Substitute for Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is a popular ingredient in a wide array of recipes, especially when it comes to baking. It’s known for its rich taste and moisture-capturing properties, but what happens when you’re in the middle of preparing a recipe and realize you’re out of brown sugar? Luckily, there are several substitutes that can be used to replace brown sugar in various recipes.

In this article, we will discuss some common and less common brown sugar substitutes and their effects on taste and texture. We will also cover how to make your own brown sugar substitute at home, the scientific aspects behind these substitutes, and address some frequently asked questions about using alternatives to brown sugar in your recipes. This information will help you achieve similar results in your baked goods while taking into consideration the differences in taste and texture that may occur.

Key Takeaways

  • Explore various substitutes for brown sugar in baking
  • Learn how to make your own brown sugar substitute at home
  • Understand the importance of considering taste and texture differences when using substitutes
soften brown sugar

Understanding Brown Sugar

What Makes it Unique

Brown sugar is a key ingredient in many recipes, providing a distinct caramel flavor and richness to your baked goods. Its unique makeup comes from the presence of molasses, which lends a natural sweetness, moistness, and color that sets it apart from regular white sugar. The percentage of molasses in the sugar determines its classification as either light or dark brown sugar.

Dark Brown Sugar Vs Light Brown Sugar

When it comes to dark brown sugar and light brown sugar, the main difference lies in their moisture content and flavor intensity. Generally, dark brown sugar contains more molasses (about 6-6.5% by weight) than light brown sugar (about 3-3.5% by weight). The higher molasses content in dark brown sugar results in:

  • A deeper, more intense caramel flavor
  • A darker color
  • Greater moisture content, which can make it suitable for recipes where added moisture is beneficial

On the other hand, light brown sugar has:

  • A milder, more subtle caramel flavor
  • A lighter color
  • Slightly lower moisture content compared to dark brown sugar

In most recipes, you can easily substitute one for the other based on your personal preference for flavor and color. However, keep in mind that doing so might slightly alter the taste and texture of the final product. As a rule of thumb, it’s always a good idea to follow the recipe’s specific requirements to achieve the best results.

The Impact of Brown Sugar on Baking

Interacting with Other Ingredients

When you bake, brown sugar plays a critical role in how your final product turns out. It interacts with other ingredients in your recipe, such as butter and eggs, affecting both taste and texture. For example, the molasses in brown sugar gives cookies a distinct flavor and chewiness, while also making cakes and quick breads moist.

Brown sugar also plays a significant role in leavening. It contributes to the creation of air pockets in your baked goods by reacting with acidic components in the recipe. This reaction produces carbon dioxide bubbles, giving baked goods a light and fluffy texture.

Importance in Recipes

In many recipes, brown sugar is an essential ingredient. It provides moisture, flavor, and structure to your baked goods. When substituting brown sugar with alternatives like white sugar, honey, or maple syrup, keep in mind that the outcome may not be exactly the same.

Brown Sugar SubstitutesConsiderations
White sugarLess moisture, may result in drier baked goods
HoneySweeter and more liquid, adjust liquids in recipe
Maple syrupSweeter and more liquid, adjust liquids in recipe

To maintain the desired consistency and flavor in your cookies, cakes, and other recipes, you may need to make additional adjustments when using a brown sugar substitute. Consider combining your substitute with a small amount of molasses to introduce that distinct flavor and moistness that brown sugar provides. Experiment with your recipes to find the perfect balance of ingredients for the ideal outcome.

how to soften brown sugar

Common Substitutes for Brown Sugar

Molasses and White Granulated Sugar

When substituting brown sugar, a simple and effective option is to mix molasses with white granulated sugar. By doing so, you achieve the moist texture and rich taste of brown sugar. For light brown sugar, use one tablespoon of molasses mixed with one cup of white granulated sugar. For dark brown sugar, increase the molasses amount to two tablespoons.

Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado sugar is a great alternative to consider, thanks to its strong molasses flavor and high moisture content. Available in both light and dark styles, it closely resembles brown sugar’s flavor and texture. Keep in mind that muscovado sugar’s distinct taste can overpower some recipes, so use it judiciously.

