Bake

11 Handy Sugar Substitutes to Keep in the Pantry (& the Fridge!)

Because asking a neighbor for a cup of sugar isn’t always possible.

November 24, 2020
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Last weekend, I broke the number one rule I share with everyone who asks me for baking advice: to make sure you have all your ingredients before starting the recipe. But there I was, halfway through cracking an egg, when I looked over to the shelf where I keep dry ingredients to see my sugar jar woefully near-empty. I wasn’t about to sprint to the grocery store just for sugar (I’m also still keeping grocery trips as minimal as possible these days); I needed a sugar substitute, stat.

Luckily, because I keep a fairly stocked pantry, I had several options. There are actually a number of ingredients that mimic granulated sugar’s flavor and texture in both cooking and baking; you just need to think a bit about what you’re making and what each substitute brings to the table. For example, a ripe banana can swap in just fine when you’re baking a cake, but it wouldn’t work in, say, a caramel sauce. Not every one of these substitutions will replace sugar perfectly in every recipe you try, but they will help you achieve a similar goal in a pinch.

Here are 11 sugar substitutes to keep in mind (and the pantry).

Agave

Super-sweet agave nectar is similar to honey or maple syrup, but more runny. It can be added in place of sugar in baked goods, caramel, drinks, and most other sweet things. When baking, use two-thirds the amount of agave as sugar called for, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup. (If there’s no liquid in the recipe, add 1 tablespoon of flour for every 1/4 cup sugar.)

Bananas

I don't need to tell you how sweet bananas are. You can harness this sweetness as a sugar substitute in tons of different baked goods, like muffins and quick breads. Since bananas have more moisture than sugar, use half the amount of mashed, ripe banana as sugar called for in the recipe.

Brown Sugar

Perhaps the most likely to already be in your kitchen, brown sugar is also one of the easiest and most versatile sweeteners to sub in for granulated sugar. With a 1:1 substitution, your baked goods will taste similar in terms of sweetness, but will be a tad more caramelly in flavor, and the texture will be softer and more moist.

Coconut Sugar

Though coconut sugar and granulated sugar work in a 1:1 swap, coconut sugar will slightly change the texture and flavor of baked goods to be a bit less moist and more crumbly, which is actually quite nice in a scone or shortbread—though I’ve used it in everything from banana bread to oatmeal cookies.

Corn Syrup

Though corn syrup is often thought of as an unhealthy or “bad” sweetener—and you should never think of foods as “bad” or “good!”—the bottles you’ll find in the grocery store are perfectly safe to use in baking, with a similar nutritional profile as sugar. (It’s not the same as high-fructose corn syrup often found in packaged food.) Technically an invert sugar, corn syrup prevents sugar crystals from forming. For example, when you melt granulated sugar, it liquifies, but eventually it will want to recrystallize; corn syrup stays smooth and glossy. Use 1 1/4 cups of light corn syrup and remove 1/4 cup of liquid for every cup of sugar listed in a baking recipe.

Dates

There is more than one way to use dates when replacing sugar in a recipe. Starting with regular dates you’d find at the store: A cup of pitted dates can be soaked in water, drained, then blended into date paste, a sticky sweetener similar in texture to nut butter. Use 1 cup of date paste and add an additional 2 tablespoons of liquid for every cup of sugar called for in your recipe. Date sugar, which can be found at many grocery stores and online, can simply be subbed 1:1. With both these ingredients, expect your treats to be more subtly sweet and softer than when made with granulated sugar.

Honey

Use 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey for every cup of granulated sugar in a recipe, preparing for a slightly more floral flavor—perhaps it goes without saying, but the more honey you use, the more pronounced the floral sweetness will be—and reduce liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup. (If there’s no liquid in the recipe, add 1 tablespoon of flour for every 1/4 cup sugar.)

Maple Syrup

Though quite subtle, the substitution of maple syrup for granulated sugar brings a caramelly, autumnal coziness to baked goods. Swap in 3/4 to 1 cup of maple syrup for every cup of granulated sugar, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup. (If there’s no liquid in the recipe, add 1 tablespoon of flour for every 1/4 cup sugar.)

Molasses

Molasses, a thick syrup, is a by-product of the sugarcane or sugar-beet refining process (it’s also what makes brown sugar brown!). You can use 3/4 to 1 cup of molasses for every cup of sugar in a recipe, and reduce the liquid by 1/4 cup. (If there’s no liquid in the recipe, add 1 tablespoon of flour for every 1/4 cup sugar.) Keep in mind it is quite intense in flavor, so you may want to pair it with another sugar substitute as well, if you have one on hand.

Monk Fruit Sweetener

Liquid monk fruit sweeteners are often highly concentrated extracts, which are suited to replace sugar in dressings, sauces, and drinks—but baking, not so much. Read the package directions when deciding how much to use.

