10 Best Substitutes For Brown Sugar

When you see a great new recipe, it's natural to want to try it right away. But it can be frustrating to find that you're out of one of the pantry staples you need, like brown sugar. Luckily there are some substitutes you can use in place of brown sugar, but it's important to understand which is best.

Brown sugar is essentially sugar that still has some sugar cane juice or molasses in it, though some has evaporated. Granular sugar has all of the molasses removed from it, and light brown sugar has had up to 10% molasses by weight added back into white granular sugar, per King Arthur Baking. There are more differences between white sugar and brown sugar that don't make them exactly interchangeable, though.

Brown sugar is acidic and can lower the pH of a recipe. This means that baking soda is often added as a leavening agent because the reaction between the low pH brown sugar and the high pH baking soda help baked goods rise. White sugar does not have the same pH as brown sugar, which can lead to uncertain results. Some baked goods might be fine, while others might not spread or rise correctly if you use white sugar as a substitute. However, The Pioneer Woman claims that it's still possible to make a swap. Fortunately, there are plenty of brown sugar substitutes that will make your baked goods turn out well every time.

1. Granulated sugar and molasses

Some of the best substitutes for brown sugar are a combination of granulated white sugar and another liquid sweetener (via The Pioneer Woman). The closest swap for brown sugar is granulated white sugar and molasses. This is because those are the two ingredients that make up brown sugar, just in their more processed states. Another great thing that makes this swap so easy is that you don't even have to mix them together first; you can simply add them to your recipe at the same time.

For every cup of dark brown sugar you need, use one cup of white granulated sugar and one tablespoon of molasses. You can use the same ratio but with two teaspoons of molasses instead of a tablespoon if you need a swap for light brown sugar.

Other substitutes will not be quite as exact between dark and light brown sugar. Use this alternative for all kinds of recipes ranging from baked goods to marinades.

2. Granulated sugar and maple syrup

Maple syrup paired with granulated sugar is the next best swap in terms of white sugar and liquid sweeteners. The flavor will be the closest to molasses and white sugar or brown sugar without using those ingredients. A bonus is that the result in the final product should be just the same as using brown sugar (via Healthline). 

No need to add baking soda to baked goods, and no flat cookies here. Of course, you could also use this combination in plenty of other recipes like salad dressing or marinades. You could even mix the two together and use it as a crumble on top of muffins.

To make this substitute, combine one cup of white granulated sugar with one tablespoon of maple syrup. You can combine them first if you'd like, or you can simply add them in one by one to whatever batter or dough you're mixing up. It just depends on the type of recipe you're following.

3. Muscovado sugar

According to The Pioneer Woman, muscovado sugar is like brown sugar in overdrive. This type of sugar has even more molasses in it than brown sugar, which makes it a great substitute for many baked goods. Because muscovado sugar has more molasses in it, it should have a higher moisture content. That means baked goods that use this substitute as opposed to brown sugar should be just the right taste, texture, and height.

For the closest results to brown sugar, opt for light muscovado sugar, which contains slightly less molasses than its darker version. If you only have or can only find the darker kind of muscovado sugar, it should work fine, too. Just be aware that it will have a stronger molasses flavor and will result in darker baked goods.

To swap muscovado sugar into baked goods, marinades, and rubs for brown sugar, use equal parts to the original ingredient. The one-to-one substitution makes it an easy way to get the desired outcome.

4. Date sugar

If you've ever eaten a date, then you likely know how incredibly sweet they are. That's why they're dried and ground into a fine powder to form date sugar. According to The Pioneer Woman, date sugar is a healthy way to replace refined sugars. However, it's also a great substitute for brown sugar specifically. 

Date sugar works beautifully in place of brown sugar, but it is an expensive swap. That's why The Kitchn suggests using it only in recipes where you can taste the caramelization of the sugar. Think along the lines of rubs for meat, inside cookies with more subtle flavors, or even as a crumble for muffins, oatmeal, and more.

Date sugar can be used in equal parts to brown sugar. So whatever measurement of brown sugar the recipes call for, simply use date sugar in its place. It's an easy swap that won't alter your dishes too much.

5. Granulated sugar and honey

Granulated sugar with honey is another alternative you can use if you don't have molasses or don't want to use it in your recipe (via The Pioneer Woman). While the honey will give the white sugar more depth of flavor, it won't be quite as intense as the deeper flavor of molasses. However, you should still get some of the caramelized notes from the honey.

