8 Brown Sugar Substitutes (Does White Sugar Work?)
Whether you’re out of brown sugar or just looking for a way to change up your recipe, there are plenty of brown sugar substitutes that work well for cooking and baking. Not all substitutes work equally well, so it’s important to experiment to see which brown sugar substitute is best for your recipe.
Here are 8 great substitutes for brown sugar:
1. White Sugar and Molasses
Molasses is a thick, brown syrup that’s said to be healthier than regular white sugar due its nutritional profile. It’s extracted from cane or beet sugars and can sometimes contain other flavors or spices.
Can I use White Sugar and Molasses Instead of Brown Sugar?
Definitely! You can easily substitute one for the other. White sugar mixed with molasses is essentially how brown sugar is created. The mixture of white sugar and molasses is what gives brown sugar its color.
Molasses is a good source of minerals such as iron, copper, selenium, and potassium. Some of the compounds in molasses may help to improve gut health by promoting the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Blackstrap molasses in particular is considered the most nutritious type of molasses as it contains more essential vitamins and minerals per serving compared to other types of molasses. However, since molasses is made from sugar cane or sugar beets, it does have a relatively high sugar content and should still be consumed in moderation.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, toffee, barbecue sauces, marinades, smoothies, shakes, glazes, beverage sweetener, savory recipes, syrups
How to Substitute White Sugar and Molasses for Brown Sugar
Combine 1 teaspoon of light molasses with 1 cup of white sugar to create light brown sugar. To create a darker brown sugar, combine 2 teaspoons of blackstrap molasses with 1 cup of white sugar. Substitute 1 tablespoon of white sugar and molasses for 1 tablespoon of brown sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
As a rule of thumb, rather than add more molasses to the white sugar to create a darker color, it is recommended that you use light molasses for light brown sugar, and blackstrap molasses for dark brown sugar.
Since molasses is a liquid, be sure to lessen the other liquids in the recipe to ensure that the overall liquid content remains balanced. For recipes that already call for molasses such as gingerbread cookies, lessen the amount of molasses mixed into the batter.
Since molasses is a wet ingredient, it can be a little tricky to get the color just right. Store-bought brown sugar is also more shelf-stable, so it can take a bit of trial and error before you can achieve the exact color you’re aiming for, but that’s also where it gets fun. You can add as little or as much molasses as you’d like.
2. White Sugar and Maple Syrup
Brown sugar is traditionally made with molasses, but you can easily substitute maple syrup and it would work just as well. Aside from the color, maple syrup also contributes some notes of caramel and vanilla to the dish, making it an excellent choice for desserts and other sweet treats.
Can I use White Sugar and Maple Syrup Instead of Brown Sugar?
Yes, you can. In fact, some recipes specifically call for maple syrup as a way to highlight the richness of the other ingredients. You can add in a little more maple syrup if you want the unique flavor of maple syrup to be highlighted in your baked goods, but otherwise, the color is largely due to the type of maple syrup used, not the quantity of maple syrup mixed in with the white sugar.
Maple syrup is harvested directly from maple trees and requires minimal processing, so you’ll be getting most of its vitamins and minerals such as zinc, potassium, and calcium. It is considered a better alternative to using refined sugar as it improves digestion, lowers cholesterol, improves cardiovascular health, and strengthens the immune system. Maple syrup also contains active compounds that have been shown to help reduce the growth of cancer cells in vivo. However, as with molasses, it’s best to consume maple syrup in moderation due to its high sugar content.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, toffee, sauces, marinades, smoothies, shakes, glazes, beverage sweetener, savory recipes, syrups
How to Substitute White Sugar and Maple Syrup for Brown Sugar
Combine 1 teaspoon of light maple syrup with 1 cup of white sugar to create light brown sugar. To create a dark brown sugar, combine 1 teaspoon of dark or very dark maple syrup with 1 cup of white sugar. Substitute 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and white sugar for 1 tablespoon of brown sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
You may need to reduce the liquids and other sweeteners in your recipe to account for the addition of maple syrup.
Maple syrup is graded based on its color, so you have your pick of light to dark types. Light amber is standard and readily available in most stores. You can also opt for dark or very dark maple syrup, but it may be harder to find.
As a rule of thumb, rather than add more maple syrup to the white sugar to create a darker color, it is recommended that you use a light colored maple syrup for light brown sugar, and dark or very dark maple syrup for dark brown sugar.
Be sure to use real maple syrup for this substitution, as not all maple syrups are created equal. Looking at the label, some of the maple syrups on the market are not maple syrup at all; they’re actually corn syrup with maple flavoring, which would not yield the same results.
