Best Light & Dark Brown Sugar Substitutes

Brown sugars come in two colors: light and dark. The amount of molasses used to create the brown sugars determines their color, and molasses is added to granulated sugar to make the brown versions.

Use dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar for a deeper molasses flavor in cooking, baking, spice rubs, and marinades. To measure accurately, always pack the sugar firmly into a measuring cup.

Light and dark brown sugars can be exchanged if a recipe calls for one, but you only have the other. Dark brown sugar contains more molasses, so the baked good may be a deeper brown and have a richer molasses taste. Truthfully, you may not notice much difference.

Light Brown Sugar Substitutes (1 cup)

[1] granulated sugar

= 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 to 2 tablespoons molasses

Granulated sugar is a type of refined sugar that’s most commonly used in baking and candy-making. It’s made from either sugar cane or beets, and it’s processed to have a fine texture that dissolves easily in liquids.

Granulated sugar is also known as table sugar, because it’s what you’ll find at the grocery store in little white packets labeled “sugar.” It has no nutritional value and is often used as an ingredient in cakes and other baked goods, cookies, candies, jams, jellies, and soft drinks.

[2] dark brown sugar

= 1/2  cup dark brown sugar plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Dark brown sugar is simply sugar that has been processed to remove a portion of its molasses content. The end result is a darker, more robust-tasting sugar that can be used in place of light brown sugar or granulated white sugar.

The word “brown” here does not refer to the color of the sugar itself, but rather to the fact that it has been processed with some of its molasses content removed.

[3] turbinado sugar

= 1 cup turbinado sugar (less moist, larger crystals) equals 1 cup brown sugar

Turbinado sugar is a type of cane sugar that has been partially refined through a process called “turbinadoing,” which involves boiling the sugar syrup. The resulting crystals are large, so they have a crunchy texture and a delicate sweetness that makes them very popular in baking.

Turbinado sugar is also known as raw sugar, demerara sugar, or Barbados sugar. It’s an alternative to regular table sugar (sucrose), which has been fully refined.

Dark Brown Sugar Substitutes (1 cup)

[1] light brown sugar

= 1 packed cup light brown sugar + 1 tablespoon molasses

Light brown sugar is a less-refined version of brown sugar. It has a higher moisture content and contains more molasses than white sugar. Light brown sugar also has a lighter color than regular brown sugar, which gives it its name. In baking, light brown sugar imparts a flavor that’s more reminiscent of molasses than the darker varieties of brown sugar do.

[2] granulated sugar

= 1 cup granulated sugar + 2 to 3 tablespoons molasses

[3] turbinado sugar

= 1 cup turbinado sugar

[4] Muscovado sugar

= 1 cup Muscovado sugar (moister, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1 to 2 teaspoons)

Muscovado sugar is a type of unrefined cane sugar that has a rich, molasses-like flavor and deep brown color. It’s also called Barbados sugar or panela in Spanish.

Muscovado is made by crushing the juice squeezed out of sugarcane stalks, then boiling it down to form a thick syrup that’s finally dried into crystals. This process retains all of the original plant nutrients, which can be beneficial to your health.

[5] palm sugar

= 1 cup chopped jaggery (palm sugar), which is more firm

Palm sugar is a type of sweetener made from the sap of palm trees. It’s often used in Southeast Asian cuisines, and it’s known for having a deep caramel flavor.

Palm sugar can be made from several different kinds of palms, but the most common are coconut, date, and oil palms. It’s produced by tapping the tree’s flower clusters with bamboo sticks or bamboo spouts to extract the sap. The sap is then boiled down until it becomes thick and viscous. After that process is complete, the syrup is poured into molds and allowed to cool down until it hardens into blocks that can be stored indefinitely at room temperature without spoiling.

palm sugar substitutes

[6] black sugar

= 1 cup chopped black sugar (more firm, strong molasses flavor)

Black sugar, or palm sugar, is a type of sweetener made from the sap of the coconut palm. It’s sometimes called coconut sugar, but it’s not actually related to the white granulated stuff that most people think of as “sugar.” It’s typically sold in solid blocks and has a dark brown color.

Black sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm tree. Because it takes about a year for this sap to develop into usable syrup, black sugar is more expensive than white granulated sugar. It also has a lower glycemic index than refined sugars, which means that it doesn’t spike your blood glucose levels as much.

It’s good for you! Black sugar contains vitamins A, C, B6 and B12; potassium; iron; magnesium; zinc; selenium; riboflavin (B2); niacin (B3), thiamine (B1) and manganese.

Turbinado, Muscovado, or Demerara Sugar Substitutes for Brown Sugar

These raw, unrefined sugars look like brown sugar, ranging in color from pale to deep brown. Use these sugars as a one-to-one substitute for brown sugar.

Turbinado raw sugar resembles brown sugar in looks only, and the residue remains after cane sugar is processed to remove molasses and refine the sugar crystals. Raw sugar may contain fibers, molds, and other contaminants in its natural state. Commercially marketed raw sugar is purified.

Of all three, muscovado is the closest to brown sugar because it contains a similar amount of molasses and moisture. The granules are also similar in size, while turbinado and demerara sugar granules are larger and more challenging to mix into batters and doughs.

Muscovado comes in both light and dark varieties, but light muscovado is the best choice, as dark muscovado has a unique and robust, slightly bitter flavor.

How Brown Sugar is Made

Sugar is produced through the refinement of sugar beets and sugar cane. There are 11 states in the US where sugar beets are grown, and the top producing states are Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota, and Michigan. Sugar cane is produced in southern Florida, the Mississippi Delta region of Louisiana, and southern Texas. 

The sugar refining process uses sugar beets and sugar cane to make white granulated sugar. As each syrup is boiled down to create crystals, it creates a brown syrup known as molasses. Brown sugar can be made by adding molasses syrup to boiling sugar crystals or coating white granulated sugar.

Only molasses from sugar cane is used in the production of brown sugar. Molasses from sugar cane gives brown sugar its color, and the amount of molasses added to sugar is how it becomes light or dark.

Nutritional Information

Brown sugar contains about the same number of calories per teaspoon as white table sugar. Brown sugars can be soft, dense, or dry, depending on their moisture content. Adjusting the amount of molasses they contain can modify the moisture content. The types of brown sugar that people are probably most familiar with are used in baking.

brown sugar substitute


What can I use as a substitute for brown sugar?

You can make brown sugar by adding molasses to granulated (white) sugar. For one cup of granulated sugar, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of molasses.  Palm sugar, black sugar, turbinado sugar, or muscovado sugar can also be used.

Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?

Brown sugar contains about the same number of calories per teaspoon as white table sugar.

About Rachelle

Hi, I'm Rachel! I love cooking and finding new recipes but was always missing one of the ingredients in my kitchen. I created Can I Substitute? for people like me who are one substitute away from a great meal. If you're looking for great ingredient substitutes you've come to the right place. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.