For most of our time in Norway, Micha and I have been unable to find brown sugar. Our Norwegian friends assured us it existed, and the quality of the pastries and cookies available stands as evidence that Norwegians know, understand, and use brown sugar regularly. But, to our knowledge, it was not sold in grocery stores.
Have you ever made chocolate chip cookies without brown sugar? They come out dry and crumbly, they spread too thin, and they lack the soft chewiness that I think comes from the molasses in the brown sugar. We had been making and eating cookies like that for a year and a half, unable to find brown sugar. I did not know how critical of an ingredient brown sugar was until I was forced to live without it… or so I thought.
Two things were working against us. First, the sugar bags in the grocery stores here are opaque, so we can’t see from a distance which bags contain brown sugar. Most bags have a picture of something you can make using that particular kind of sugar, but in the case of brown sugar it’s a normal-looking cake with some kind of brown topping.
The second thing is that the brown sugar bags here use a different word for sugar than every other kind of sugar bag. Instead of calling it by the easy cognate “sukker”, brown sugar is called “brun farin” for some reason that probably makes perfect sense to Norwegians but doesn’t make any sense to us Americans.
But look at the picture. Would you have been able to identify this as brown sugar? Once I picked it up, felt the familiar texture, I knew it was the right stuff, but it took me a year just to think, “maybe I should pick this one up.”