Brown Sugar Substitutes: 8 Alternatives for Your Recipes

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 8/3/2022

What is brown sugar?

Brown sugar mainly contains sucrose and is usually prepared by adding molasses to white sugar which gives it a distinguishable brown color. Brown sugar substitutes include coconut sugar, muscovado sugar, palm sap sugar and others.
Brown sugar mainly contains sucrose and is usually prepared by adding molasses to white sugar which gives it a distinguishable brown color. Brown sugar substitutes include coconut sugar, muscovado sugar, palm sap sugar and others.

Brown sugar is a great addition to several dishes, especially desserts, and can be easily identified by its unique color. We look at some brown sugar substitutes and how to use them.

Brown sugar mainly contains sucrose and is usually prepared by adding molasses to white sugar which gives it a distinguishable brown color.

Brown sugar is made either by boiling brown sugar syrup or by adding molasses to white sugar. The brown color may vary depending on the content of molasses – the higher the molasses content, the darker the shade of brown of the sugar crystals.

Light brown sugar is typically used in baked dishes and sauces whereas the darker variety is used in the preparation of beans, gingerbreads, and barbeque dishes. A higher molasses content gives brown sugar a strong and rich flavor.

Brown sugar usually forms clumps due to its high moisture content. This is one of the reasons that it’s used in baked goods as it gives them a chewy texture and allows the baked dishes to retain moisture.

But there are several great alternatives to brown sugar that you can use to sweeten your dessert or any other dish you wish to make. Many of these alternatives are naturally sweet and healthier than brown sugar.

The increased awareness about the importance of reduced sugar intake also makes it essential to know about the alternatives that you already have in your kitchen.

Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is obtained from the sap of the coconut tree and has a brown, granulated appearance that looks very similar to sugar. Coconut sugar is typically not refined much and that’s why it’s rich in many minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium.

It’s also a great source of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. It additionally contains the same number of calories as table sugar (16 calories per teaspoon).

Coconut sugar has a unique hazel-brown color that is ideal for several desserts and savory dishes.

Although it has many nutrients, it’s very similar to regular sugar and is known to contribute to conditions such as obesity and diabetes. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your coconut sugar intake.

Muscovado sugar

Muscovado sugar, also known as Barbados sugar, is unrefined cane sugar that contains molasses in its natural form. The process of refining removes the molasses that many sugar sources naturally have and this is what gives refined sugar a white appearance.

Since muscovado sugar is unrefined, it retains the molasses and has a brown color that’s darker than other sugar sources and a distinct flavor of molasses.

Muscovado crystals are more granular than regular brown sugar and are also more sticky. This is due to the higher moisture content which also gives it a coarser texture.

Muscovado sugar is a specialty product and works as a great substitute when used in cereals, puddings, fruit cakes, marinades, and sauces. It can also be used with everyday beverages such as tea and coffee.

Palm sap sugar

Palm sap sugar is obtained from the sap/nectar of the flowers of many varieties of palm trees. This natural sweetener is used extensively in many Southeast Asian countries, where palm tree species are found abundantly.

The Philippines and Indonesia are the largest palm sap sugar producers in the world and use it in many traditional preparations and as a sweetener for beverages and foods. It’s also extensively cultivated and used in other countries such as India, Malaysia, and other warm regions in the U.S. such as Hawaii and Florida.

Palm sap sugar not only gives the local dishes a distinctly sweet flavor but also imparts a unique color and aroma to the dishes that it’s used in.

It has a low glycemic index and is rich in nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, and phenolics that give it antioxidant properties.

Turbinado sugar

Turbinado sugar is sometimes also called demerara sugar or raw cane sugar and is less processed than other sugar types. It retains natural molasses content, is golden in appearance, and has a mild caramel taste.

Turbinado sugar is processed just enough to make it a safe option, and its crystals are larger than the ones generally used in baking. Commercial packets labeled “raw cane sugar” often contain turbinado sugar.

