brown sugar without molasses

How to Make Brown Sugar Without Molasses And 6 Substitutes

Key points:

  • Brown sugar can be made at home using white sugar and molasses. 
  • Light brown sugar has about 3.5% molasses, while dark brown has closer to 6.5%. Mix 1 tablespoon of molasses with 1 cup of white sugar to make light brown sugar; for dark brown, use 2 tablespoons of molasses. 
  • Other substitutes for brown sugar include honey, black treacle, maple syrup, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, and agave nectar. Each has its own flavor and color profile. 
  • Homemade brown sugar allows for customization and sweetener experimentation while considering flavor and color variations.

Instead of buying a whole pack of brown sugar for one recipe, you may be wondering whether you can’t just use the white sugar in your pantry instead. Besides its unique caramel flavor, brown sugar is specifically called for in recipes because it adds more moisture than its white counterpart. It gives cookies their chewy rich texture while the white version is generally used in crisper items.

If your recipe requires the sweet brown granules and all you have is white sugar, don’t worry, you can make your very own replacement at home. Here we’ll look at exactly what brown sugar is, how it is made, and how you can make it at home without any specialist ingredients.

How It’s Made

As with the white version, brown sugar is made from sugarcane or alternatively sugar beet. The sweet syrup is extracted from the crops, purified, and heated. This concentrated syrup is what we refer to as molasses. A centrifuge machine spins at high speed to separate the crystals and molasses. White sugar runs through a filtration system to remove excess molasses and creates smaller crystals.

Unrefined crystals are less processed, retaining some molasses and a naturally darker color. The more common store-bought brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses mixed back into the crystals to develop the caramel taste and increase the moisture content.

The color and flavor depth will depend on the amount of molasses present. Light brown types comprise approximately 3.5% molasses. Dark brown types have a higher moisture content and deeper flavor with closer to 6.5% molasses content.

Homemade Brown Sugar Recipe

According to the explanation above, you’ve probably figured out that all you need to do to the sweet white granules in your pantry to transform them into light brown sugar is add a little molasses. 

The amount of molasses added to make a brown sugar substitute will depend on whether you create a dark or light variety, the intensity of the caramel-toffee flavor, and the moisture content that adds the chew factor to your cookies.

To make light brown granules, mix one tablespoon of molasses with 1 cup of white sugar. For dark brown sugar, use two tablespoons molasses to one cup white granulated sugar. Once mixed, use it as a cup-for-cup substitute in any recipe.

Note: You can also use date molasses as an alternative to regular molasses.

The Method

Start by mixing the granules and syrup with a spoon. You will notice that it clumps together. Now it’s time to get those fingertips a little dirty. Rub the granules between your fingers until everything is well mixed and all the clumps are worked out and evenly dispersed. 

If you don’t like the thought of getting your hands sticky, drop the mixture into an electric mixer at low speed or into a food processor and gently pulse at short intervals until clumps are broken up and an even granular consistency is obtained.

What Can I Substitute for Brown Sugar Without Molasses?

Not everyone keeps molasses around and since it is usually purchased in a big jar there is no reason to buy a whole bottle just for the two tablespoons you need in a recipe. There are other pantry staples you can easily use without brown sugar syrup or molasses.

#1. Honey

Buckwheat honey is the best option here in terms of matching the color and prominent flavor. However, any honey will do if you don’t specifically have buckwheat. Keep in mind that certain varieties have stronger floral notes than others and this might come through in delicate baked goods.

Use the same method as above by mixing 1 tablespoon of honey with 1 cup (200g) of white sugar.

#2. Black Treacle

Black treacle will give you the closest resemblance to the real thing, which makes this a great option. Add one to two tablespoons of black treacle to one cup of granulated sugar depending on how dark you want the end product. Mix well to ensure even distribution and that there are no clumps left.

#3. Maple Syrup

Here you will use the same ratios as above to make your DIY sweet caramel granules. Pure maple syrup is a great option since the difference is hardly detectable and it can be used in almost any application including baking, dressings, and sauces.

#4. Barley Malt Syrup

A tablespoon of barley malt syrup mixed with 200g of granulated white raw sugar will give you a very close match since the syrup is reminiscent of sticky, dark brown molasses. Using this in baked goods will add a lovely rich color.

#5. Brown Rice Syrup

If you find honey, maple syrup, or treacle to be just too sweet of an addition, brown rice syrup is your best alternative. It is less sweet than other syrups or liquid sweeteners but can be added in the same quantity at 1 tablespoon of rice syrup to 1 cup of white sugar to up the moisture content and give a slightly darker color.

#6. Agave Nectar

If you are vegan and keep agave around instead of honey, you can use this as your syrup component. The color is similar to honey or maple syrup and provides the perfect substitute for vegan baked goods. Use the same ratio as the above combinations.


Can I use coconut sugar in baking as a replacement for brown sugar?

Yes, you can use coconut sugar as a replacement for brown sugar in baking. It has a similar sweetness and can provide a rich, caramel-like flavor, but keep in mind that coconut sugar’s darker color might affect the appearance of your baked goods.

Can I swap honey or maple syrup directly for brown sugar in baking recipes?

Yes, you can swap honey or maple syrup for brown sugar in baking recipes, but it’s important to consider the liquid content and sweetness of these alternatives. Reduce the liquid in the recipe slightly and adjust the quantities to achieve the desired sweetness and texture in your baked goods.

Is it better to use white or brown sugar in baking?

The choice between white and brown sugar in baking depends on the desired flavor and texture. White sugar provides sweetness and a lighter color, while brown sugar adds a hint of caramel flavor and moisture to baked goods.

Can I use muscovado sugar to replace dark brown sugar?

Yes, you can use muscovado sugar as a replacement for dark brown sugar in baking. Muscovado sugar has a rich, molasses-like flavor similar to dark brown sugar, but it may have a slightly different moisture content, so adjustments to the recipe might be needed.

Are rice syrup and high fructose corn syrup the same product?

No, rice syrup and high fructose corn syrup are not the same product. Rice syrup is a natural sweetener derived from rice, while high fructose corn syrup is a processed sweetener made from corn starch. They have different compositions and uses in food products.

What is the difference between regular maple and pure maple syrup?

Pure maple syrup is made entirely from maple tree sap without any additions. Regular maple syrup or maple flavored syrup is a standard syrup with maple flavoring added to match the authentic taste.


Making your own brown sugar is a great way to experiment with sweeteners. It allows you to make just as much as you need and to customize the caramelly richness to the intensity you prefer. Honey, agave, maple syrup, black treacle, barley malt syrup, or rice syrup are all options to mix into your homemade alternative. 

Always be mindful of any flavor or color differences that your chosen alternative will add to the recipe and remember to store leftovers in an airtight container.

Up next: Brown sugar replacement

*image by Luisecheverriurrea/depositphotos

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