From honey to coconut sugar, we are covering substitutes for brown sugar for all different uses including baking, drinks, and more! These are all brown sugar substitutes that we’ve tried and loved for their unique characteristics.
- What is Brown Sugar?
- Dark Brown Vs Light Brown Sugar
- Most Common Cooking Uses of Brown Sugar
- Best Substitutes for Brown Sugar
- Other Sugar Substitutes for Brown Sugar
- Lower Calorie Brown Sugar Replacements
What is Brown Sugar?
The best way to explain how brown sugar is made is to first touch on white sugar. After cane or beet sugar is harvested the sugary liquid is extracted and heated to form molasses. The crystallized sugar is then run through a centrifuge that further separates the sugar from molasses. Finally, the white sugar is subjected to a filtration process, often involving bone char (animal bone making it less than vegan friendly) to give us the white sugar we buy in the grocery.
Refined brown sugar is nothing more than this white sugar with the molasses added back in. Unrefined brown sugar is similar except that it is made by removing less of the molasses right up front in the sugar-making process.
Dark Brown Vs Light Brown Sugar
There are two main types of brown sugar and the only difference is the amount of molasses in them. Light brown sugar is usually about 3–4% molasses. Dark brown sugar can range from 6–10% molasses.
Light Brown Sugar: The light brown variant contains a lower amount of molasses and has a milder flavor. It adds a light caramel-like flavor to your cooking and is often used in recipes where a subtle caramel or toffee flavor is desired, such as in baking cookies or cakes.
Dark Brown Sugar: Dark brown sugar contains a higher percentage of molasses, which gives it a stronger, more intense flavor and a darker color. It is commonly used in recipes like gingerbread, barbecue sauces, and certain types of cookies or baked goods where a rich, caramelized flavor is desired.
Most Common Cooking Uses of Brown Sugar
There is seemingly no end to the uses for brown sugar. We won’t break this down between light and dark as that is really a matter of preference and recipe. If a recipe calls for light, you can substitute dark, and vice versa.
- Baking: Brown sugar adds moisture and flavor to baked goods like cookies, cakes, muffins, fillings, oatmeal, and more!
- Sauces and rubs: Brown sugar is a great option for sauces and glazes where its depth of flavor is used in barbecue sauces, caramel sauce, and toffee. It is also often used in dry rubs and marinades to add sweetness and texture.
- Frosting and icing: Brown sugar can be used to sweeten frostings and make caramel icing.
- Beverages: Brown sugar syrup can be used to sweeten cocktails or to create flavored syrups for coffee and tea.
Best Substitutes for Brown Sugar
The are the three best replacements for store bought brown sugar.
Homemade Brown Sugar
We believe the best brown sugar sub is homemade brown sugar. It is really pretty simple, and most cookbooks use the same proportion of ingredients. For each 1 cup of white sugar, you add 1 tablespoon of molasses to make light brown sugar or 2 tablespoons for dark brown sugar. Then mix in thoroughly until you get a uniform color and consistency.
More White Sugar
Our second recommendation is sort of a cop-out. Just use white sugar in equal proportions to what the recipe calls for brown sugar. We list this recommendation second not because we recommend it, but because it is the easiest option. Most of us tend to run out of brown sugar but not white making this the easy substitute.
If your brown sugar is as hard as a rock, don’t throw it out, just put it in the microwave for about 20 seconds. Or, if you have time, put a piece of bread in the air-tight container and let it sit for a day. It should soften up nicely.
The thing to keep in mind is that using white sugar will change the flavor of the recipe. If you are making something like pecan pie, this is not the substitution you want to make.
Honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and date syrup are all decent replacements for brown sugar. Of course, they are in liquid form, so you will likely need to adjust other liquid ingredients in your recipe (by slightly reducing them) to compensate.
The amount of each liquid syrup you use is not scientific and should be made largely to taste. Our best advice is to use between ½ and ¾ cups of any of these liquid sugars for each cup of brown sugar in your recipe. Yes, this is a wide range and perhaps we are being evasive, but these liquid sugars all have different tastes and affect various recipes differently.
While you can definitely Substitute honey for brown sugar, the taste of your recipe will definitely change. We think date syrup is probably the closest match of these.
We suggest you use any of these liquid sugars for liquid recipes like sauces, glazes, BBQ, or drinks vs baked recipes. If you do bake with these, your best bet with any substitute is to add the brown sugar replacement slowly giving you the ability to test your batter for taste and consistency before adding more.