This substitute is also widely adaptable for recipes. So, you can use it in anything from cakes and cookies to salad dressings and marinades. Just keep in mind that you might need to use baking soda to ensure a good rise and softer texture in baked goods. Otherwise, they might turn out a little falter and crisper than you'd expect.

The ratio is slightly more, with one cup of white sugar and two tablespoons of liquid sweetener per cup of brown sugar you need.

6. Granulated sugar and agave nectar

Like granulated sugar and honey, you can also use white sugar and agave nectar with similar results in the same range of recipes (via The Pioneer Woman). 

The primary difference is that agave has an even lighter and more subtle flavor than honey, less so than maple syrup or molasses. So don't expect much of a caramel flavor in the finished product. There will be slightly more depth of flavor than simply using white sugar alone, though. Of course, you'll also need to add baking soda in most baked goods to ensure the proper rise and texture is achieved as well.

To use granulated sugar and agave nectar in place of brown sugar, use one cup of white granulated sugar and two tablespoons of agave nectar. This is enough to replace one cup of brown sugar. With this ratio, you can easily make more or less as needed, too.

7. Coconut sugar

Made from the sap of coconut trees, coconut sugar is an excellent swap for brown sugar. Its dark appearance and slightly different flavor will help your dishes get the same golden color as they would if brown sugar were used as well as a good depth of flavor. 

The only drawback to using coconut sugar is that it doesn't have the same moisture content that brown sugar does. While that's usually fine for some recipes like dressings, rubs, or marinades, it isn't okay for baked goods. It can cause cookies or cakes to be on the dry side and have a more compact texture. To avoid this, you'll need to add in a bit of extra moisture with fats like oil or butter, according to Healthline.

The great thing about coconut sugar is that it's easy to substitute it mathematically. You can use a one-to-one ratio or the same amount of coconut sugar that you would use of brown sugar.

8. Turbinado sugar

Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that comes in larger crystals making it a chunky, grittier sugar (via The Pioneer Woman). Turbinado sugar isn't as dark as brown sugar or some other substitutes, so you won't get the same moisture content, depth of caramel flavor, or golden brown color in baked goods. 

Plus, turbinado sugar doesn't always incorporate into baked good batters, doughs, and mixes as easily as sugar that's made from smaller crystals. For that reason, you might want to reserve this brown sugar alternative for things like marinades and rubs. Otherwise, you'll need to spend more time making sure the sugar fully dissolves into the other ingredients.

Like other sugar alternatives for brown sugar, turbinado sugar can be used in a one-to-one ratio. Simply add the same amount of turbinado sugar that you would brown sugar. If you absolutely must use it in baked goods, consider adding a drop or two of boiling water to the coarse sugar to help it break down.

9. Palm sugar

Palm sugar, which is sometimes referred to as date palm sugar as The Pioneer Woman notes, is another suitable alternative to brown sugar. Palm sugar comes in a more solid form inside of tubes or cones which means that the sugar needs to be cut with a knife and minced down to a more granulated sugar size before using it. It's also an expensive alternative; however, the flavor will be quite similar to the deeper caramel notes that brown sugar brings to dishes. 

Keep in mind when baking that the color of the baked goods will be much darker than with brown sugar because palm sugar is so dark itself.

Palm sugar is another one-for-one substitution for brown sugar (via The City Cook). That way you can simply add in the same about of palm sugar that you would brown sugar to almost any recipe. Try it in baked goods, meat rubs, marinades, granola, and as a topping.

10. White granulated sugar

When there's absolutely nothing else on hand and you need a replacement for brown sugar right away, white granulated sugar can do in a pinch (via Healthline). You won't get the same depth of flavor or the color that you would from brown sugar, but the dish will be appropriately sweet. If baking, you would also need to use baking powder to ensure the right rise is accomplished as well.

Of course, you can use white granulated sugar in tons of recipes ranging from marinades and salad dressings to baked goods of all kinds and more. From pies and cakes to cookies and bars, white sugar is fine so long as you know the flavor and texture won't be exactly the same as if brown sugar had been used.

To use white granulated sugar in place of brown sugar, use it in equal parts. The one-for-one substitution is, again, an easy one to pull off.