When most people hear the word “sugar,” granulated sugar is often the first thing that comes to mind. When a recipe calls for sugar or we want to sweeten our morning coffee or afternoon tea, granulated sugar is typically what we reach for.
As common as granulated sugar is, there may be times when you are looking for an alternative sweetener.
What can you use if you run out of granulated sugar? Maybe you have switched to a low-carb lifestyle and are looking for a new way to sweeten your favorite recipes. Or perhaps you are simply looking for a less processed form of sugar.
In this article, we are going to discuss other sweeteners that can be substituted for granulated sugar. But first, let’s take a closer look at sugar.
What is Granulated Sugar?
Also known as white sugar, table sugar, or refined sugar, it is derived from sugar cane or sugar beet and is processed to remove all of the naturally present molasses. After crystallization, the sugar is dried to keep the crystals from clumping together.
This type of sugar is widely available at grocery stores and is one of the most common baking ingredients for good reason. Granulated sugar can perform a variety of functions essential to a multitude of recipes. It is perfect for measuring, dissolving, melting, and blending into other ingredients.
Besides being used in desserts, granulated sugar is used to balance flavors in savory foods such as sauces and soups. It is also used to sweeten drinks such as coffee, tea, and lemonade.
Granulated sugar’s mild flavor complements most other flavors. It adds sweetness without disrupting the overall taste profile of a dish.
As with most processed foods, a downside to granulated sugar is that it is high in calories with little nutritional value.
Best Substitutes for Granulated Sugar
There are a wide variety of sweeteners that can be used as alternatives to granulated sugar. These include different types of sugar, natural sweeteners, and no or low carb substitutions. Read on to find out how each of these substitutes can be used.
Real Sugar Alternatives
Sugar comes in many different forms, depending on how it is processed. The following substitutes are different varieties of sugar.
When used in baking, all of these can be substituted for granulated sugar in equal amounts.
Cane sugar comes in several forms: unrefined, raw, and refined. It is made from sugar cane, a bamboo-like plant grown in tropical climates. Its color ranges from white to brown, depending on how much the sugar crystals are washed and how much molasses is removed.
Unrefined cane sugar retains the majority of the molasses, making it a dark color. Refined cane sugar is the most purified and is ground to a very fine consistency. Raw cane sugar is in the middle with a light brown color and crystals ranging from coarse to medium.
Because of the varying levels of molasses included, the flavor of cane sugar can vary. The more refined the sugar, the more pure and sweet the taste.
This sugar is water-soluble and melts when heated, making it a great white sugar substitute for baking. It is often recommended to combine unrefined cane sugar with another type of sugar in recipes.
Also called powdered sugar or icing sugar, confectioners' sugar is granulated sugar that has been finely ground in a food processor into a fine powder and mixed with a small amount of cornstarch. This prevents caking.
Powdered sugar can be used in a variety of ways.
- It is most commonly used to make frostings, fillings, and glazes since it dissolves easily.
- Powdered sugar can also be dusted on cookies and doughnuts. Puppy Chow or Muddy Buddies gets its white coating from powdered sugar.
- Known for its smooth consistency, confectioners' sugar is used to make fudge, candy, and decorations.
There are some differences to keep in mind when using confectioner’s sugar in place of granulated sugar.
- Because icing sugar is so fine, it may need to be sifted more than once to remove any lumps and make it fluffier.
- Since confectioners' sugar also contains cornstarch, it can affect the texture of your baked goods. Cookies made with granulated sugar will be crispier, while cookies made with powdered sugar will be softer.
- Powdered sugar is not the best substitute for granulated sugar in cakes, but is ideal for candies.
One cup of granulated sugar equals 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar. For the most accurate results, measure your powdered sugar by weight rather than volume.
White sugar with cane molasses added to it is brown sugar. There are two types of brown sugar: light brown sugar and dark brown sugar. These names refer to the amount of molasses content in the sugar.
Light brown sugar is commonly used in baking, sauces, and glazes.
Dark brown sugar has a rich molasses flavor. Because of this, it is best used in richer foods, such as gingerbread.