Other Sugar Substitutes for Brown Sugar
All of these specialty sugars can be used as a sub for brown sugar. Use a 1:1 substitution ratio as a planning figure, but consider the taste that each of these will impart to the recipe you are cooking. As always, add some, test, and add more.
Maple sugar is a sweetener made from the concentrated sap of sugar maple trees. It is a natural and unrefined sugar, with a unique flavor characterized by its rich, caramel-like taste with subtle hints of vanilla and toffee.
This distinctive flavor makes it a popular choice in cooking and baking, particularly in recipes where a hint of maple sweetness can enhance the overall taste. It is not quite as moist as brown sugar, so you may have to adjust other liquids in your recipe to get the desired consistency.
Maple sugar has a lower glycemic index compared to brown sugar, which means it has a milder impact on blood sugar levels. This can be a beneficial choice for individuals who need to manage their blood sugar. Similarly, maple sugar is not processed in the way white sugar is which, as we said, can involve the use of bone char. Maple sugar is thus a better vegan option.
Date sugar is a natural sweetener made from dried ground dates. Unlike traditional brown sugar, which is typically made from sugar cane or sugar beets and is heavily processed, date sugar is a whole-food sweetener that retains many of the nutrients found in dates.
Dates are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6. This coupled with date sugar’s low glycemic index makes it a popular choice among health-conscious individuals and those looking for alternative sweeteners.
Date sugar doesn’t dissolve or melt in the same way as brown sugar, which can affect the texture of your baked goods. You may notice a slightly grainier texture in recipes when using date sugar. To mitigate this, you can try blending the date sugar into a finer powder before using it.
Palm sugar is a natural sweetener derived from the sap of various species of palm trees. It is a common sweetener in many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America, and has been used for centuries in traditional cooking and baking. It has a unique flavor that is often described as rich, caramel-like, and with hints of toffee or butterscotch.
Palm sugar comes in various forms, including solid blocks, granules, or a thick, syrup-like consistency. Palm sugar can be harder than brown sugar, so it may not dissolve as easily. To overcome this, you can either grate or finely chop the palm sugar before using it in recipes or dissolve it in a bit of hot water to create a syrup-like consistency.
Palm sugar is minimally processed and retains more of its natural nutrients compared to highly refined sugars like brown sugar. It is typically free from additives and preservatives, making it a better option for those seeking more natural sweeteners. Like the other substitute sugars we have discussed, it also has a lower glycemic index score than brown sugar.
Also known as coconut palm sugar or coconut sap sugar, it is a natural sweetener made from the sap of coconut palm trees. It does NOT have a coconut flavor and tastes a fair bit like brown sugar. It has been used as a traditional sweetener in various parts of Southeast Asia and has gained popularity as a healthier alternative to refined sugars in recent years. Coconut sugar is produced by collecting the sap from coconut palm trees, which is then heated and dehydrated to create granules or blocks of sugar.
One of the main reasons coconut sugar is considered a good replacement for brown sugar is its natural and unprocessed nature. Coconut sugar undergoes minimal processing. It retains more of its natural nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Coconut sugar has a mild caramel-like taste with hints of butterscotch, which can add a unique depth of flavor to your cooking. It also has a slightly coarser texture compared to brown sugar. You can address this by using a food processor to make it finer if needed. Also, keep in mind that the caramel-like flavor of coconut sugar may be more pronounced in some recipes, so it’s a good idea to experiment and adjust the quantity to suit your taste preferences.
Muscovado sugar is often dubbed “unrefined brown sugar,” and has a deep, dark brown color and rich, molasses-like flavor. It retains more of the natural molasses content from the sugarcane, which gives it a moist and sticky texture. Muscovado has a caramel flavor with a bit of a smoky aftertaste. This makes it a good substitute for dark brown sugar and for uses like BBQ sauce or gingerbread cookies where dark brown sugar is normally used.
For those seeking to avoid heavily processed foods, muscovado is a good option. The production process involves extracting sugarcane juice and then allowing it to evaporate, resulting in the crystallization of sugar with a high molasses content. Unlike refined sugars, Muscovado sugar does not undergo the same extensive refining and bleaching processes, which means it retains more of its natural nutrients and flavor.
When using it as a substitute keep in mind that muscovado has a more pronounced molasses flavor, so the resulting dish will have a richer taste. Muscovado is also more moist than brown sugar, it may affect the texture of your baked goods. To compensate, you can slightly reduce the liquid content in your recipe or add a little extra flour if necessary.
