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Healthy Substitutes for Brown Sugar

When it comes to making sweet dishes and recipes, one of the most commonly used ingredients is brown sugar. But sometimes, you might want to cut down on processed foods, and as such, decide to avoid it. In this case, you’ll feel better knowing you can pick up some great substitutes that would complement your healthy decision. But what exactly is brown sugar? And why would anyone decide to cut it out of their cooking options?

Healthy Substitutes for Brown Sugar

What is Brown Sugar?

Brown sugar is derived when processed white sugar is mixed with molasses. The sugar content is responsible for its sweetness, while the molasses make it altogether sticky and clumpy. It’s also why brown sugar adds moisture to recipes, as the sticky, chewy molasses help make baked goods moist, with the sweetness adding an extra bout of richness to any dish it’s used in.

Brown sugar is usually requested in two forms; dark brown or light brown sugar. The depth of the color determines how much molasses is used to make it, as well as how heavy the hint of caramel flavor would be. As such, dark brown sugar has about 6.5% molasses content, while its light brown counterpart is made with about 3.5%. Regardless, both can be used interchangeably, so long as you take note of the difference in molasses content, and adjust accordingly- use less dark brown for light brown and more light brown for dark brown sugar.

Brown Sugar Nutrition Facts

Brown Sugar Nutrition Facts

Brown Sugar in Recipes

Brown sugar is mostly used in baking recipes. Its rich color and sticky texture make it a highly sought-after ingredient in numerous ranges of baked goods. Its sweetness is also appreciated in desserts and its moisture retention capacity means you can make tender, soft-baked goods with it. Brown sugar is also popularly used in general cooking, especially in sweet dishes. It’s also used for savory recipes as well since its sweetness creates a balance in taste for spicy meals.

Brown sugar is a versatile ingredient in cooking, and is a regular item in many popular recipes like;

  • Monster cookies
  • Peanut sauce
  • Chocolate cake
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Marinades
  • Gingerbread cookies
  • Bread
  • Vanilla cake
  • Sugar syrup
  • Poundcake
  • Muesli balls
  • Banoffee pie
  • Hot cereal
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Candied bacon
  • Ice cream
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Oatmeal cookies
  • Gingerbread cake
  • French dressing
  • Gingerbread cookies

Brown Sugar Healthy Substitutes

While brown sugar is a huge compliment to many recipes, sometimes, you may worry about the fact that its sugar content is processed. In such cases, you’re bound to look out for healthier alternatives for it, and may fear that such wouldn’t be possible. Well, the good news is there are great substitutes for brown sugar that would suit your pro-health dietary requirements. Some of the most convenient options are listed below;

Coconut Sugar

MADHAVA Organic Coconut Sugar


Coconut sugar is perhaps the best healthy substitute for brown sugar in virtually any recipe you can think of. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also made purely from coconut sap, so you don’t get any processed ingredients in its composition at all! It’s also richer as it contains natural vitamins, minerals, and fiber, unlike refined sugar. And it can be substituted for brown sugar at equal ratios. Note though, that coconut sugar doesn’t hold as much moisture as brown sugar, so you’ll need to account for this so your recipe doesn’t come out dry. Do this by either adding some butter or oil or melt the coconut sugar first before using.


Nature Nate's 100% Pure Organic, Raw & Unfiltered


Being one of the healthiest and most easily accessible sweet ingredients in the world, honey makes an excellent substitute for brown sugar. Honey has been popularly recommended by experts to those who wish to cut down on industrial sweeteners, and its color gives it a further semblance to brown sugar. Honey works in almost every recipe that calls for brown sugar, especially liquid ones like sauces and marinades.

But in those that aren’t so fluid, you’d need to consider the extra liquid addition. For every cup of brown sugar, substitute with 2/3 cup of honey in any recipe. And make up for the extra liquid addition by reducing the liquid requirement of the recipe by about 1/4 cup. Also, when using honey, you’ll have to reduce cooking time, as it caramelizes faster than brown sugar.

Date Sugar

Date sugar


As the name implies, this sugar is gotten from the fruits of the date palm tree. The dates are dried and grounded before being converted to sugar. Date palms are renowned for their exceptional sweetness, therefore the sugar derived from them makes an excellent substitute for brown sugar. Plus, date sugar can be used in equal quantities as brown sugar in all recipes, ranging from dry to wet to liquid dishes. Date sugar is also high in nutrients, contains no additives since they’re made through general means of processing foods. This also makes them perfect for vegetarians.

Raw Agave Nectar

AGAVE IN THE RAW, Organic Agave Sweetener


If you’re preparing a liquid recipe like BBQ sauce, hot cereals, or marinades, then raw agave nectar will work great as a substitute for brown sugar. Raw agave nectar has a strong flavor that closely mimics that of brown sugar, so when used in liquid recipes, you’d barely notice the difference. Perhaps this is the best thing about using raw agave nectar as a substitute for brown sugar, as is probably why you can use it at equal ratios. But if you wish to use them in non-liquid recipes like baked goods, you’d have to reduce the liquid requirements by a few tablespoons, then use 3/4 cup of agave nectar for 1 cup of brown sugar.

Palm Sugar

Palm Sugar Dua Duong


Another purely naturally ingredient, palm sugar makes an excellent healthy substitute for brown sugar. It contains no additives and isn’t made by industrial processes, so it’s a completely organic alternative. Palm sugar is derived from the same tree as date palm sugar but unlike the latter, it’s derived from the sap, and not the fruits. Palm sugar is rich in nutrients and can be equally substituted for brown sugar in all recipes. However, it’s usually sold as a paste or in solid cones, so it needs to be shaved, pounded, or chopped before using.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I replace brown sugar with Stevia?

Yes, you can use Stevia in coffee and oatmeal, and even in many baking recipes that require brown sugar. But you must note that Stevia lacks the molasses flavor and bulk of brown sugar.

Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?

It’s hard to compare. Brown sugar contains a bit more minerals and slightly fewer calories than white sugar, but the difference is so minimal, it’s very insignificant.

Can I substitute maple syrup for brown sugar?

Yes. With 3/4 cup of maple syrup, you can substitute for 1 cup of brown sugar in most recipes, especially liquids. However, Grade B maple syrup is the best type because of its darker color.


You don’t have to worry about not finding healthy alternatives to brown sugar if the need calls for it. With any of these substitutes above, you can replicate the same sweetness in your various recipes as you originally would with brown sugar, while keeping your calorific count in check.