Top 10 Brown Sugar Substitutes


Brown sugar is a commonly used ingredient in baked goods—but what happens when you’ve already preheated the oven and cracked the eggs, only to realize you’re fresh out?

Fortunately, there are plenty of other sweeteners that you can use in a pinch as a substitute for brown sugar, ranging from honey to date sugar to DIY mixtures. 

If you can’t make it to the store in time for the chocolate chip cookie bake sale, try one of these ten easy brown sugar replacements. 

1. Raw Sugar

raw sugar brown sugar substitute

Raw sugar is one of the best brown sugar substitutes, as it tends to have similar amber coloring and caramel-like flavors. 

There are several different types of raw sugar, including turbinado and demerara sugar, which are minimally processed and have large golden-brown crystals derived from sugarcane. 

While turbinado sugar is a finer texture and contains natural molasses leftover from the refining process, demerara sugar is a bit thicker, contains a trace amount of molasses, and can have a sticky texture. 

Compared to brown sugar, raw sugars may not dissolve as easily—especially in low-moisture baked goods—but still provide a similar color and taste. 

Some ways to get around the low dissolvability include manually grinding the sugar crystals into a smaller texture (like with a spice/coffee grinder) or dissolving the sugar first into a small amount of warm or hot liquid before adding them into your batter or dough.

2. Coconut Sugar

coconut sugar brown sugar substitute

Also called coconut palm sugar, coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut trees and looks and tastes a lot like brown sugar.

Although coconut sugar is commonly claimed to be a healthy substitute for brown sugar, the two have very similar nutritional profiles, each providing 5g of sugar per teaspoon.

Coconut sugar and brown sugar can be substituted in recipes in a 1:1 ratio, despite the fact that coconut sugar has a lower moisture content than brown sugar. 

Therefore, replacing brown sugar with coconut sugar in baked goods can sometimes make them more dry and dense than anticipated. 

To prevent this from happening, you may want to add a bit of extra fat (butter or oil) to the recipe. 

3. Honey

honey brown sugar substitute

Although it seems unlikely that a liquid sweetener like honey could be used as a brown sugar substitute, it just requires a couple of recipe modifications to make it work seamlessly.

As honey is a liquid, using a 1:1 ratio here to replace brown sugar won’t work because it will make your recipe too high in moisture. 

While these recommendations may not work for every recipe, as a general rule of thumb, you can replace each cup of brown sugar with ¾ cup of honey, while reducing any other liquid sources by 1 tablespoon. 

You may also need to reduce the total cooking/baking time by 2-3 minutes because honey can caramelize faster than brown sugar, causing a burnt look and taste. 

But if kitchen math isn’t your forte, try sticking to the dry/granulated brown sugar replacements on this list. 

4. Maple Syrup

maple syrup brown sugar substitute

Maple syrup is a brown sugar alternative that works similarly to honey, meaning you’ll need to make the same adjustments to ensure your recipe isn’t too liquidy (i.e., replace each cup of brown sugar with ¾ cup of maple syrup while reducing any other liquid sources by 1 tablespoon).

Another option is to use maple sugar, which is maple syrup that has been boiled and cooked down to reduce its water content, then vigorously stirred until it forms granulated sugar. 

In this case, you’d likely use a 1:1 ratio of brown sugar to maple sugar. 

5. Agave Nectar

agave nectar brown sugar substitute

As another liquid sweetener, agave nectar will follow the same recipe modification rules as honey and maple syrup. 

One difference to remember between agave nectar and brown sugar is that agave doesn’t contribute as much color or sweetness. 

Therefore, you could consider using dark agave nectar (instead of light) to ensure that you get a more robust color and flavor in your recipe. 

6. Date Sugar

date sugar brown sugar substitute

Date sugar is made from dehydrated dates that are ground up to resemble sugar.

It is considered a healthy brown sugar substitute, as date sugar contains magnesium, potassium, and some antioxidants—however, keep in mind that it still has similar amounts of sugar. 

As date sugar has a similar consistency and taste to brown sugar, you can substitute it with a 1:1 ratio in any recipe. 

7. Muscovado Sugar

muscovado sugar brown sugar substitute

Muscovado sugar is a lesser-known sweetener that contains molasses, leading it to look and taste similar to brown sugar. 

However, muscovado sugar contains more molasses than brown sugar, causing it to have a higher moisture content that is more likely to clump together. 

Although you can use a 1:1 ratio when substituting muscovado sugar for brown sugar, you may want to sift it through a fine sieve first to remove clumps and allow for more even baking. 

8. White Sugar + Molasses

white sugar and molasses brown sugar substitute

If you want to go the DIY route, you can make brown sugar substitutes by mixing together regular white sugar and molasses

As these two ingredients are what brown sugar is made of, this is your best bet for creating the ideal brown sugar replica. 

To make light brown sugar from white sugar and molasses, you’ll use:

  • 1 cup of granulated white sugar
  • 1 Tbsp of molasses 

To make dark brown sugar, mix: 

  • 1 cup of granulated white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp of molasses 

9. White Sugar + Maple Syrup

white sugar and maple syrup brown sugar substitute

Similarly, you can make DIY brown sugar by combining white sugar and maple syrup. 

However, it’s not as perfect of a replacement as mixing white sugar and molasses, as molasses is thicker and has a more robust flavor than maple syrup. 

This recipe is similar to how you would make light brown sugar from white sugar and molasses, by combining

  • 1 cup of granulated white sugar
  • 1 Tbsp of pure maple syrup (ensure it’s not maple-flavored syrup)

10. Light Brown Sugar

light brown sugar brown sugar substitute

Lastly, if you have light brown sugar in your pantry, but the recipe calls for dark brown sugar, you can easily make it at home. 

You can make dark brown sugar from light brown sugar by mixing:

  • 1 cup of light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp of molasses 

As the only difference between light and dark brown sugar is their molasses content—dark brown sugar has about twice as much, giving it its darker color—simply adding more molasses to light brown sugar is a simple fix.

Brown Sugar Substitute FAQs

What Sugar Is Closest to Brown Sugar?

If you’re just including store bought sugars, raw sugars (like turbinado or demerara) or muscovado sugar are the closest brown sugar substitutes. 

Many think that muscovado is the closest sugar to brown sugar because it contains similar amounts of molasses and moisture.
If you want to DIY brown sugar, mixing white sugar and molasses is the closest thing you can get, as these are the two ingredients found in brown sugar.

Can You Make Brown Sugar From White Sugar?

Yes, you can make brown sugar from white sugar by mixing it with either molasses or maple syrup. 

You will add 1 tablespoon of molasses or maple syrup per cup of white sugar and mix it well. 

Can I Replace Brown Sugar With Honey?

Yes, you can replace brown sugar with honey, but you’ll need to adjust the ratios and liquid because honey is a liquid sweetener. 

You can replace each cup of brown sugar with ¾ cup of honey while reducing any other liquid sources by 1 tablespoon. 

Can You Make Brown Sugar Without Molasses?

All store-bought brown sugar will have molasses, as this is what gives brown sugar its distinctive color and caramel-like flavor. 

However, if you don’t like or can’t use molasses, you can replace brown sugar with coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, date sugar, or agave nectar.

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