Whether you need a brown sugar substitute because you’ve suddenly run out or because you just want a healthier, more natural sweetener option, we have five brown sugar alternatives that you can use whenever your recipe calls for it. Find out what is in brown sugar that makes it so sweet (and so detrimental to your health) and what goes into making the alternatives—some of them you can whip up at home!
Brown sugar is, in essence, regular sugar combined with molasses, which lends it not only a brown color, but also that molasses flavor. Brown sugar is made in two distinct ways.
Here we have a mix of brown sugar hacks you can use to finish a recipe you’ve already started, plus some sugar alternatives that take you out of the refined sugar game completely. Either way, one of these brown sugar substitutes is sure to help you all the way through to a perfect muffin, cake, or chocolate chip cookie.
You’ve just found out that the brown sugar you buy in the supermarket is refined white sugar mixed with molasses, so if you’re out of brown sugar, you can cut out the middle man and just make your own. This is less of a substitute and more of a clever kitchen hack that no one thought to tell you about (like the little handles built into every single box of foil and cling wrap—if you haven’t heard of this go check right now, there are tabs on the sides that you can punch in to keep the roll from flying out of the box when you use it!).
Here’s a quick recipe for you: mix 1 cup of granulated white sugar with 2 tablespoons of molasses (or just 1 tablespoon if you want light brown sugar rather than dark). Now you’re looking at the real thing: the exact sort of brown sugar you started working with in the first place, and you haven’t lost or compromised a single step in your recipe.
Let’s say you’re perfectly willing to stir up your own brown sugar at home, but you don’t keep molasses around and don’t want to go to the grocery store when you’re already up to your elbows in dough and baking sheets. No worries: instead of molasses you can mix white table sugar with the same maple syrup you use on pancakes, waffles, and French toast in the morning.
While it isn’t exactly brown sugar, combining a cup of white sugar with a 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup will get the job done and not drastically alter the taste (in fact, you may even prefer the final product with that hint of savory maple thrown in).
Using a liquid syrup alternative may not be perfect since it will change the moisture content and consistency of your recipe. Nevertheless it may be far preferable if you’re truly out of all sugar, but don’t want to just throw away a day’s efforts mid-recipe.
To help counterbalance the difference in moisture, we advise that if you’re using honey or agave nectar to complete a recipe, for every cup of brown sugar, replace it with 2/3 cup of the liquid sweetener you have on hand. Then (and this is the critical part) reduce the other liquid ingredients in your recipe by 1/4 cup for every 2/3 cup of syrup. This should help the moisture content of your recipe stay consistent, and on the bright side: maybe you’ll prefer your new Frankenstein concoction to the original! Just keep your eye on the oven during the last few minutes of bake time, as these types of sugar substitutions may caramelize a lot quicker than brown sugar does.
Depending on what you consider “real brown sugar,” you may want to start purchasing raw sugars, meaning un- or partially refined brown sugars. Demerara or turbinado sugars can be easily acquired, and have undergone less of the refining process that prompts people to quit sugar altogether. Why wait for sugar and molasses to separate only to recombine them and still have all the detrimental health impacts of stripped and highly processed white sugar? By purchasing your sugar closer to its natural state, you can still enjoy the caramel flavors you’re used to, all while knowing it hasn’t been repeatedly chemically altered.
The only downside is that raw sugars have larger, coarser granules that might make your final product a bit more grainy than you’d like. You can account for this by manually grinding the raw sugar crystals through a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to get the consistency you need (you could even try finding a dedicated pepper grinder just for this purpose). Use of a food processor also might help raw sugar mix more thoroughly.
Another option is to dissolve the crystals before adding them to your recipe in whatever liquid ingredients are called for, be that oil, butter, or water. Muscovado sugar is notoriously known for having more moisture content than highly refined brown sugar, so you may have issues with clumping. To mitigate clumping issues, sift the sugar before you use it. And by melting down these raw sugars into a liquid you’re already going to include in your recipe, you can better ensure that the raw sugar is folded into the dish seamlessly.
If you’re perhaps over the idea of regular brown sugar after reading about how much refining and processing goes into it, we have three alternatives that are far more natural options.
Sugar addiction is real, and if you want to get that monkey off your back before it puts you at risk of metabolic syndrome and other chronic health issues (like obesity or type 2 diabetes), then natural sweeteners may your way out.
Now you know the secret behind what makes brown sugar brown, and you know that you can quickly use even plain white sugar in its place if you can do without the taste and color of molasses. If you’re less interested in substitutions and more interested in alternatives, coconut sugar, erythritol, stevia (not to mention other non-sugar sweeteners like sucralose and xylitol) are readily available. The field is wide open for finding the other side of sugar detox and never needing original brown sugar again. So, which brown sugar substitute is your fave?