Not only is brown sugar a baking essential, but it’s frequently used in savory recipes as well. From chocolate chip cookies and French toast to candied bacon and even roasted turkey breast, brown sugar is a multi-faceted kitchen staple. But what happens when you find you’re out of brown sugar and you’re in the middle of cooking?! This comprehensive guide to brown sugar, including brown sugar substitutes, will help you keep cooking!

The Basics

Brown sugar is simply a mixture of table sugar and molasses. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar-refining process and it gets added back in after refining to create brown sugar. Brown sugar adds depth of flavor to recipes and provides a soft, chewy texture for baked goods. It’s key to making chewy cookies!

brown sugar in a white bowl.

Light vs Dark Brown Sugar

The primary difference between light and dark brown sugar is the amount of molasses they each contain. The amount of added molasses directly impacts the shade of the sugar as well as the intensity of its flavor. 

Light brown sugar, also referred to as golden brown sugar, is more mild in flavor and golden in color.

Dark brown sugar has a more robust, caramel-like flavor thanks to the additional molasses and creates an even deeper brown hue in baked goods.

In spite of these minor differences, light and dark brown sugar are typically interchangeable in most recipes. You might notice the slightest difference in taste or texture, due to the amount of molasses, but your recipe will typically still come together as intended.

full image of dark brown sugar.

Brown Sugar Substitutes

But what can you do when a recipe calls for brown sugar and you don’t have either variety on hand? One of these simple alternatives will likely do the trick! 

White Sugar

Perhaps the most simple solution, you can use white sugar. Brown sugar and white sugar can be swapped in an even 1:1 ratio, but you will notice a significant difference in texture, especially in baked goods, since white sugar doesn’t add moisture to recipes like brown sugar does. Unless you account for that moisture in another way, you’ll end up with crispier results.

White Sugar and Molasses

If you have white sugar and molasses in your pantry, you’re in luck! You can easily make your own brown sugar in just minutes using these two simple ingredients.

  • For light brown sugar: combine one cup of granulated white sugar with a tablespoon of molasses.
  • For dark brown sugar: combine one cup granulated white sugar with two tablespoons of molasses.

This ratio can be used as a 1:1 substitute for store-bought brown sugar. Store any leftovers in an airtight container to prevent clumping.

maple syrup in a glass maple syrup bottle.

Liquid Sweeteners

If you don’t have molasses in your pantry, you can still create a brown sugar substitute using another liquid sweetener such as agave, honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or even date syrup.

Combine your sweetener of choice using the same ratio as you would molasses (see above). Keep in mind, the flavor will vary depending on which you use, but the results will be similar.

In certain situations, like making glazes, sauces, or beverages, you can use liquid sweeteners on their own as an adequate replacement. Start by using less sweetener than your recipe calls for and adjust as necessary, to help balance the heightened sweetness and additional moisture.

coconut sugar in a glass bowl.

Coconut Sugar

Another good alternative to brown sugar is coconut sugar. Coconut sugar comes from the sap of the coconut palm tree, but unlike the name might suggest, it doesn’t taste like coconut (it’s delicious in our Monster Cookie Bars).

The flavor is actually quite similar to brown sugar, though coconut sugar doesn’t contain as much moisture as brown sugar. Coconut sugar is also higher in fiber than brown sugar and has a lower glycemic index than table sugar.

You can use coconut sugar as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar, but your results may vary slightly. If you feel you’re lacking a bit of moisture, you can slightly increase the amount of butter or oil called for in your recipe. 

full image of raw sugar, or turbinado sugar.

Raw Sugar

Raw sugar, also known as turbinado sugar, is golden-brown and less processed than granulated white sugar, so it still naturally contains some molasses.

The granules are larger than table sugar and don’t always mix into doughs and batters as well as brown sugar, but you can try grinding it in a spice grinder or pulsing it through a food processor to minimize the granules.

If your recipe calls for a warm liquid like melted butter, oil, or water, you can dissolve the sugar into the liquid before proceeding with the recipe.

Raw sugar can be substituted in equal amounts to brown sugar, though it is a bit drier so you may need to make adjustments for the difference in texture.

