Fact Checked

How Do I Substitute Brown Sugar for White Sugar?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

It's usually very simple to substitute brown sugar for white sugar as you can use the same amounts. The only difference when measuring the two types of sugar is that you should always pack brown sugar down firmly. For instance, brown sugar packed into a measuring cup should hold its shape at least until it comes into contact with the bottom of the mixing bowl. The main considerations to make when making this substitution are the darker color and richer taste.

Brown sugar gets its rich flavor, as well as its deep color, from molasses. The darker the brown sugar, the more molasses it contains. For example, the golden type of brown sugar has much less molasses than the darker varieties.

Honey can be substituted for white sugar when the flavor is meant to be more delicate instead of robust.
Honey can be substituted for white sugar when the flavor is meant to be more delicate instead of robust.

Many bakers prefer using brown rather than white sugar as it creates a richer tasting cake, pie or batch of cookies. Some recipes that are older may call for white sugar, as the brown variety was more difficult to get. If the result of the dessert is supposed to be flavorful, coarser in texture or have a yellower rather than white appearance, substituting brown sugar for white sugar can be a great idea.

Coffee cakes may be even more delicious with brown sugar instead of white sugar.
Coffee cakes may be even more delicious with brown sugar instead of white sugar.

If, on the other hand, the likely reason a recipe calls for white sugar is to help create a delicate, rather than robust, flavor as well as a light color, you may want to use honey instead. When substituting honey for white sugar, you may use half or two-thirds as much depending on how sweet you prefer your baked goods. You should also cut down some of the liquid in the recipe when substituting honey for sugar. Substituting brown sugar for white sugar can be ideal in yellow rather that white cakes. Brown sugar used instead of white in shortbread or sugar cookies may also alter the white color to give the dough a more brownish cast.

White sugar cubes.
White sugar cubes.

In recipes that call for both white sugar and molasses, substituting brown sugar is a good idea. You may want to cut down some of the molasses though unless you prefer an extra strong taste. Baked goods such as butter tarts may taste even better with both brown sugar and molasses added as well as a little extra vanilla. Oat, flour, white sugar and cinnamon toppings for coffee cakes, muffins or baked fruit desserts are typically improved in flavor by using brown sugar instead of white.

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Discussion Comments


Some recipes call for both brown and white sugar. With these, I prefer to use entirely brown sugar.

My friend’s excellent recipe for maple butterscotch brownies calls for both types. Without telling her, I used only brown, and the result was even more taste. The maple extract was greatly accented by the brown sugar, and when she asked me how mine could taste better than hers when she came up with the recipe, I let her in on my secret.

We got together and made a batch of these for a contest. They won first place, and the recipe got published in a magazine. I let the editors in on our substitution, and they published that, too.


I always associate the taste of brown sugar in baked goods with chocolate chip cookies, because every recipe for them I have ever seen calls for packed light brown sugar. So, I often use it to make other types of cookies, because it makes me think I’m getting my favorite kind.

To me, sugar cookies made with white sugar are far too plain. Brown sugar makes them something I would actually crave without any sprinkles or frosting.

I know that typical sugar cookies are more white in appearance, but if you are willing to pass off a browner one as a sugar cookie, you will be glad you did. The flavor will have people asking for your recipe.


I like to use brown sugar to sweeten my coffee. Though white sugar is good, brown sugar provides an extra little something that complements the coffee so well.

Brown sugar coffee is amazing with almond biscotti, also made with brown sugar. The recipe did call for white sugar, but I figured the substitution would make it taste better when dipped in my coffee. I was right.

My husband uses brown sugar when making applesauce pancakes. You have to use applesauce instead of butter, and while this makes them better for you, it also takes away from the flavor. The brown sugar adds some flavor back. Of course, they also go well with my coffee.


In general if you're thinking of switching from white sugar to brown sugar as a healthier substitute (for example in coffee or tea), go for unrefined cane sugar instead of the thickly packed brown sugar which is often used for baking.

For baking purposes, brown sugar is fine most of the time but it is slightly less sweet than white sugar. If you're substituting, then taste the mixture before putting it into the oven. Very often I find that the same quantity of brown sugar instead of white tastes like it needs to be sweeter. If anyone has tips on substituting accurately, I'd love to hear it because I normally just wing it!


@recapitulate - Be careful when you're using molasses, especially if you're considering swapping it for sugar. Most types of molasses, including the milder "fancy molasses" tend to have a very strong taste. Some of them add a bitter-ish quality to the mix as well as additional liquid content, which might throw off your recipe a bit. I'd definitely recommend experimenting with it first before serving it up to company.


It's not as easy to substitute honey for sugar, but I think it's worth it. I must say that it took me a few tries before I got the texture I wanted. I had the hardest time when I was making cookies.

I like to make homemade cookies for my family, but wanted to cut down on the amount of white sugar that was in them. The texture is still a little different, but they taste good and are better for you than using so much white sugar.


One of my favorite recipes is an apple crisp recipe that was passed down from my grandma. Every time I make this I get compliments on it, and always wondered what it was about this crisp recipe that was different.

After looking at the ingredients that went in to the crust I realized it was the brown sugar. This mixture goes on the bottom and top of the filling, and the brown sugar really gives this a wonderful flavor.

There have been times when I don't have enough brown sugar, and will add some white sugar to whatever brown sugar I have. This still comes out OK and tastes sweet, but doesn't have the same rich flavor as the brown sugar.


@wander- I had no idea honey had all those vitamins! I have also heard about substituting molasses for sugar in recipes, rather than sugar for molasses, though it does add a distinct taste. Black strap molasses is actually a really good source of iron and some other nutrients, though, so it also is much healthier than sugar.


In my opinion using honey is much better than using either brown or white sugar for your baking. Honey is more natural and actually offers you a lot of vitamins such as B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3. Besides vitamins, there has been some evidence that shows that honey can help with the prevention of things like seasonal allergies in those that usually suffer through spring and summer.

For those that worry about their blood sugar, switching from brown and white sugar to honey can actually make it easier for you to avoid blood sugar spikes. Honey is simpler and our bodies have less trouble processing it than with refined sugars.


My mother always substituted brown sugar for white sugar because she was under the impression that it was slightly healthier. While I really think sugar is just sugar, there was actually a bit of truth to her beliefs.

Brown sugar actually has some calcium in it, as well as a bit of iron and potassium. On the downside, most brown sugar, if made with molasses, actually has more calories than regular old white sugar.

While you may not be saving any calories, I think that a few extra minerals may be worth making the switch over from white sugar. Though, I guess I don't really believe it makes that much of a difference. I have just always thought that brown sugar tasted better.

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    • Honey can be substituted for white sugar when the flavor is meant to be more delicate instead of robust.
      By: Sergii Moscaliuk
      Honey can be substituted for white sugar when the flavor is meant to be more delicate instead of robust.
    • Coffee cakes may be even more delicious with brown sugar instead of white sugar.
      By: cobraphoto
      Coffee cakes may be even more delicious with brown sugar instead of white sugar.
    • White sugar cubes.
      White sugar cubes.
    • Brown sugar.
      By: HLPhoto
      Brown sugar.
    • Measuring cups are often used for measuring sugar.
      By: GraphicHead
      Measuring cups are often used for measuring sugar.