Honey is one of the most common alternatives to brown sugar because it’s inexpensive and readily available in practically any store. They come in several variants, each with their own unique hue and flavor profile.
Can I use Honey Instead of Brown Sugar?
Yes, you can use honey instead of brown sugar in a lot of recipes. Honey contains more fructose relative to glucose and as such, can be sweeter than regular table sugar. There are several types of honey that offer distinct flavor profiles, so you can use whichever works best for your recipe. Honey can be used for everything from baked goods to savory dishes. Some recipes even call for the use of honey as a tenderizer, as it helps break down proteins in meat.
Honey contains flavonoids and polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and free radical damage in the body. It has also been shown to reduce risk of developing cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, along with providing temporary relief for cough and cold symptoms.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, toffee, sauces, marinades, smoothies, shakes, glazes, beverage sweetener, savory recipe, syrups
How to Substitute Honey for Brown Sugar
Substitute 1 cup of brown sugar with ⅔ cup of honey. Clover honey is a common type and readily available in most stores. For a dark brown color, you can try buckwheat honey instead.
Due to its liquid form, you may need to balance out the rest of the recipe to account for the added moisture from the honey. This can be achieved by reducing the other liquids in the recipe, or adding in more dry ingredients.
Darker honeys have a richer and bolder flavor, with a more pungent aroma that can come across pretty strongly in recipes. When using a darker honey, you may want to do some trial and error first to avoid changing the flavor profile of the recipe.
4. Muscovado Sugar
Muscovado sugar is often mistaken for brown sugar because they look quite similar. Just like brown sugar, muscovado gets its beautiful brown color from molasses. It is made with unrefined sugar, which acts like a sponge and easily retains moisture from the molasses. The result is a moist, almost sticky sugar granule that is easily packed.
Can I use Muscovado Sugar Instead of Brown Sugar?
Definitely! Muscovado sugar has rich and complex flavors, with distinct caramel and toffee notes. This is what makes muscovado sugar a popular substitute for artisanal pastries, sauces, and dishes. When using muscovado sugar, you’ll be able to taste the difference in flavor, so keep this in mind. In terms of sweetness, both muscovado sugar and brown sugar are similar.
Muscovado sugar contains a higher concentration of molasses since unrefined sugar soaks up more of it. As such, muscovado sugar a more antioxidants like polyphenols, and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron. This is especially great if you’re looking for a more nutritious alternative to brown sugar.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, toffee, barbecue sauces, marinades, smoothies, shakes, glazes, beverage sweetener, syrups
How to Substitute Muscovado Sugar for Brown Sugar
Substitute 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with 1/2 teaspoon of muscovado sugar. Depending on how much additional moisture you can add to your recipe, you can mix as much as 1 tablespoon of muscovado sugar for every 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.
Unlike brown sugar, muscovado sugar contains more molasses, which is why it can affect the color, moisture level, and overall flavor of your recipe.
Packing the muscovado sugar in a measuring cup is not recommended due to its high moisture content, which can make it sticky especially when stored in a moist environment. It may be better to weight the muscovado sugar instead, to avoid adding too much of it to your recipe. Sift the muscovado sugar first before incorporating it into the recipe to avoid clumps.
5. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is a brown sugar substitute that’s widely regarded as a healthy, low-glycemic sweetener. It has a mild, coconut flavor that pairs well with desserts, and is medium brown in color. As the name implies, coconut sugar is a natural sweetener extracted from the sap of the coconut palm tree.
Can I use Coconut Sugar Instead of Brown Sugar?
Yes, coconut sugar works quite well as a brown sugar substitute. Coconut sugar has a mild coconut flavor, so it certainly adds a bit of flavor to your dish, in addition to its natural sweetness. The fine sugar granules aren’t as sweet as brown or white sugar, and contain slightly less moisture, so keep this in mind when rebalancing the rest of your ingredients.
If you’re looking to sweeten up your drinks or to add a sweet, nutty flavor on your granola or cereals, coconut sugar is a great substitute.
The process of extracting coconut sugar allows it to retain most of the nutrients found in coconut palm, such as iron, potassium, calcium, and powerful antioxidants. Moreover, it contains the fiber, inulin, which is why it has a lower glycemic index as compared to regular white or brown sugar.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, smoothies, shakes, beverage sweetener, garnishing, muffins, breads, Asian dishes, syrups
How to Substitute Coconut Sugar for Brown Sugar
Substitute 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with 1 tablespoon of coconut sugar.
