5 Best Substitutes for Brown Sugar in Cookies


As an avid cook and baker, I’ve learned over the years that substitutions must be made at times, substitutions for cookware and utensils as well as substitutions for ingredients. So, a few days ago when I was making chocolate chip cookies and found I didn’t have enough brown sugar on hand, I knew what to do. I had to see what I had in the kitchen to substitute for the brown sugar.

There are 6 good substitutions for brown sugar that most people often have on hand:

  1. Granulated sugar
  2. Molasses
  3. Raw or turbinado sugar
  4. Honey
  5. Maple syrup

In the following paragraphs, we’ll discuss brown sugar and how it is made along with each of the above-mentioned substitutions and how they can be substituted for brown sugar.

1. Granulated Sugar

Sugar-Next-to-Heated-Stove

Granulated sugar is the single most widely used substitution for brown sugar and can be substituted on a 1:1 ratio. The only difference in the resulting food is that there will not be the molasses taste that will result from using brown sugar. Also, the texture of cookies made with granulated sugar will be a little crisper than cookies made with brown sugar which are more dense and chewy.

2. Molasses

Organic Black Cane Sugar Molasses in a Bowl

Substitute molasses for brown sugar by using ⅔ cup of molasses for every 1 cup of brown sugar the recipe calls for.

The texture of the cookies made with molasses as a sweetener will be more dense and chewy than cookies made with granulated or any of the other sweeteners.

Using molasses as a substitute for brown sugar will produce a similar taste to using brown sugar, but because the substitution is a liquid, the cooking time should be slightly reduced and the texture of the cookies will be more dense and chewy.

3. Turbinado Sugar

Raw organic turbinado cane sugar in bag on black background

Turbinado sugar, which is less refined than granulated sugar, can be substituted for brown sugar at a rate of 1:1. The resulting taste and texture of the cookies should be very similar to those made with brown sugar since turbinado sugar has not had all the molasses extracted from it.

4. Honey

Jar of Dark honey

Honey, like molasses and maple syrup, can be substituted for brown sugar at the rate of ⅔ cup of honey for every 1 cup of brown sugar called for in the recipe. And because you are substituting a liquid for the brown sugar, the cooking time for the cookies should be slightly reduced because a liquid will start to crystallize faster than brown sugar and the cookies will be overcooked in a shorter time.

The texture of the cookies made with this liquid sweetener will be more dense and chewy than the cookies made with a solid sweetener.

Honey does have a distinctive flavor and you will be able to detect the difference in the taste of the cookies.

5. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup in a sauceboat and maple leaf on a black background

Maple syrup, like honey and molasses, is also a liquid that can be substituted for brown sugar at the rate of ⅔ cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of brown sugar called for in the cookie recipe. Here again, the cooking time for the cookies should be reduced by a minute or two because the cookies will burn more easily and more quickly when using the liquid sweetener versus brown sugar or any other solid sweetener.

Because a liquid is being used as a sweetener, the cookies will be more dense and chewy than cookies made with a solid sweetener.

Maple syrup does have a distinctive flavor, but it is not as strong as honey or molasses and may not make a significant change in the taste of the cookies made with this substitute for brown sugar.

Hybrid Substitutions

Molasses, honey, or maple syrup can be used as a substitute for granulated sugar in making cookies by the following method:

A brown sugar substitute can be made by adding molasses, honey, or maple syrup to granulated sugar using the following recipes:

  • For light brown sugar, add 1&1/2 tablespoons of molasses, honey, or maple syrup to 1 cup of granulated sugar and mix well.
  • For dark brown sugar, add 3 tablespoons of molasses, honey, or maple syrup to 1 cup of granulated sugar and mix well.

Can I Substitute Light Brown Sugar for Dark Brown Sugar, and Vice Versa?

Light brown sugar and dark brown sugar can be substituted for each other with little change in the texture or taste of the recipe you are making. The only difference between the two types of brown sugar is the molasses content. Light brown sugar contains 3.5 percent molasses while dark brown sugar contains 6.5 percent molasses.

Other Substitutes for Brown Sugar

There are some other substitutes for brown sugar that I should mention here, but I did not include them in my recommendations as the best substitutes because at least in my part of the country these items are not as widely used nor as readily available in most kitchens.

