Dark Brown Sugar Substitute: What Can You Use Instead?

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Although the lewd lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with baking, Mick Jagger and the boys wrote a song about the sweet stuff a few decades back…and if you’re here looking for a dark brown sugar substitute, you might just get some satisfaction out of this post!

I’m sorry. It came into my head and I couldn’t stop myself. Get serious, Lisa!

Okay, back to the job at hand. It happens to everyone once in a while, you open up your cupboard certain you’re going to find what you need, but no…one vital ingredient is missing. Aargh!

As you’re here, I’m guessing you’re in this situation, scratching around the Internet looking for a good dark brown sugar alternative to get your baking back on track. Hopefully I can help out.

What is dark brown sugar?

spoon of dark brown sugar healthier than white sugar?

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of brown sugar substitutes and alternatives, lets take a quick look at what this particular sweetener actually is (feel free to scroll down if you’re in a real panic and need a substitute now!).

Most common sugars are extracted from sugar beets or sugar cane. Regardless of which form is used, the process remains the same. Juice is taken from the fibrous plant matter, then filtered and boiled. The result is a thick, syrup-like liquid in which sucrose begins to crystalize.

The crystals are separated from the liquid by way of a centrifuge, which gives you both sugar in its rawest form and molasses. This initial separation is where dark brown sugar comes from. Further processing and refinement strips more molasses from the crystals, leaving you with a purer form of sucrose, or white sugar, to give it its common name.

Therefore, dark brown sugar’s deeper flavor and coloration essentially comes from the plant matter left behind after the first wave of separation.

So, in short, dark brown sugar is simply a less refined form of sugar.

Are there different types of dark brown sugar?

Yes! While they may take on numerous different names, they can pretty much be split into two categories:

Refined dark brown sugar

Probably the most common form of dark brown sugar, this type has actually gone through the entire process to fully refined white sugar…only to have the molasses added back to it!

Partially refined and unrefined dark brown sugar

Unsurprisingly, this type of dark brown sugar comes straight from the extraction process and contains traces of the original molasses rather having it added back at a later date.

These forms of brown sugar will have various different names dependant on the amount of refinement they have gone through and their origin, including, but not limited to, Demerara, Raw, Turbinado, Muscavado, Natural, and Barbados.

Organic brown sugar

This, ideally, is what you would be using if you’re following a vegan lifestyle. I won’t go into the gory bone char details here, but you can check out my post on vegan sugar to find out more.

Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?

A lot gets made about the health implications associated with excess sugar consumption, and rightly so. Sugar is bad for you…period. However, there’s still a lot of press over whether or not brown sugar is any healthier for you than white sugar.

For the sake of brevity, there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. Sugar is sugar is sugar…and we’re already eating way too much of the stuff, especially if you diet is heavy reliant on processed foods. (1)

The problem is that many of us simply don’t know what we’re eating, and it’s hardly surprising as food companies do everything they can to hide things from us. You think checking the label for sugar is enough?


Food manufacturers give sugar various different monikers to disguise just how much is in what we eat.

Just take a look at this list from Woman’s Health:

list of 56 different names for sugar
Infographic courtesy of Women’s Health

So, two things. If you think opting for dark brown sugar over white is going to improve your health, it’s not. Second, ditch the processed stuff. It’s far easier to stay healthy if you stick to whole foods that don’t require an ingredient list at all.

Now, in an ideal world we’d all live 100% sugar-free and get what we need nutritionally from fruits and other natural sources. However, I know this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to achieve…nor is it the most exciting way to live!

That being said, you should definitely keep your added sugar intake to an absolute minimum and treat foods that contain it as an occasional treat.

You know, like we used to!

For more info on sugars and their nutritional value, check out this comparison video from nutritionfacts.org:

Got it, but what’s the best dark brown sugar substitute?

Date sugar is a fantastic brown sugar substitute

Well, if you listen to Dr. Greger in the video above, you’ll know that date sugar is the way to go. However, the likelihood is that you’re looking for something more immediate, so here’s your best option – make your own!

