Few things are worse than getting halfway through a recipe for the perfect chocolate chip cookie and realizing you’re out of brown sugar.
However, there are several suitable substitutions you can use in a pinch — many of which you may already have sitting in your cupboard.
Here are 7 clever replacements for brown sugar.
1. White sugar plus molasses
A combination of white sugar and molasses is your best bet for a brown sugar substitute, as that’s exactly what brown sugar is made of.
To make your own light brown sugar, mix 1 cup (200 grams) of granulated white sugar with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of molasses. If you need dark brown sugar, increase the molasses to 2 tablespoons (30 ml).
And just like that — you have brown sugar.
Summary: To make your own brown sugar, mix 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of molasses with 1 cup (200 grams) of granulated white sugar.
2. White sugar plus maple syrup
Traditionally, brown sugar is made using a mix of granulated white sugar and molasses.
If you don’t have molasses on hand, you can easily swap it out for maple syrup with almost no change to your recipe’s final product.
Combine 1 cup (200 grams) of granulated white sugar with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of pure maple syrup to make a brown sugar substitute that can fool even the most sophisticated palette.
Summary: Combine 1 cup (200 grams) of granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of maple syrup to make an almost-perfect brown sugar substitute.
3. Coconut sugar
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut trees.
It’s often marketed as a healthier sugar alternative, as it contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber that aren’t found in more refined sugar sources.
You can easily swap coconut sugar and brown sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
Though coconut sugar looks and tastes a lot like brown sugar, it doesn’t hold as much moisture. This can affect the texture of certain baked goods, potentially making them slightly dryer or more dense than intended.
To improve the moisture content, try adding a little extra fat, such as butter or oil, to your original recipe. You can also try melting the coconut sugar on a stovetop before adding it to your recipe.
Summary: Coconut sugar may be evenly swapped for brown sugar, but it can make certain baked goods drier or denser than intended.
4. Honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar
With a few simple recipe modifications, honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar are all suitable replacements for brown sugar.
Because these substitutions are liquid, you’ll want to take into account how the extra moisture may affect the outcome of your recipe — especially when it comes to baking.
Exact substitution measurements vary depending on the particular recipe in question, but you can use these basic tips to get started:
- Substitute each cup of brown sugar (200 grams) with 2/3 cup (160 ml) of liquid sweetener of your choice.
- For every 2/3 cup (160 ml) of liquid sweetener used, reduce other liquid sources by approximately 1/4 cup (60 ml).
You may also want to consider reducing cooking time by a few minutes, as these types of sugar replacements may caramelize more quickly than brown sugar.
Summary: You can use liquid sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar to replace brown sugar — but you’ll likely need to adjust your recipe.
5. Raw sugars
Raw sugars like turbinado or demerara make great brown sugar substitutes, as their naturally light amber colors and mild caramel flavors are similar to the real thing.
In most recipes, you can trade raw sugars for brown sugar in an even proportion without noticing much difference.
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However, raw sugars are significantly drier and more coarse than brown sugar, which may impact your recipe’s result.
The coarse raw sugar granules don’t always mix into dough or batter as uniformly as brown sugar, leaving behind a grainy texture. This is especially true for low-moisture baked goods or those intended to have a very delicate texture.
If you have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, you can manually grind the sugar crystals into a finer texture that will more easily integrate into your recipe.
You can also try partially dissolving the sugar crystals in a small amount of warm liquid — such as melted butter, oil, or water — before adding them to your batter.
Summary: Raw sugars like demerara or turbinado can be substituted for brown sugar in equal proportions. Still, because raw sugar crystals are very coarse, they don’t always mix into batters and doughs as uniformly as brown sugar would.
6. Muscovado sugar
Muscovado sugar is a minimally refined sugar that makes a great substitute for brown sugar because — like traditional brown sugar — it contains molasses.
However, the molasses and moisture content of muscovado is much higher than that of regular brown sugar. This makes it stickier with a greater tendency for clumping.
Muscovado sugar can be traded equally for brown sugar in almost any recipe, but if you’re baking with it, you may want to consider sifting it to remove any clumps before mixing it into your dough or batter.
You could also try using an electric mixer and adding in the muscovado a little at a time to improve its integration into your recipe.
Summary: Muscovado is a minimally refined dark brown sugar that can be used as a regular brown sugar substitute. It’s stickier than brown sugar, so it may require some extra work to mix it into your recipe — especially if you’re using it for baking.
7. Plain white sugar
When all else fails, you can replace brown sugar with an even measurement of granulated white sugar without fear of ruining your recipe.
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White sugar lacks the same rich flavor that brown sugar adds, but depending on the type of recipe, you may not notice much flavor change at all.
Where you may notice a difference is in the texture. Brown sugar adds a dense chewiness to certain types of baked goods like cookies. When brown sugar is replaced with white sugar, you may end up with a slightly crispier result. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Summary: White sugar can be used to replace brown sugar, producing only slight changes in texture and flavor.
Running out of an ingredient you need for a recipe can be stressful, but in the case of brown sugar, there’s no need to fret.
There are a variety of common ingredient options — including white sugar, molasses, maple syrup, and coconut sugar — that can replace brown sugar.
Depending on the substitute you choose, you may have to make some minor adjustments to your recipe — but after that, it’s smooth sailing.