Turbinado sugar is ideal for use with hot beverages and also works well when used to give finishing touches to pastries, cookies, and cobblers. This sugar is extensively used in restaurants and specialty shops.


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Date sugar

Although date fruits have been used in many forms such as syrups, flour, and spreads to add sweetness to dishes, date sugar is one of the most extensively used sugar substitutes.

It has high fiber content and is a great source of vitamins such as vitamin B and C. It’s also rich in antioxidants and carotenoids that reduce oxidative stress and improve vision respectively.

Dates contain many minerals such as selenium, magnesium, potassium, and copper. Eating 100 grams of dates every day gives you more than 15% of your daily mineral needs. Dates are also a high energy source with 100 grams of dates containing 314 calories.

Dates are used as a sugar substitute in several recipes because of their sticky nature that gives a liquid consistency to dishes. The stickiness is due to its high moisture content.

You can either buy date sugar from grocery stores or prepare it at home. For this, you need to dehydrate pitted dates (you’ll need a dehydrator for this) and grind the dehydrated fruit into sugar-like powder or granules that you can use in your dishes.

Date sugar or date syrup is the perfect choice to add sweetness to your cookies. It gives them a dark reddish color and makes them crisper.


Bees collect nectar from flowers to make honey. It takes nectar from millions of flowers to make one kilogram of honey. In this process, bees may cover a total distance that is equal to six times the earth’s orbit.

This natural sweetener is popularly used as a sugar substitute to make wines and beers. You can also use it to sweeten your breakfast cereals and baked dishes to make them sweet and healthy.

Honey also has an incredibly long shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about what you’ll do with any leftover honey after you’ve used some for your current dish.

Studies show that when stored in sealed containers, honey stays fresh for decades or even centuries.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is prepared from the fluid or sap of sugar maple trees. It’s been part of traditional preparations in North America for centuries with around 70% of the maple syrup supply in the world being produced in Canada.

Maple syrup is typically obtained by drilling a hole in the maple trees and collecting the sap that comes out of the hole in a container. The collected sap is then boiled until most of it evaporates and the thick sugary concentrate that’s left behind is filtered to take out the impurities.

This is the maple syrup that can be used as a sugar substitute to sweeten several dishes.

Although many grades of maple syrup are available commercially, all of them have the same density and maple sugar content (66.9%). The different varieties only vary in their color, which depends on the time of the year when the maple sap is extracted from the tree.

Lighter-colored maple syrup is used to add richness to entrees. Dark maple syrup has a robust flavor and is usually preferred for baked dishes, but sometimes, maple sugar is also used for this purpose.

To get maple sugar, the sap extracted from the maple trees is left to boil for a long time until most of the liquid evaporates. The remaining, thick residue is dried and crystallized to get maple sugar.

This can be used to flavor maple products and is also a great substitute for cane sugar. Maple is a great choice to prepare dishes such as cotton dandy, creams, seasonings, and barbecue sauce.

Liquid sugars

Liquid sugars are available in several types, flavors, and colors. As the name suggests, liquid sugars are used in dishes in their liquid form, which makes them a great addition to baked goods when you want them to retain moisture and prevent them from drying.

This also increases their shelf life. One of the most widely used liquid sugars is golden syrup, which is made from sugar syrup (liquid sucrose) and is broken down to glucose and fructose.

It has a caramel-toffee flavor and is used in Asian cuisine as a topping for sweet dishes. The caramel-toffee flavor is due to its molasses content.

Treacle is another type of liquid sugar that is prepared from syrup that remains after refining sugar. It has a rich flavor with hints of licorice and smoke and has a darker color than golden syrup.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

The best substitute for brown sugar

If you’re preparing a dish and run out of brown sugar, there are many tastier and healthier options to make it sweet. These include maple syrup, honey, date sugar, palm sugar, and coconut sugar.

You may have to pay more attention to the recipe based on what you choose, but any of these substitutes will give your dish an incomparable flavor.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/3/2022

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