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Brown Sugar Substitutes

Discover the best brown sugar substitutes and explore their usage ratios, as well as instructions to create a quick and easy replacement.

Brown sugar is an ingredient commonly used in baked goods such as cookies and cakes. Brown sugar is essentially white sugar with the addition of molasses. The molasses used to make brown sugar is made from sugar cane and adds moisture, flavor, and the distinct golden brown color that brown sugar is known for.

Brown Sugar Substitutes

Top 4 Best Brown Sugar Substitutes

While many people have a bag of brown sugar in their pantry or refrigerator, you may find yourself in the middle of a recipe only to discover that you’re all out. But don’t worry, there are a few ways to find a quick brown sugar substitute.

White Sugar

White Sugar is an easy swap for brown sugar since it is made primarily from white sugar in the first place. It won’t add that caramel color or the rich, nutty flavor, but it gets the job done without really compromising the recipe.

To use white sugar, use the same amount as the recipe calls for in place of the brown sugar.

White Sugar + Molasses

If you have molasses on hand, you can actually make your own almost-perfect brown sugar substitute by creating it yourself.

  • Light brown sugar recipe: Add 1 tablespoon of molasses to 1 cup of white sugar and mix.
  • Dark brown sugar recipe: Add 2 tablespoons of molasses to 1 cup of white sugar and mix.

White sugar + Maple Syrup, Agave Nectar, or Honey

If you don’t have molasses, you can make a pretty close alternative by using maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey.

  • Light brown sugar recipe: Add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey to 1 cup of white sugar and mix.
  • Dark brown sugar recipe: Add 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey to 1 cup of white sugar and mix.

Maple Syrup, Honey, or Agave

If you’re out of brown sugar and running low on white sugar, you can use honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar on their own as a brown sugar substitute as well.

To use these liquid alternatives in baked goods such as cookies, use 3/4 cup of honey, syrup, or agave in place of each one cup of brown sugar.

If your recipe is for sauces, glazes, or other non-baked creations, you can start with 3/4 cup of liquid per each cup of brown sugar and increase to a full cup if you need to adjust

More Brown Sugar Substitutes

If you don’t have brown sugar or white sugar, it’s unlikely that you’ll have other less common sugars on hand. But just in case, here are some of the other sugars that are great alternatives to brown sugar.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is similar in texture and sweetness to brown sugar and can be used in an easy 1-to-1 swap.

Date Sugar

If you like to swap out for healthier alternatives, date sugar is made from ground dehydrated dates. If you have date sugar on hand, you can use this in a 1-to-1 swap.

Muscovado Sugar

Not commonly known, muscovado is an unrefined, raw sugar made from sugar cane with naturally occurring molasses. Since the molasses has not been removed from muscovado sugar, it will have a similar profile to brown sugar, but it is coarser in texture. Use this in a 1-to-1 swap with brown sugar.

Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar like “Sugar In The Raw” is a raw, coarse sugar. It will have a different texture if you’re mixing it into baked goods, but it can be used in an easy 1-to-1 swap for brown sugar.

Brown Sugar Substitute Considerations

Before selecting one of the best brown sugar substitutes listed, there are a few things to consider to make the best choice. You’ll want to consider taste as well as application.

  • Flavor profile – White sugar, and the combination of white sugar with molasses, maple syrup, or honey will have the most similar flavor profile as brown sugar since they are essentially the same thing.
  • Nutritional value – If you want a different sweetener for health considerations, opt for date sugar or coconut sugar.
  • Application – Consider your recipe. If you’re cooking sauces, glazes, and other non-baked goods, any of the liquid substitutes will work. Many baked goods may also work well with the liquid alternatives, but to keep consistent with texture and overall flavor profile, the white sugar combinations will be your best brown sugar substitutes.

Overall, there are several great alternatives to choose from when you don’t have any brown sugar on hand. You can even make your own quickly with a base of white sugar when you’re in a pinch. Experiment with these brown sugar substitutes and see what works best for you.

Dark Brown Sugar vs Light Brown Sugar

The most common forms of brown sugar used in baking are light and dark brown sugar. Other less common types of brown sugar include turbinado, muscovado (light and dark), demerara, piloncillo, jaggery, and black sugar.

You can substitute light brown sugar for dark brown sugar or vice versa in equal parts (1: 1 ratio). In recipes for cookies, cakes or whatever you’re baking just expect subtle but potentially noticeable differences in color, flavor and texture.

Differences Between Light and Dark Brown Sugar

  • Molasses: The only difference between light and dark brown sugar is the amount of molasses added to the sugar. Dark brown sugar (6%-9%) contains about double the molasses compared to light brown sugar (3%-5%).
  • Taste: Light brown sugar will have a sweet, nutty flavor with hints of caramel and vanilla. Dark brown sugar will have a similar sweet, nutty flavor but also spiced flavors and even subtle hints of chocolate.
  • Color: Light brown sugar will yield a lighter color in baked goods while dark brown sugar will yield a darker color.
  • Moisture: Dark brown sugar has slightly more moisture which may result in in cookies expanding a bit more or a cake rising a little higher but the differences most likely will be subtle, if even noticeable.

A recipe should specify light or dark brown sugar but if a recipe simply calls for “brown sugar”, “regular brown” or “golden brown”, it’s safe to assume the recipe is referring to light brown sugar. Light brown sugar is typically the default when not specified or listed as regular or golden.

Common Recipes Using Light Brown Sugar

Common Recipes using Dark Brown Sugar

  • Gingerbread cookies, cake and brownies
  • Pecan pie
  • Toffee
  • Brown sugar cookies
  • Coffee Cake Streusel
  • Bananas Foster
  • Oatmeal Stout Cake
  • Molasses Cookies
  • Bourbon Chicken

Can I still use brown sugar that has hardened?

If your brown sugar hardened in the bag rest assured you don’t need to buy more or use a substitute. Hardened brown sugar has simply lost its moisture and just needs to be restored. Here is a quick guide for softening brown sugar in a microwave, oven or using a sealed container with moistening agents.

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Heidi Deal
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