How to make your own dark brown sugar

As we found out above, most of the dark brown sugar we see in stores up and down the country is simply plain old white sugar mixed with molasses.

While this may leave you scratching your head as to why they’d go to the trouble of extracting something only to put it back in, it does mean that you can do it yourself at home.

All you need is some light or dark molasses (not blackstrap, that won’t work) and some regular old white sugar. The formula for this homemade dark brown sugar is simple – a quarter cup of molasses for every 3/4 cup of white sugar.

The easiest way to combine the two together is either with a hand or tabletop mixer. While you can do the job manually, using a mixer will give you a better end result.

Other dark brown sugar substitutes

Another substitute for dark brown sugar that is commonly used is honey. However, this is naturally off the menu for us vegans (see can vegans eat honey for more on that), so what else can you use instead?

Well, light brown sugar can be an effective alternative to dark brown sugar, but you’ll notice a difference in both taste and texture. This is thanks to the lower levels of molasses found in the lighter varieties of brown sugar.

White sugar can also be used, but this will result in an even lighter coloration and flavoring of the end product, not to mention the fact that you may well be venturing into non-vegan territory.

You’ll get the sweetness that the recipe calls for, but it won’t have the depth that many recipes require. That said, you can definitely use it if you are really stuck…just check whether bone char has been used first!

maple syrup substitute for dark brown sugar

Another option is maple syrup, but this means adjusting more than just the type of sugar you’re using. As maple syrup is essentially a liquid, you’ll need to change up the amount of wet ingredients you’re using in your recipes to get the results you want. This can be easier said than done and may need a bit of trial and error to get right.

A basic rule of thumb is to use 2/3 cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of sugar needed, while reducing the amount of wet ingredients by around 1/4 cup as well.

Many bakers recommend lowering the oven temperature slightly, too. A mere reduction of 25°F can make a big difference to the end result as it’ll allow the syrup to caramelize without burning.

Best ways to store dark brown sugar

If you’ve had a bag of brown sugar in your cupboard for a while you may find that it’s more suitable for building than baking. As the moisture evaporates over time, dark brown sugar hardens and can become as solid as a house brick.

So, what can you do to prevent this from happening?

If it’s all about retaining the moisture, then it makes sense to store dark brown sugar in an airtight container. Limiting the amount of exposure to air while slow down the evaporation process and keep your sugar softer for longer.

Can you save hard sugar? Top tips to soften dark brown sugar

There are a few ways to revitalize your hard dark brown sugar, and all of them are relatively simple to carry out.

Keep your sugar soft with this super-cute terracotta bear!

One of the easiest ways to save hardened sugar and, indeed, prevent it from hardening in the first place, is to use a terracotta sugar saver.

This inexpensive little gadgets need to be soaked in water for 20 minutes, patted dry, and placed in with your sugar to help keep it soft and ready to use for up to 3 to 6 months.

Alternatively, if your in need of something right now and only have a bag of hard sugar to work with, try adding a slice of apple to your sugar and leaving it for a few hours. The idea is that the molasses inside the sugar will draw out the moisture from the apple, thus soften the sugar itself. Clever!

Lastly, and similar to the apple trick, a slice of bread can do the trick, too. This may, however, take a little longer than the apple, so it’s only good if you can leave it overnight.

Final thoughts on dark brown sugar

As we mentioned earlier on in the post, sugar isn’t the best thing in the world for you. In fact, it’s pretty darn bad.

Staying mindful when consuming added sugar and knowing what you are eating each day is the way to better health, so please use this and all other sweeteners in moderation. For a more detailed look at the recommended daily amounts of added sugar we can safely consume, please check out the video below:

That’s it from me. If you have any questions or better recommendations for a dark brown sugar substitute please let me know in the comments section below.

About The Author:
Lisa Williams
Happy Happy Vegan editor

Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.

Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!

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best dark brown sugar alternatives
  1. Susan McCabe, BSc, RD | Brown Sugar vs. White Sugar: What’s the Difference? | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/brown-sugar-vs-white-sugar


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