Since brown sugar has a higher moisture content than white sugar, using it in place of white sugar will slightly increase the moisture content in the recipe. Cookies made with brown sugar will be softer, darker, and more moist.
Brown sugar makes a great alternative for marinades and topping hot cereal. It can also be melted into sugar syrup for drinks or glazes. You can even use it in savory dishes such as beans, baked ham, and vegetables.
Be sure to tightly pack brown sugar when measuring it to make sure you are using the correct amount. Brown sugar is heavier than granulated sugar but lighter than raw sugar.
Keep in mind that using either variety of brown sugar will add a subtle toffee or caramel flavor to your end product.
Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been minimally processed with only the surface molasses removed. It has a color similar to that of light brown sugar and has larger sugar crystals.
Because of its moisture content, turbinado sugar has slightly fewer calories than granulated sugar.
Most often used to sweeten beverages, turbinado sugar can also be used in baked goods such as rustic tarts.
Since molasses has not been added to turbinado sugar, it retains only a slight caramel flavor. This makes it a better substitute for granulated sugar than brown sugar.
Superfine sugar is also known as bar sugar or white caster sugar. This sugar falls between granulated and powdered sugar. It has smaller crystals than granulated sugar but is not yet a powder consistency.
Since this sugar dissolves quickly, it can be used to make delicate or creamy desserts including mousses, meringues, angel food cakes, and puddings.
Superfine sugar is also considered a bar essential. It is perfect for sweetening cold drinks like cocktails since it dissolves quickly without heat.
As its name indicates, coarse sugar has large crystals about the size of pretzel salt. This makes the sugar stronger and more resistant to heat.
Coarse sugar is sometimes called decorating sugar because it is mainly used for decorating. It comes in a variety of colors.
Coarse sugar also adds texture to candy and baked goods because its crystals are much larger than granulated sugar. The grainy texture is fantastic on top of fruit pies and pastries.
This variety of sugar is another type of raw sugar similar to turbinado sugar. It is minimally processed and has a coarse grain. Demerara sugar is well-known in England.
This sugar has not had all of the molasses removed and has large crunchy crystals. It has a taste similar to that of brown sugar.
Demerara sugar can be dissolved into tea or coffee or hot cereals such as oatmeal. It can also be sprinkled onto baked goods.
The type of corn syrup you buy at the store is different that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that is commonly added to packaged processed foods. Karo is the most common brand and is sold as dark or light corn syrup.
Unlike granulated sugar, it is derived from corn starch, is pure glucose, and has a sweetness level that is much higher than sugar.
There are only a few types of recipes where granulated sugar can be entirely replaced with corn syrup. When that happens, the liquid in the recipe would need to be reduced because of the extra moisture introduced by the corn syrup.
Instead, many recipes where the sugar melts or dissolves during the cooking process can benefit by having some of the granulated sugar replaced with corn syrup. That is because the corn syrup can provide an extra smooth texture. This is especially true when making ice cream or sorbet bases.\
Made by bees from the nectar of flowering plants, honey is one of the healthiest, most natural sweeteners. Raw honey is especially known for its abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
There is a wide variety of honey, each of them having a different color, taste, and texture. Depending on the variety you use, it can add a fruity, floral, or woodsy taste to your recipe.
Since honey is a wet and sticky liquid sweetener, it can change the overall texture of the final product if substituting it for granulated sugar in a recipe. Using honey makes baked goods moist and dense.
Honey makes a great choice for topping cereal, granola, and toast. It can also be used in marinades, beverages, and baked goods.
If using raw honey for its nutritional value, be sure to drizzle it over your food rather than cook it. Heating raw honey can damage its nutrients.
Reduce the amount of other liquids in your recipe when swapping honey for granulated sugar.
In general, one cup of honey equals 1 ¼ cups sugar, plus an extra ¼ cup of liquid, typically water.
Brown Rice Syrup
Although brown rice syrup is derived from the starch in brown rice, it is not necessarily a healthier option than granulated sugar. It is still refined and processed and actually has more calories than sugar by volume.
Also referred to as rice malt or rice syrup, it is best used as an alternative to granulated sugar as a drink sweetener.
