The Best Substitutes for Sugar

Find a great swap if you're out of the sweet stuff.

April 07, 2020
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Sugar Spoons

Sugar Spoons

Three wooden spoonfull of different sugars, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, and granulated sugar on a wooden background (Three wooden spoonfull of different sugars, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, and granulated sugar on a wooden background,

Photo by: David Davis / Getty Images

David Davis / Getty Images

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By Susan Choung for Food Network Kitchen

Has a wave of baking depleted your entire sugar supply? When you're about to whip up a sweet treat, discovering you're out of this baking staple can bring down a sugar high before it ever started. In a pinch, you can substitute another sweetener from your pantry. "But you can't change a baking recipe! It'll fail!" is what you're thinking, right? Yes, baking is a science and you shouldn't make swaps haphazardly. However, you can confidently make one of the following substitutions work, if you play to each of their strengths.

Boxed Sweeteners

Swapping in other boxed sugars is a good first-choice option, depending on what you're making.

Brown sugar

Like white sugar, but with more personality, this brunette sweetener gets its darker color from molasses coating the crystals. That's also what gives brown sugar its caramelized flavor and moist, packable consistency.


Dark brown sugar has almost twice as much molasses as light brown. Both kinds can stand in for granulated sugar in baking — just be prepared for a different texture in the results, depending on how the sugar reacts with the other ingredients.

Substitution ratio: 1 packed cup of light or dark brown sugar for every 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Best for: Baked goods with liquid fat; puffier, chewier cookies (such as sugar cookies).

Raw sugars, like turbinado and demerara

Raw cane sugars are white sugar's coarser cousins. They're less processed than brown sugar, but still contain some of their natural molasses. Because of their larger crystals, raw sugars can soak up more liquid in a recipe, resulting in drier or grittier baked goods. You can avoid this with a clever workaround: Blitz raw sugar in a food processor or spice grinder until it resembles granulated sugar.

Substitution ratio: 1:1 by weight or 1 cup of ground raw sugar for every 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Best for: Recipes with higher proportions of liquid, such as pecan pie and loose cake batters.

Liquid Sweeteners

You can swap liquid sweeteners for sugar, but expect to do some recipe rejiggering. Honey and agave nectar, for example, are both sweeter than sugar, not to mention wetter than the solid stuff, so less is more for baking. Take note of adjusted ratio and baking temperatures and times, as needed.

Honey

Substitution ratio: 1/2 cup of honey per 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Other adjustments: Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees F to prevent over-browning; if using more than 1 cup of honey, decrease liquids, such as milk, in the recipe by 1/4 and add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (to balance the natural acidity of honey).

Best for: Cornbreads, cakes, muffins and other quick breads.

Maple syrup

Substitution ratio: 3/4 cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Other adjustments: If using more than 1 cup of maple syrup, decrease liquids in the recipe by 3 tablespoons; keep a close eye on the oven because maple syrup browns faster than sugar.

Best for: Moist baked goods that lean into that maple flavor, such as an oil-based banana bread.

Agave nectar

Substitution ratio: 2/3 cup of agave nectar for every 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Other adjustments: Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees F to prevent over-browning; if using more than 1 cup of agave nectar, decrease liquids in the recipe by 1/4; increase baking time by 1 minute for every 15 minutes of baking time.

Best for: Quick breads and bars with stronger flavors, like brownies.

Is confectioners' sugar a good substitute for sugar?

While you can pulverize granulated sugar into confectioners' sugar (aka powdered sugar), you can't do the reverse. Save the confectioners' sugar for a frosting or to dust on top of your treats.

In conclusion, nothing beats sticking to the script in a tried-and-true baking recipe. But if borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor isn't an option, you can experiment with one of the swaps above. Who knows? That adapted version could just be your new favorite.

Recipes to Try:

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