What to Know About Brown Sugar Substitutes

Brown sugar is often used in baked goods to provide a richer flavor than its lighter alternative, white sugar. If you want to substitute something else for brown sugar in recipes, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Brown Sugar?

It’s made in one of two ways. It’s either boiled down from brown sugar syrup, or molasses is added to white sugar. When you shop at the grocery store, you may notice there are light and dark brown sugars. Light brown sugar has less molasses, while dark brown sugar has more.

Molasses adds depth to the sugar, giving it a thicker consistency and richer taste than plain white sugar. Brown sugar also tends to clump when heated. This allows baked goods to hold moisture and have a chewy texture.

Brown Sugar Replacements

Whether you're trying to be healthier or you just don't have any brown sugar in your pantry, there are several brown sugar substitutes you can use in recipes.

Maple syrup. Since it’s a liquid, you may need to adjust the other wet ingredients in your mixture when baking. Maple syrup does still affect your blood sugar though, so it may not be a safer sugar alternative if you have diabetes.

Fruit. Bananas, berries, and raisins all add natural sweetness to recipes. When you add fruit in place of brown sugar, you may need to adjust other wet ingredients so that your recipe isn’t soggy.

Honey. It’s still considered an added sugar, but honey is a natural alternative to refined sugars. There are no additives or preservatives in honey. Since it’s sweeter than sugar, you don’t have to add as much to a recipe. Plus, it has a lower glycemic index, so it’s a better choice for people with diabetes.

Date sugar. Dates can be dried and ground to make a sugar substitute. Since it comes from whole fruit, it also adds fiber and nutrients to your recipes. Dates are especially good as a brown sugar substitute, since they hold some of the moisture from their fruit form.

When you first start cooking without brown sugar, it’s helpful to understand how a substitute ingredient could affect the way your recipe looks, feels, and tastes:

  • Sugar darkens as it caramelizes during baking. Brown sugar alternatives may be lighter in color. 
  • Brown sugar clumps and provides some bulk to baked goods. A substitute may cause cakes, muffins, and breads to appear smaller. 
  • Texture may not be the same without brown sugar. 
  • Some sweeteners have an aftertaste that you wouldn’t get with brown sugar.
  • You may need to adjust baking times according to the brown sugar substitute you use.‌
  • Brown sugar holds moisture. Goods baked without it may dry out faster and not keep as long.
  • Some substitutes may have more or less sweetness than brown sugar. You may have to adjust for the desired sweetness in your recipe.


Pros of Brown Sugar Substitutes

Eating fewer calories. Some sweeteners used to replace brown sugar in recipes save you calories. You don’t have to give up flavor to make healthier choices in your recipe. Using low-calorie sweeteners, may help you avoid weight gain.

Cons of Brown Sugar Substitutes

Changing recipe ratios. If a recipe is written with a brown sugar substitute in mind, you don’t have to make adjustments. But if you’re trying to bake something that calls for brown sugar, you may have to adjust the ingredients to get the right consistency.

Overeating. It’s still possible to over-indulge in foods that don’t include sugar. Check nutrition labels when you consider brown sugar substitutes. Not all of them make foods healthier, and you should still eat them in moderation.

Other Considerations

Think about any health conditions you have. If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before substituting sugar in recipes. While some sweeteners won’t raise your blood sugar, others can. Your doctor will help you decide which brown sugar substitutes best fit your health needs.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Diabetes Association: “Using Sugar Substitutes in the Kitchen.”

Cornell Maple Bulletin: “Is Maple Sugar Better for People with Diabetes?”

Mayo Clinic: “Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes.”

St. Luke’s Health: “A Diabetic's Guide to Natural Sweeteners.”

The Sugar Association: “Types of Sugar.”


© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


Get Diet and Fitness Tips In Your Inbox

Eat better and exercise smarter. Sign up for the Food & Fitness newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, I agree to the WebMD Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of WebMD subscriptions at any time.