Turbinado Sugar

Another substitute to try is turbinado sugar. It is a type of raw sugar that retains some of its natural molasses, giving it a brown color and mild caramel flavor. Turbinado sugar offers a similar texture and sweetness to brown sugar. However, the flavor might not be as robust, and the sugar granules can be larger.

Turbinado Sugar1:1

Maple Syrup

When a liquid sweetener is acceptable, maple syrup can be a delightful brown sugar replacement. It offers a unique flavor that compliments many recipes, especially baked goods. Keep in mind that using maple syrup changes the consistency of your recipe, so adjustments to other ingredients might be necessary.

Maple Syrup¾ cup for 1 cup


Honey is another liquid alternative to brown sugar. Its natural sweetness and distinct flavor can serve as a delicious addition to various recipes. Since honey is sweeter than brown sugar, you may need to reduce the quantity. Also, remember that using honey affects your recipe’s moisture content.

Honey½ to ⅔ cup for 1 cup

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar offers similar benefits to honey when used as a brown sugar substitute. It is sweeter than brown sugar, so a smaller amount is required. Agave nectar has a lower pH, which may change the chemical reactions in recipes, especially those involving rising agents. Be cautious about when and how you use this alternative.

Agave Nectar⅔ cup for 1 cup

Coconut Sugar

Lastly, coconut sugar is becoming a popular substitute due to its minimal processing and low-glycemic properties. It has a slightly coarser texture and a caramel-like flavor that works well in various recipes. Coconut sugar can be substituted directly for brown sugar, retaining similar sweetness and texture.

Coconut Sugar1:1

Keep these substitutes in mind when you’re in need of a reliable brown sugar replacement. Remember that each alternative has its unique flavor, texture, and moisture content that can impact your final results, so choose wisely.

How to Make Your Own Brown Sugar Substitute

When you run out of brown sugar, there’s no need to worry. You can easily make your own substitute using just two ingredients: granulated sugar and molasses. In this section, we will guide you through the process of creating a brown sugar substitute.

Ingredient Ratios

To create your brown sugar substitute, follow this simple ratio:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses

Adjust the amount of molasses according to your taste preferences:

  • For light brown sugar, use 1 tablespoon of molasses
  • For dark brown sugar, use 2 tablespoons of molasses


  1. Add the ingredients: In a mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar and molasses.
  2. Mix: Use an electric mixer on low speed to combine the sugar and molasses. You can also use a fork or a whisk if you don’t have an electric mixer.
  3. Blend thoroughly: Ensure that the molasses is evenly distributed throughout the sugar. The mixture should have a uniform color and texture.
  4. Store: Once mixed, store your homemade brown sugar substitute in an airtight container to maintain freshness.

With your homemade brown sugar substitute, you can confidently continue baking and cooking your favorite recipes. Remember that the ratio mentioned above can be easily scaled up or down to produce the desired amount of substitute you need.

Differences in Taste and Texture

When substituting brown sugar, it’s important to consider the differences in taste and texture that may arise. Brown sugar has a unique, molasses-like flavor that sets it apart from white sugar. The molasses imparts a rich, slightly caramel taste, which may be difficult to replicate using other sweeteners.

Replacing brown sugar with white sugar may alter the taste of your baked goods, making them slightly less complex in flavor. This change may be acceptable for some recipes, but for others, the distinctive taste of brown sugar is essential.

Texture is another factor to consider when substituting brown sugar. Due to its moisture content, brown sugar can create a denser, more moist and chewy final product. In contrast, white sugar tends to lend a lighter, crispier texture. This means that when you substitute white sugar for brown sugar, you may notice your cookies or cakes have a different texture than when made with brown sugar.

To account for the difference in moisture, you can consider adding a small amount of extra liquid or adjusting the baking time and temperature to obtain a more satisfying result. Experimentation and adjustments may be needed to find the perfect balance between taste and texture when using a substitute for brown sugar.

In summary, be mindful of the changes in taste and texture that may occur when substituting brown sugar with alternatives. While some recipes may not be significantly affected, others may require adjustments to achieve the desired outcome.