When using coconut sugar in large quantities, the slightly lower sweetness level may become apparent. Simply add an additional 1 teaspoon of coconut sugar for every 1 cup that you add to the recipe.
Also, since coconut sugar does not hold a lot of moisture, you may want to play around with the liquids in your recipe in case it needs a little more. An additional 1 teaspoon of liquid per 2 tablespoons of coconut sugar should be more than enough.
6. Turbinado Sugar
These warm, golden amber-colored sugar crystals are partially refined sugars that can just as easily replace brown sugar in many recipes. Turbinado sugar is made from sugar cane, and is known for its subtle caramel flavor that pairs well with hot beverages such as hot chocolate or flavored coffees.
Can I use Turbinado Sugar Instead of Brown Sugar?
Yes, you can substitute brown sugar with turbinado sugar with some tweaks. Because of the unique raw form of turbinado sugar, you’ll notice right away that this sugar is very coarse as it contains a lot of moisture, making it a bit more challenging to integrate into your recipes. However, once you’re past this step, the rich flavor of turbinado sugar will be worth the extra effort.
When reaching for turbinado sugar as a healthier alternative, be aware that it actually has a similar nutritional profile as table sugar despite being only partially refined. It retains only some of the molasses for color, and it matches white sugar in calorie and carb content, which means it’s just as sweet.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, caramel, toffee, garnishing, muffins, breads, syrups, candied nuts, hot beverages, dry spice rubs, chocolate-based recipes, caramel-based recipes
How to Substitute Turbinado Sugar for Brown Sugar
Substitute 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
When making cookies with turbinado sugar instead of brown sugar, it’s especially important to add in more moisture, otherwise you’ll end up with a dry and crumbly cookie. Turbinado sugar contains less moisture than brown sugar, so you may need to alter the recipe to account for this.
7. Date Sugar
Date sugar is created by dehydrating dates and pulverizing them until they resemble ground sugar. It has a unique, butterscotch flavor that complements desserts and other sweet recipes.
Can I use Date Sugar Instead of Brown Sugar?
Date sugar can definitely be used as a substitute for brown sugar. It looks very similar to brown sugar, but up close, you’ll notice that it is composed of slightly fibrous grounds. Unlike brown sugar or white sugar, which dissolves completely in liquids, date sugar does not completely melt when cooked or baked. The added fibers can contribute towards the overall texture of the recipe such as in muffins or cakes, but it also makes it somewhat challenging to work with.
Since date sugar is naturally dehydrated and ground up into small particles, it still retains much of its fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Date sugar also contains a good amount of antioxidants that protect your cells against free radicals, which may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Additionally, date sugar has a lower glycemic index compared to other sugars, which helps with weight management and controlling blood sugar and insulin levels. This is particularly important if you have type 2 diabetes or are at risk of developing it.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, smoothies, shakes, beverage sweetener, garnishing, muffins, breads, bars
How to Substitute Date Sugar for Brown Sugar
Substitute 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with 3/4 tablespoon of date sugar.
Unlike regular white or brown sugar or even other healthy sweeteners, date sugar does not fully dissolve due to its fiber content. For best results, try to incorporate this added texture into your recipes.
8. Palm Sugar
Palm sugar is extracted from the sap of palm trees and has a mild, caramel flavor that’s quite popular in Southeast Asian cuisine. Depending on how it’s prepared, it may also have some subtle smoky flavors that can complement deeper sauces and stews.
Can I use Palm Sugar Instead of Brown Sugar?
Yes, definitely! Similar to brown sugar, palm sugar dissolves well in liquid even when heat is not applied. Aside from using this in baked goods and savory dishes, it is also an excellent sweetener for drinks like tea, coffee, and smoothies.
Palm sugar has a mild flavor, which makes it ideal for use in both sweet and savory types of recipes. It does not overpower the ingredients, nor does it stand out even when used in larger quantities. It looks a lot like brown sugar, but is less sweet and contains more nutrients per serving.
Palm sugar is unrefined and retains much of its nutritional value. It is a good source of zinc, potassium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, and copper. It is also known to help boost energy levels, maintain electrolyte levels, improve musculoskeletal health, increase antioxidant levels, and promote better digestion.
Best for: baked goods, cookies, pies, brownies, toffee, sauces, marinades, smoothies, shakes, glazes, beverage sweetener, savory recipes, syrups
How to Substitute Palm Sugar for Brown Sugar
Substitute 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with 1 tablespoon of palm sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
When using palm sugar in large quantities, the slightly lower sweetness level may become apparent. Simply add an additional 1 teaspoon of palm sugar for every 1 cup that you add to the recipe.
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