There are many types of white and brown sugar, ranging from granulated, to powdered, to raw. Raw sugar, also known as natural brown sugar, offers the most health benefits but does not hold up well in baking. On the other hand, brown and white sugar provide added benefits to a variety of dishes. Knowing your ultimate goal for flavor, texture and healthfulness will help you to better decide which combination of brown, white or raw sugar to use.
Raw sugar is by far better for your health than any other kind of sugar because it is not highly processed and requires no added chemical to produce, unlike regular white or brown sugars. Raw sugar retains many natural minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and sodium. Regular brown sugar, while slightly lower in calories than white sugar, requires packing when measuring, so the difference between the two in a finished baked product is negligible.
All sugars do not have the same flavor or intensity. The darker the brown sugar the stronger it is. Raw sugar retains the rich flavor of sugar cane. The unique flavors of white and brown sugar lend themselves to specific flavoring ingredients in a recipe. For example, white sugar pairs nicely with vanilla, while brown sugar pairs commonly with cinnamon. Since brown sugar contains more molasses, using it can result in a richer flavor. Brown sugar is also often used in cooking to make sauces and glazes for meats. White sugar can be used to sweeten salad dressings and other dishes.
Since white and brown sugars are different colors to begin with, their use will affect the characteristics of a finished product. White sugar can be used to sweeten, whiten and decorate cakes and other desserts, and is especially beneficial in making white frosting base. Brown sugar gives baked goods a darker, golden color often seen in autumn and winter treats. Raw sugars won’t effect coloring as much.
Due to the difference in texture between white, brown and raw sugars, they produce different outcomes when used in baking. White sugar tends to be dryer and grainier. However, since the sugar crystals tend to be larger and more coarse, the sugar creates air pockets that result in lighter and fluffier desserts when mixed with fats. Brown sugar, which is more dense and moist, also tends to create a moister baked good. Raw sugar has the least benefits when used for baking since the large, unrefined crystals tend leave baked good grainy.
References and Resources"The Joy of Cooking;" Irma S. Rombauer, et al.; 1975
Joy of Baking: Sugars
Become Natural: Natural Brown (Raw) Sugar vs Brown Sugar vs White Sugar