Effects on Different Recipes

Impact on Baked Goods

Using a substitute for brown sugar may affect the texture and taste of your baked goods, such as cookies and cakes. Brown sugar contains molasses, which adds moisture to recipes and produces a softer, chewier texture. When using a substitute, your baked goods might turn out drier or crumblier. Additionally, the caramel-like flavor of brown sugar may be less pronounced when using alternatives.

To maintain the desired texture in your recipes, consider adding a bit of extra liquid, such as milk or water. Experimenting with the sugar substitute and adjusting the proportions will help you achieve the best results.

Usage in Sauces and Glazes

In sauces and glazes, such as barbecue sauce, brown sugar provides a rich, sweet flavor and contributes to a smooth consistency. Substitutes for brown sugar may alter the taste and texture of these recipes, potentially making them less sweet or more grainy.

When using a substitute in sauces or glazes, it’s essential to thoroughly dissolve the sugar to avoid a grainy texture. Heating the sauce or glaze and stirring constantly will help ensure even distribution of the sugar substitute. Additionally, you may need to adjust the amount of the substitute to achieve the preferred level of sweetness in your recipe.

Less Common Substitutes

Date Sugar

Date sugar is a lesser-known substitute for brown sugar, made from finely ground, dehydrated dates. You can use it as a 1:1 alternative to brown sugar in most recipes. It’s rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making it a healthier choice. However, there are some slight differences in texture and taste.

Since date sugar retains small granules of dehydrated dates, it doesn’t dissolve completely like conventional brown sugar. You may notice a slight grittiness in your final product. Additionally, date sugar has a naturally fruity flavor that might not work with every dish.

To use date sugar effectively, keep in mind:

  • It’s not well-suited for creamy or liquid-based recipes, such as caramel sauces or glazes.
  • When creaming butter, add date sugar slowly, as it might not blend as smoothly.
  • For recipes requiring sugar to dissolve completely, consider using an alternate substitute.

Palm Sugar

Another less common substitute for brown sugar is palm sugar. Often used in Southeast Asian cuisine, it is made by evaporating the sap from the flower buds of the palm tree. Palm sugar typically comes in blocks, grainy cakes, or sometimes a granulated form.

To use palm sugar in place of brown sugar:

  1. Grate or finely chop the palm sugar if it comes in a block or cake form.
  2. Measure it out as a 1:1 substitute, but be prepared to adjust the amount based on the desired sweetness.

Palm sugar boasts minerals, like potassium, magnesium, and zinc, offering some nutritional benefits over conventional sugars. However, its distinctive earthy taste may not be suitable for all recipes, so experiment with caution.


  • Palm sugar may not offer the same moistness as brown sugar, so adjustments in liquid ingredients might be necessary.
  • The earthy taste may not work in recipes requiring a more traditional brown sugar flavor.

Storing and Using Substitutes

Pantry Essentials

Storing substitute ingredients for brown sugar can help you easily adapt recipes and switch up sweetness profiles. Stock up your pantry with these essentials:

  • White granulated sugar: An all-purpose sweetener, white sugar is a particularly suitable substitute for brown sugar, especially if you mix it with molasses.
  • Molasses: Mixing molasses with white sugar, you can create homemade brown sugar. Adjust the amount of molasses to achieve different degrees of richness.
  • maple syrup: For a more natural flavor, maple syrup can also replace brown sugar in your recipes. Keep in mind that this will change the liquid content, requiring additional adjustments.

Remember to store these substitutions in airtight containers, away from heat and moisture, to prolong their shelf life.

Appropriate Swaps

When it comes to swapping substitutes in your recipes, consider the following guidelines:

  1. White sugar + molasses: To substitute 1 cup of brown sugar, mix 1 cup of white granulated sugar with 1-2 tablespoons of molasses. Adjust the amount of molasses to obtain the desired richness.
  2. Maple syrup: Replace 1 cup of brown sugar with ⅔ to ¾ cup of maple syrup. Decrease the liquid content in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of maple syrup used. You may need to reduce the cooking temperature by 25°F to prevent overbrowning.

