A Guide to Brown Sugar: Substitute Methods, Types, and Uses

Brown sugar is one of the staple baking items in most homes; but you can also employ your own brown sugar substitute to save a little money at the grocery store. What most of us refer to as brown sugar is not the naturally occurring brown sugar harvested straight from the sugar cane. In fact, what we call brown sugar is just everyday white granulated cane sugar that has been mixed with a bit of molasses. This is why brown sugar has a darker flavor than white sugar. This is also the reason behind brown sugar being heavier and moister than white cane sugar.

Make Your Own Brown Sugar

Have you ever been caught in the predicament when the cookie batter is already thrown together and you’ve suddenly realized that you’re out of brown sugar? You can’t go out to the store because the kids are asleep, so you’ve got to find a way to save your cookie dough. The best brown sugar substitute is homemade brown sugar—which is essentially the very same mixture that you would buy from the store. All you need is regular white sugar and some molasses. If you don’t have molasses on hand, as many of us don’t outside of the holiday season, then it’s always a good idea to keep a small bottle in the cupboard just in case a baking emergency like this pops up.

The general measurements are two tablespoons of molasses to one cup of water. Start by putting the sugar in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the molasses all over the sugar to help it disperse evenly during the mixing process. Use a fork to mix and mash the molasses into the sugar. Keep at it until all of the sugar has taken on a light brown color, which means that the molasses has been evenly distributed throughout the sugar. The sugar should clump together, as typical brown sugar does. Feel free to do a taste test to see if the amount of molasses is suitable for the recipe that you intend to use it for. Two tablespoons of molasses should yield a light brown sugar. For a darker taste and color simply add more molasses to the sugar.

Brown Sugar Substitutes for Diabetics

Stevia is a great brown sugar substitute, or sugar substitute period. It’s particularly great for diabetics because it doesn’t have any calories and it is available in liquid and powder forms—which makes it convenient for everything from baking to drinks. Stevia is completely natural and, although it is quite expensive, it has a very potent sweetness. 

Types of Brown Sugar

There are a few different types of brown sugar that you can use to spruce up an old recipe. Light brown sugar, as you might have guessed, is simply white sugar with less molasses added. It is light, sandy brown in color and has a mild molasses flavor. Dark brown sugar has more molasses and is dark brown in color, has a dark and rich flavor, and is moister and heavier than light brown sugar. There are other varieties of brown sugar that are naturally occurring, or raw. They are harder to find in a typical grocery market and often have to be purchased at a health food store of specialty baker’s supply shop. Turbinado and muscovado are a few examples. Turbinado sugar is made from crystallized raw sugar cane juice, or molasses. It is then broken down into smaller crystals. Muscovado sugar is very dark—almost the color of coffee—and is made by heating the sugar cane molasses where it become a thick liquid. The liquid is dried and then pounded into a fine-grain, moist sugar.

Using Brown Sugar as a Substitute

If you have a recipe that does not call for brown sugar, but you fancy adding a dark or spicy taste to the treat, then you might be thinking of adding some brown sugar to the recipe. The thing about adding brown sugar to a recipe that otherwise calls for white cane sugar is that the moisture and the texture of the recipe will be altered, and sometimes this can make the results different than you might expect. Brown sugar is much moister than white sugar; therefore you may have to cut back the liquid in the recipe, such as melted butter, water, or milk—depending on which liquid the recipe calls for. If you fail to alter the liquid content then the end result may be too moist, heavy, or it may not cook as thoroughly as it should.

Brown sugar is heavier and tends to be grainier in texture, which also means that the overall texture will be altered just a bit, depending on how much brown sugar substitute you use in the recipe. Cookies, for example, may take on a grittier texture and become hardened after they cool; whereas cake with added brown sugar may be a bit caramelized and gooey. Determining how much brown sugar to substitute into a recipe can take a bit of practice, therefore it may not be a good idea to experiment with something important or at the last minute, such as a birthday cake or bake sale goods.