Pomegranate Molasses

Tart pomegranate molasses (made from reduced pomegranate juice) adds sweetness but also tang to drinks and sauces—try it instead of sugar when making simple syrup or grenadine.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I absolutely love baking & cooking, so with a perfect 1:1 ratio on the (WholeEarth or Lakanto) Monk Fruit Blend (which also comes in Confectionery as well as Golden Brown Sugar! The sky is open for wonderful “Traditional” opportunities!! Sincerely, Anne”
— Anne
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Have you had any luck using one of these sugar substitutes? Let us know in the comments.

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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. Her writing has appeared in TASTE, The Strategist, Eater, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl. You can follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

13 Comments

Sinamen78 December 17, 2020
Why liquid Monkfruit ? I keep the white granulated Monkfruit around and sub part of it in for regular sugar.
 
Beth R. December 17, 2020
As a baker and a beekeeper, let me offer some advice on honey. Honey burns at a lower temperature than sugar, so if you are using exclusively honey in any recipe, lower the oven temp by 25° at least and watch it carefully. Even if you replace some sugar with honey, you still run the risk of the honey causing some burning so pay particular attention to oven temp
 
jpriddy December 17, 2020
Honey is substantially sweeter, containing more actual sugar than ordinary granulated sugar. Use less. Maple syrup can be a bit sweeter too.
 
Smaug November 25, 2020
Corn syrup- at least the Karo brand that I've always used is not a substitute for table sugar, as it is nearly pure glucose, which is much less sweet and otherwise has different properties. High fructose corn syrup is essentially the same as invert sugar or golden syrup, a mixture of glucose and fructose that mimics table sugar (sucrose). Aside from sweetness, monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose can behave differently in the kitchen than polysaccharides (such as sucrose), largely because of their greater ability to bond with water molecules, which carries over into mixtures like invert sugar where the sugars are not chemically bonded.
 
Anne November 25, 2020
My husband & I have been doing Keto for the past 2 years & Hes a diabetic! He went from an A1C of 9.4 to a 6.1, as well as from 3 meds down to 1 daily! I myself have lost a much needed 80lbs & continuing to make strides!
I would like to mention that the health benefits of staying away from sugar are enormous!

We now strictly use Monk Fruit & Erythritol Blend; stevia granular & liquid! I absolutely love baking & cooking, so with a perfect 1:1 ratio on the (WholeEarth or Lakanto) Monk Fruit Blend (which also comes in Confectionery as well as Golden Brown Sugar! The sky is open for wonderful “Traditional” opportunities!!
Sincerely, Anne
 
Stephanie G. November 28, 2020
Thank you so much. I love to bake and I’m a type 2 trying to curtail as much sugar as I can. Reading your opinion about sugar substitutes leads me to try monk fruit erythritol blend. I have used the
 
Beth December 17, 2020
You know you can grow stevia. It's a leafy herb which you harvest just before it blooms. Then I dry the branches of leaves and crumble them and it keeps in a jar for ages. I don't usually use it in desserts, but it's great for cutting the acid in tomato sauces and the like. I can usually get young plants at the nursery in the spring, let it grow all summer in a big pot and you can harvest individual leaves whenever you want. Crush some in iced tea. Incredibly sweet.
 
Smaug December 17, 2020
Stevia's easy to grow, but extremely tender; even in the SF area it won't survive winter, but cuttings are easy and could be overwintered indoors.
 
Anne December 17, 2020
Hi Stephanie! I’m so happy to hear you’re trying the Monk Fruit & Erythritol Blend! I hope you have much success with your endeavors especially with the Christmas Holidays right around the corner!! I’d you ever want any of my recipes eg. “My Keto Apple Pie” without apples!! Just drop me a line!!
[email protected]
Have a Blessed Merry Christmas & a Happy Healthy Safe New Year!
 
Chris M. November 25, 2020
So basically as a diabetic I was interested in your headline but all I found was a whole bunch of other things I also can't eat. Thanks
 
Anne November 25, 2020
Hi Chris! I’d like to tell you that My Husband is a Diabetic & we’re on the Keto Lifestyle! He went from an A1C of 9.4 to 6.1 and from 3 meds down to 1 daily! I’m not diabetic, however, have lost a much needed 80 lbs!!
We are completely off “sugar” for 2 yes now!
We use only Whole Earth Monk Fruit & Erythritol Blend or Lakanto Monk Fruit Erythritol Blend ( which comes in Granular, Confectioners & Golden Brown Sugar)! They’re all a 1:1 ratio as sugar in baking & cooking!
We also use Stevia granular & liquid mostly for drinks, & sauces, however it’s much sweeter & concentrated so you use drops instead of cups!!
I wish you luck in your endeavors!
I love to cook & bake, so we always have “traditional” favorites only sweetened in a much Healthier way!!
 
brandyk December 17, 2020
Most of my family and my bf's are diabetic so I have only used non-glycemuc sweetners for years. I regularly use a granulated monk fruit and erythritol blend for most baking and it works fine. I discovered it doesn't work so well for making ice creams. It freezes too hard. But tried allulose and that did the trick! We really have come a long way. Costco sells liquid Allulose too which I use as simple syrup if I am making a cocktail.
 
Sinamen78 December 17, 2020
I buy my granulated Monkfruit at Costco.