Food & Drink

8 Best Brown Sugar Substitutes for Your Cooking and Baking Needs

Published on July 25, 2023 | 0 Comments
brown sugar substitute

Looking for the perfect brown sugar substitute? Brown sugar is a staple in any pantry for baking, required for everything from chewy chocolate chip cookies to wholesome granola. Its unique, rich molasses flavor is used in candies, barbecue sauces, honey glazes and oatmeal recipes. While almost every kitchen has a bag tucked somewhere in a fridge or pantry, you may be in a pickle if you find yourself lacking it when you most need it.

Never fear, we’ve rounded up a few brown sugar substitutes and alternatives that will work in a pinch if you find you’ve run out. These brown sugar alternatives are also an easy fix if your previously opened bag has caked into a solid mass — a real danger if your brown sugar stash is exposed to too much moisture or air for too long between uses. Even better, many of these alternatives are already in your kitchen.  


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What Is Brown Sugar?

Most varieties of refined sugar begin with sugar cane or sugar beets, which are harvested, cleaned, chopped, milked and pressed to create raw molasses. What we know as white sugar is harvested from the crystals created in this process, which are then separated, dried and milled. 

Brown sugar, however, is a less refined version in which the crystals are harvested at an earlier point in the process, along with some of the molasses which gives brown sugar its signature flavor. There are different intensities and darknesses of molasses content, creating light brown sugar (3.5% molasses), dark brown sugar (6.5% molasses) and muscovado, a coarse variety of brown sugar from Barbados that has a higher molasses content and is often used in tea. 

Sugar and sugar cane farming were initially brought back to Europe from Asia by Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s. Fervor and demand for the sweet substance across Europe and the American colonies would eventually manifest in sugar cane becoming a chief crop of the Caribbean region’s similar climate. Here, unscrupulous farmers made money off sugar crops and the deadly slave trade to maintain them. 

Brown sugar became popular as an alternative to rarer and more expensive white sugar by the 1700s, when it became a staple in many recipes for baking.

brown sugar
via Canva

Purpose of Brown Sugar in Cooking and Baking

Brown sugar is known for its rich, deep, molasses flavor and is often a favorite ingredient in baking, providing both flavor and texture. The results of brown sugar as a key ingredient usually lead to a chewier, more moist texture that is a favorite for cookie recipes in particular. 

Brown sugar is also a popular ingredient for glazes and sauces, providing a sweetness that complements meat and fruits. It is also a common ingredient in candy-making, as well as a popular topping for oatmeal and granola.

Looking for ways to create delectable recipes using brown sugar or brown sugar substitutes? Try a cooking class! You’ll find cooking classes near you, including cooking classes in New Orleans and cooking classes in Portland. You can also find a wealth of online cooking classes to enjoy from your very own kitchen.

Learn to use brown sugar substitutes in cooking classes near you.
via Canva

8 Brown Sugar Substitutes 

1. White Sugar

The most readily available substitute for brown sugar, white sugar can easily be swapped out in an equal ratio for its darker counterpart. While the sweetness is much the same, the lack of molasses and moisture may have an effect on the texture of your finished recipe. End results will be less chewy and likely more crispy. 

You can achieve a bit more moisture by combining dry sugar with a liquid sweetener of some form, including maple syrup, agave nectar or honey. 

White sugar works as a brown sugar substitute.
via Canva

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2. Honey, Agave Nectar or Maple Syrup

While combining them with white sugar may produce an effect similar to brown sugar, these sweet liquids can also be a brown sugar substitute all on their own, particularly if the finished product is a liquid like a glaze or sauce. You can substitute ⅔ cup of these liquids for a cup of brown sugar, but you will want to slightly reduce your other liquid contents like water or oils to make up for the additional liquid content. 

Maple syrup is a good brown sugar substitute.
via Canva

3. White Sugar and Molasses 

Perhaps the best and truest substitute for brown sugar (mostly because it’s not really a substitute) is to combine white sugar with molasses itself, effectively creating your own DIY brown sugar. Mix one tablespoon of molasses to each cup of refined white sugar to create a substitute for light brown sugar. Add two tablespoons of molasses for recipes that require dark brown sugar. You can also make light brown sugar dark by simply adding more molasses to it. 

Because of its texture and flavor, this mixture is the ideal substitute for brown sugar in cookies where a chewy texture is key.

spooning out molasses
via Canva

4. Raw Sugar 

Raw sugars are created by arresting the sugar refining process earlier in the game, creating a coarse, less-milled sugar that is often considered a great alternative to more processed sugars. You will usually find it sold in packets as an alternative to other sweeteners for coffee and tea. 

Its official name, turbinado, features large, amber-colored crystals that are slower to dissolve. Turbinado can be used as an alternative to brown sugar but may make recipes dryer and harder to mix for smoothness. As a brown sugar replacement, you can grind the crystals further yourself to make them finer. You can also dissolve them thoroughly in liquid ingredients like butter, oil and water during heating for best results.  

Raw sugar makes a great brown sugar substitute.
via Canva

5. Muscovado 

A denser, solid version of brown sugar in its least refined form, muscovado is often used to sweeten tea in the Caribbean, but it can also be used as a substitute for other brown sugar products. It is stickier and clumpier due to the high molasses content but can be blended into other ingredients to create a smoother texture. It makes an easy dark brown sugar substitute in particular.

via Canva

6. Coconut Sugar

Sometimes billed as a healthier alternative to other types of sugars, coconut sugar comes from the sap of the coconut palm. As a sub for brown sugar, it is much dryer and denser. This can be remedied by adding extra fats like butter or oil to make up the difference in moisture for baked goods. 

Coconut sugar is a healthier brown sugar substitute.
via Canva

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7. Date Sugar

If you’re avoiding refined sugars, date sugar may be a perfect brown sugar replacement. It’s created from dehydrated dates and has a similarly sweet, more caramel-like flavor to brown sugar. Try ⅔ cup of date sugar for every cup of brown sugar for a healthy brown sugar substitute.

dates in a bowl
via Canva

8. Maple Sugar

Another unrefined brown sugar substitute, maple sugar involves crystals culled from maple tree sap. It therefore boasts a flavor similar to that of maple syrup. While not ideal for baking or recipes involving heat, it is perfect as an addition to granola or sprinkled over oatmeal. 

Maple sugar makes a quick sub for brown sugar.
via Nova Maple Syrup

Whatever you are cooking up, brown sugar adds sweetness, chewiness and decadence to your favorite dishes. If you find yourself lacking it in your pantry or are looking for alternatives to refined sugar, trying out these great brown sugar alternatives will surely lead to delicious results. 

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