Maple syrup is a thick, sweet, dark brown liquid made from the sap of maple trees. it can be a granulated sugar substitute in some baked goods, such as cookies.
Since it doesn’t need to be dissolved, it makes a great choice for sauces and marinades such as barbecue sauce.
An added benefit of using maple syrup is its nutritional value. It is naturally derived and contains a variety of minerals.
Keep in mind that using maple syrup in desserts such as cake will make them denser.
To yield an end result with a texture similar to that of using granulated sugar, use ¾ cup of maple syrup and ¼ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of sugar.
Although it may look like honey, golden syrup is in fact derived from cane or beet sugar. It is most popular in the UK.
Although it is most often used as a substitute for other liquid sweeteners like corn syrup or honey, it can also be used to replace granulated sugar in certain recipes. Because it is in liquid form, however, you must reduce some of the liquid in your recipe to compensate. As such, it is best to only use it as a partial replacement when baking. It is best used to sweeten drinks.
Agave nectar is derived from the liquid of the blue agave plant. It offers more nutrition than granulated sugar.
This sweet syrup is sweeter than regular sugar, so you can use less of it.
To yield a nice texture when using agave syrup in your recipe, reduce the liquid by ¼ cup for every cup of agave syrup added.
Looking for a healthier alternative to sugar? A natural sweetener might be what you're looking for. The following substitutes are naturally derived, and many offer nutritional benefits.
Coconut sugar, also called coconut palm sugar, is a granulated sweetener made from the sap of tropical coconut palm flowers.
Coconut sugar is equal to granulated sugar in its sweetness and calorie levels but offers some nutrients and fiber. It also has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, meaning that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar as much.
Despite its name, coconut sugar does not taste like coconut. Its taste is more similar to that of brown sugar, with a toffee or caramel flavor.
Coconut sugar can be used in place of regular sugar in most recipes, including cakes, cookies, quick breads, and sauces. Since it is dark, it will blend into banana bread and puddings, but does not make the best choices for lighter desserts like angel food cake.
Coconut sugar is slightly more coarse than granulated sugar, but it can be used in the same manner and replaced in a 1 to 1 ratio.
Be prepared to pay a bit extra, since coconut sugar is more expensive than white or brown sugar.
Maple Sugar or Date Sugar
Though less common, maple sugar and date sugar are two other naturally derived granulated sugars. With a similar color and consistency, they can be used in the same manner as coconut sugar.
Low/No Carb Artificial Sweeteners
If you are following a keto or low carb diet, or baking for a diabetic or someone watching their blood sugar, check out the following sugar alternatives.
Stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that has been extracted from a South African plant. With zero calories, this is a good choice for those looking to cut calories or carbs.
Available in liquid or powder form, it can be used as a sugar substitute in any recipe calling for granulated sugar.
It is very important to note that stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. A little goes a long way.
Made from crushed monk fruit, this sweetener has long been used in China and is recently becoming popular in the United States.
Monk fruit ranks zero on the glycemic index, meaning it will not spike your blood sugar.
Monk fruit can be used in place of regular sugar in most baked goods.
Be aware that each brand of monk fruit varies. Depending on which brand you buy, monk fruit extract can range anywhere from 10 to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar.
You will need to reduce the amount of monk fruit used in a recipe by up to 25%. This may impact the texture and appearance of your baked goods.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol derived from corn. It has about 20 percent of the calories that granulated sugar has, so it is a good substitute when looking to cut back on calories.
This alternative is about 80% as sweet as sugar, so you may need to slightly increase the amount of erythritol in your favorite recipes.
Since erythritol does not dissolve well, it does not make a good choice for sweetening coffee, but can be used as a substitute for granulated sugar in baked goods.
As you can see, there are a wide variety of sweeteners available. Consider the options on this list the next time you get ready to make your favorite drink, dessert, or marinade. Try mixing up what you usually use in your favorite sweets.
Take your pastries to the next level by sprinkling them with some larger sugar crystals. Or opt for a natural option when having friends over for cocktails. It might be time to add a few more varieties of sugar to your pantry.
Do you have any other tried and true substitution recommendations? Please let me know in the comments!