Turbinado is another type of minimally processed sugar sometimes called “raw sugar” though it is not strictly unprocessed. It gets its name from the turbine-like machine used in its production process. It is, however, less refined compared to white granulated sugar, as it retains some of its natural molasses content, giving it a light tan or brownish color.
We think it is a good light brown sugar substitute due to its similar color as well as a similar taste and texture. Turbinado sugar has a mild caramel flavor and a subtle molasses undertone, which is similar to light brown sugar.
Turbinado sugar has larger crystals than brown sugar, so it may not dissolve as easily in some recipes. To address this, you can either mix it more thoroughly or use a food processor to grind it into finer particles. In some recipes, especially those where the moisture content of brown sugar plays a crucial role, you might notice a slight difference in the texture or moisture of the final product when using turbinado.
Demera is a type of natural brown sugar known for its distinctive flavor and large, sparkling crystals. It is named after the Demerara region in Guyana, where it was originally produced. Demerara sugar is less refined than typical white sugar and retains some of its natural molasses content, which gives it its characteristic caramel-like flavor and golden brown color.
Demera is another good substitute for light brown sugar due to its similar flavor and color. Both demerara and brown sugar have a rich, toasty, and slightly caramelized flavor due to their molasses content. Like turbinado, demerara has larger crystals than brown sugar, so it may not dissolve as easily. Consider giving it a quick blitz in a food processor to make the crystals finer before incorporating it into your recipe.
Piloncillo is also known as panela and is a traditional form of unrefined sugar commonly used in Mexican and Latin American cuisine. It is often referred to as “brown sugar cones” due to its distinct cone-shaped appearance. Piloncillo is made by boiling sugar cane juice until it thickens and then pouring it into molds to cool and harden. The result is a dense, dark brown or black sugar product that retains the natural flavors and minerals present in sugarcane.
Piloncillo has a unique, rich flavor with notes of caramel, toffee, and molasses, and is a good dark brown sugar substitute. Piloncillo is typically sold in solid cones or blocks. You’ll need to grate, chop, or crumble it before use.
Lower Calorie Brown Sugar Replacements
Apple sauce is often used as a healthy alternative to brown sugar in various recipes. Apples naturally contain sugars, predominantly fructose. Clearly, applesauce isn’t as sweet as brown sugar, but the tradeoff is fewer calories and less sugar, making it a healthier choice for those looking to reduce their sugar intake. This is a good way to reduce the carb count in a recipe, or perhaps even make it keto-friendly. It is also a way to bump up the nutrition content of a recipe due to the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in apples.
How to Replace Brown Sugar with Applesauce
Plan on using equal parts of applesauce to brown sugar (1:1 ratio) and adjust from there. Apple sauce adds moisture to recipes, and can also contribute to a soft and tender texture in recipes like muffins, cakes, and pancakes. For other recipes the added moisture is a problem, so you will want to reduce the amount of other liquids in the recipe. For thick recipes like cookie bars or pecan pies, you should probably use a different brown sugar alternative.
Applesauce also imparts a very different taste than brown sugar, so take a look at your recipe and the taste you are trying to achieve. You can compensate for the flavor change by adding cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla. We can’t give a hard recommendation here without knowing the recipe. Keep in mind that in some recipes apple sauce is just not going to work due to flavor issues. Caramel sauces, BBQ sauces (kind of an obvious one), or pecan pie, all rely too heavily on the flavor of brown sugar.
Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is native to South America. Stevia is often used for its intense sweetness without the calories or negative health effects associated with traditional sugars. This makes it a popular choice for individuals looking to reduce their sugar intake or manage health conditions like diabetes and obesity.
How to Substitute Stevia for Brown Sugar
Stevia is significantly sweeter than brown sugar, with some estimates suggesting it can be up to 150 times sweeter. This means you need only a tiny amount of stevia to achieve the same level of sweetness as brown sugar. Of course, stevia lacks the distinct flavor of brown sugar. The compromise is to buy the stevia brown sugar blends you can find at the grocery.
You can use the blended stevia as a 1:1 replacement for brown sugar. If you want to use pure stevia, check the label on the package for their specific substitution instructions. Be prepared to experiment and adjust the amount you need in your batter until you get the right flavor and consistency. You will likely need to add a bit of liquid, perhaps apple sauce, to your batter to get the consistency you are after.
This wraps up our look at what to substitute for brown sugar. Which you choose should depend on personal preference and the recipe you are making. We hope you found some information you can use, and as always happy cooking from your friends at Live Eat Learn!