We use turbinado in all kinds of recipes—it’s especially great for adding a little sweet crunch to cookies and muffin tops. Use turbinado sugar to make our chewy Cardamom Cookies and to top off our Lemon Blueberry Muffins.

Date Sugar

Date sugar isn’t really sugar, but it’s made from dehydrated dates that are ground up to resemble sugar. It has a rich caramel-like flavor and can also be used as a 1:1 replacement for brown sugar in any recipe. Since whole, pitted dates are used, date sugar is a bit more fibrous and slightly gritty than brown sugar.

brown sugar piled into a wood bowl.

How to Store Brown Sugar

Because it contains molasses, brown sugar is more moist  than white sugar, and it will harden over time as it’s exposed to air. Keep your brown sugar in a cool, dry place to minimize the chance of clumping.

To prolong the life of your brown sugar even longer, you can place a marshmallow, piece of bread, or a terracotta brown sugar saver (our favorite method) in your sealed container.


Can I swap light brown sugar with dark brown sugar, or vice versa?

Yes! The only difference between the two is the amount of molasses. Both varieties will produce very similar results in most cases.

Are brown sugar and raw sugar the same thing?

No. Though they both contain molasses, brown sugar has been refined and then molasses is reintroduced afterwards. Raw sugar does not go through the same level of refining and the molasses remains intact.

How do I store brown sugar?

Brown sugar is best stored in an airtight container and in a cool, dark place.

Use Brown Sugar in These Recipes

Brown sugar adds sweetness and moistness to this Cottage Cheese Cake.

We use dark brown sugar in our Homemade Pumpkin Pie Recipe!

If you’re baking for the holidays, make a point to add our Hermit Cookies to the baking list. Made with brown sugar (ding, ding, ding!) and dried fruit, they’ve got loads of flavor and are ultra-chewy.

Brown sugar is a must in our Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies, Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies and Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies.

How to Make Brown Sugar

5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Yield 1 cup
Category Cooking Tip
Cuisine N/A


Make your own brown sugar at home using two simple ingredients.



  • For light brown sugar: combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon molasses.
  • For dark brown sugar: combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 2 tablespoons of molasses.
  • Pulse in a food processor until fully combined.
  • This ratio can be used as a 1:1 substitute for store-bought brown sugar. Store any leftovers in an airtight container to prevent clumping.


If you don’t have molasses, you can use the same ratio and make this recipe with another liquid sweetener of your choice, though the flavor will vary.


Serving: 1tablespoonCalories: 42kcalCarbohydrates: 11gSodium: 3mgSugar: 11g
Like this? Leave a comment below!I love hearing from you and I want to hear how it went with this recipe! Leave a comment and rating below, then share on social media @zestfulkitchen and #zestfulkitchen!
brown sugar in a zipper-lock bag.

Pin This Recipe

Love this recipe and want to save it? Pin this recipe!

Pin This Recipe

Other Helpful Ingredient Substitutions

Understanding how to substitute ingredients is an important part of cooking. It’s especially important when you’re in the middle of baking! Here are a few articles that will help you make ingredient substitutions.

Out of baking powder? Our baking powder substitutes will come in handy.

Cornstarch is another common ingredient in baking (we use it in our Whole Wheat Muffins). Here are some great substitutions for cornstarch.

If a recipe calls for sour cream and you don’t want to run to the store, turn to these Sour Cream Substitutes.

When a recipe calls for ricotta cheese and you don’t have it (maybe you’re making our Cottage Cheese Lasagna!) turn to these substitutions for ricotta.

5 Test Kitchen Approved Tips
Years of test kitchen experience distilled into a simple series to help you become a better, more confident cook!
Photograph of America'sTest Kitchen with test cooks testing recipes

Share it with the world


About The Author

Danica is a food enthusiast living in Orlando, Florida who specializes in vegan, gluten-free baking. She loves trying new plant-based restaurants and thoroughly researching the food scene for any trip she has planned.
Danica has hands-on experience overseeing test kitchens, and years spent in the publishing industry managing the publication of cookbooks. She now uses her media communications degree to combine her passions for food and writing, by writing for Zestful Kitchen, managing its social media and email newsletter.

Learn More

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How many stars would you give this recipe?