The less well-known substitutions for brown sugar are:

1. Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is made, not from the coconut itself, but from the sap of the coconut tree, which is tapped in a similar manner as the maple tree is tapped to harvest sap to make maple syrup.

Coconut sugar is in powder form and so its appearance is very similar to brown sugar. It can be substituted for brown sugar on a 1:1 ratio.

The major difference is that although it is processed, the nutrients have not been removed from coconut sugar making it a healthier sweetener than granulated sugar which has all the nutrients removed during processing. Coconut sugar still contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber and is often marketed as a healthier sweetener.

When using coconut sugar for baking, even though it looks and tastes very similar to brown sugar, it does not contain as much moisture and the resulting baked goods will be dryer. The texture of the things baked with coconut sugar can be amended to be moister by adding a little extra butter or oil to the recipe.

2. Agave Nectar

Agave nectar, also known as agave syrup, is another of those sweeteners that are not as well known but can certainly be substituted for brown sugar. It is considered a “superfood” and a much healthier option than most of the other sweeteners.

Agave nectar comes from a variety of succulents grown commercially in Mexico. And, although it is 25% sweeter than sugar, it still contains its natural properties and does not affect the blood sugar level as dramatically as sugar but is still considered by the American Diabetes Association as an added sugar.

A good rule of thumb to remember about substituting a liquid sweetener for a solid is that in most cases a ⅔ cup portion can be substituted for 1 cup of a solid sweetener. This is true in the case of substituting agave nectar for brown sugar, but in addition to substituting ⅔ cup agave nectar for 1 cup of brown sugar, the other liquid in the recipe should be reduced by ¼.

3. Date Sugar

Date sugar is made from dates that have been dehydrated and then ground to be used mainly in baking and serves as a sweetener in baked goods that would benefit from its caramel-honey flavor, things like carrot cake and spice cake. 

Because date sugar is made from a whole fruit, it still contains its vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making it one of the healthier substitutes for brown sugar. It can be substituted for brown sugar at the rate of ⅔ cup of date sugar for 1 cup of brown sugar.

Date sugar tends to dry out the baked goods that it is used in and the liquid ingredients in the recipe should be increased by about 20-25%.

Keep in mind if using date sugar in your baking, it is sweeter than brown sugar and the recipe should be adjusted accordingly.

4. Raw Sugars: Muscovado and Demerara

There are other raw sugars besides turbinado sugar that can be substituted for brown sugar. They include muscovado sugar and demerara sugar which have not been refined as much as granulated sugar and still contain varying amounts of molasses. They can be substituted at the ratio of 1:1 and can be used without any significant change in texture or taste.

Can You Make Chocolate Chip Cookies Without Brown Sugar?

Yes, you can without a doubt make chocolate chip cookies without brown sugar. You always have the option to use one of the substitutes for brown sugar mentioned in this article, plus there are now many recipes for chocolate chip cookies available that do not call for brown sugar.

The main purposes for using brown sugar in chocolate chip cookies are to give the cookies the golden brown color that we are all familiar with and to make the cookies moist and chewy. But, cookies made without brown sugar will only be the slightest bit lighter in color, and by adding a couple of tablespoons of either molasses or corn syrup to your cookie dough, the cookies will be so moist and chewy that you will not miss the brown sugar at all.

What Exactly Is Brown Sugar?

Brown sugar is a product of sugarcane, as are granulated sugar, raw sugar, and molasses. But, here are the basic differences in the way these sugar products are produced:

  • Brown sugar is made by combining granulated sugar and molasses.
  • Molasses, which is also known as cane syrup, is made by extracting the juice from sugarcane and reducing the juice by the process of cooking the sugarcane juice in a shallow pan called an evaporator over a low flame until it is very dark brown and just before it is overcooked and begins to burn. 
  • Raw or turbinado sugar is sugar that is made from the sugarcane but has not been refined as completely as granulated sugar and still contains some molasses.
  • Granulated sugar is produced by extracting all of the molasses and other impurities from the juice of the sugarcane.

Final Thoughts

There are many sugars that can be substituted for brown sugar in making cookies, and the ones mentioned in this article will very likely include some of the ingredients you have in your kitchen on a regular basis, many of which will be so similar in flavor and texture that no one will be able to tell the difference when they try the cookies in which you have made these substitutions.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page.

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