coconut flavor while brown sugar has more of a caramel flavor. The biggest difference is the moisture content. Coconut sugar has less moisture, making it more dry and grainy. This is likely due to the fact that brown sugar contains molasses, which is a liquidy, thick syrup.
Which is better for weight loss?
Since coconut sugar is lower in calories and added sugar, it may be marginally better for weight loss. But it’s important to note that this difference is very small and likely won’t result in any significant or long lasting weight loss.
Also, since both coconut sugar and brown sugar aren’t very nutrient dense, both can be harmful in large amounts. They are easy to overeat since they don’t contain any fiber or protein that help suppress hunger.
When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as a “healthier option”. Both are forms of added sugar and while they are fine to consume in moderation, they shouldn’t be consumed freely without limits.
Which is better for blood sugar?
A tool called the glycemic index is used to measure how much a certain food can affect blood glucose levels. The glycemic index of coconut sugar is about 54, while the glycemic index of brown sugar is about 45-71. While the glycemic index of brown sugar is more variable, on average coconut has a lower glycemic index.
Based on this information, coconut sugar may be a better option if you have insulin resistance or diabetes since it would have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar levels.
That being said, there are several factors that play into how much a food will affect blood sugar. The amount you consume, what you consume it with, as well as your individual blood sugar responses will play a part.
When consuming coconut sugar and brown sugar, combine them with foods high in fat, protein and/or fiber to reduce the glycemic response. Also, practice moderation and don’t consume too much at once. Be sure to monitor your blood sugar levels and see which sweetener you respond to best.
Alternative sweeteners to try
There are plenty of sugar alternatives besides brown sugar or coconut sugar to try out. I’ve listed a few options below for you to consider trying out. All of these options come from natural sources and are quite sweet and delicious.
Agave nectar or agave syrup is one of my all time favorite sweeteners. I particularly love the taste in matcha lattes or my morning coffee. It’s similar to honey, but it’s vegan and has a more liquidy consistency. One tablespoon contains about 64 calories and 14 grams of sugar.
Date syrup or date sugar are also great sugar alternatives. Date syrup is made from the liquid of cooked dates and has a sweet, caramel like flavor which is to die for. It has a liquid consistency and a dark brown color. One tablespoon contains about 54 calories and 12 grams of sugar.
Maple syrup and maple sugar are delicious sugar alternatives, both derived from maple trees. While this delicious, caramel colored syrup is commonly used on top of pancakes, it can also be used to sweeten baked goods. Make sure to get pure maple syrup since many products use blends. One tablespoon contains 52 calories and 12 grams of sugar.
Molasses is another great sugar alternative made from sugar cane or sugar beets. If you read this whole article, you’d also know it’s a big component in brown sugar. It has a strong and rich flavor and is very thick and dark in color. One tablespoon contains 58 calories and 15 grams of sugar.
Raw honey is a great option as it’s incredibly thick and has a pleasant flavor. Regular honey is fine as well and works as a great sweetener. I particularly love honey in a cup of hot tea or on top of a yogurt bowl. One tablespoon contains 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar.
Monk fruit is a natural low calorie sweetener that is great if you are trying to lose weight. It has a very sweet taste and does have a bit of a bitter aftertaste, but it isn’t too noticeable. It is typically mixed with erythritol, a natural sugar alcohol, to give it bulk. One tablespoon of a monk fruit and erythritol sweetener contains 4 calories and 0 grams of sugar.