By implementing these substitutes and storing your pantry essentials appropriately, you can achieve successful results in recipes that call for brown sugar.

Scientific Aspects of Substitutes

When looking for a brown sugar substitute, it is essential to consider the scientific aspects that affect the taste, texture, and overall quality of your baked goods.

pH Levels: The pH of the sweeteners should be taken into account, as it can affect the flavor and chemical reactions that happen when you bake. Both brown sugar and its substitutes have a similar pH range, around 4 to 6. This means that they should work well in most recipes without significantly altering the taste or chemical reactions.

Baking Soda: As a leavening agent, baking soda reacts with acidic ingredients such as brown sugar or its substitutes. When substituting a sweetener, assess its acidity, keeping in mind that good substitutes provide a similar acidic environment for the baking soda to react. As mentioned earlier, most substitutes offer a similar pH range to brown sugar, allowing baking soda to perform effectively.

Fructose Content: Brown sugar contains molasses, which has a higher percentage of fructose than plain table sugar. Fructose contributes to the sweetness, flavor, and moistness of baked goods. When choosing a substitute, consider sweeteners with a similar or higher fructose content. Honey, maple syrup, and molasses are good alternatives, as they all have a higher percentage of fructose.

Fiber Content: One advantage of some brown sugar substitutes like coconut sugar is their increased fiber content. Fiber helps slow down the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream, which can be beneficial for your overall health. Experiment with fiber-rich substitutes to find a balance between taste and nutritional value.

Remember to adjust the measurements and baking times as needed when using substitutes. By considering the scientific aspects discussed above, you can confidently choose a brown sugar substitute that ensures the success of your baked goods.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a suitable replacement for brown sugar in cookies?

A suitable replacement for brown sugar in cookies is a mix of white granulated sugar and molasses. For each cup of brown sugar, use 1 cup of granulated sugar mixed with 1-2 tablespoons of molasses. This will give you a similar texture and flavor in your cookies.

How can I create homemade brown sugar?

To create homemade brown sugar, simply combine white granulated sugar and molasses. For light brown sugar, mix 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of molasses. For dark brown sugar, mix 1 cup of sugar with 2 tablespoons of molasses. Combine until well blended.

Can I use dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar?

Yes, you can use dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar. The main difference is the amount of molasses present. Dark brown sugar may give your recipe a slightly stronger and richer flavor. Be mindful of this when substituting one for the other.

Best alternatives for brown sugar?

Some of the best alternatives for brown sugar include:

  • White granulated sugar and molasses mix
  • Coconut sugar
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Honey

Each of these substitutes has a unique flavor profile, so experiment with them to find the one that best suits your taste preferences and recipe requirements.

Which brown sugar substitutes are suitable for diabetics?

Diabetics can opt for sugar substitutes like Stevia, erythritol, or xylitol. These sweeteners are low in carbohydrates and calories, making them a suitable alternative for brown sugar. Keep in mind that these substitutes may have a slightly different texture or taste compared to brown sugar, so adjust your recipe as needed.

What is the correct ratio of maple syrup to replace brown sugar?

To replace brown sugar with maple syrup, use a ¾ cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of brown sugar. This substitution works well in recipes like baked goods and desserts. Remember to reduce the liquid content in your recipe by around ¼ cup to compensate for the added liquid from the maple syrup.

Our Best Substitutes For Brown Sugar

These options are sure to be a hit. So, gather your family and friends and enjoy. Let us know your thoughts!
5 from 6 votes
Total Time 9 minutes
Course Seasoning, Substitute
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 155 kcal


  • Mixing It Up - White Sugar And Molasses
  • More Mixing Less Molasses - Maple Syrup And White Sugar
  • Try A Little Coconut Instead
  • Honey Syrup, And Nectar… Oh My!
  • Going Raw
  • The Stickier The Better
  • The Easy Road


  • Try our kitchen tested brown sugar substitutes.


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Use in or with your favorite recipe.


Calories: 155kcal
Keyword brown sugar substitute
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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