You probably think sugar is a plain and simple ingredient. Welp, not so much.
Aside from being a crystallized sweetener, each type of sugar differs slightly from country to country.
Cane sugar, beet sugar, and their substitutes do not have the same meaning in every country. So much so that when we refer to “basic white sugar,” we mean entirely different things.
In the US, white sugar is usually made from beet sugar because it’s cheaper there than sugar cane.
In Australia, almost all sugar is made from cane sugar, and organic powdered sugar is mostly simple icing sugar there.
In Europe, plain white sugar can be a mix of cane and beet sugar. In Brazil, it’s almost always from sugar cane, and the same goes for Asia.
When chefs refer to a special type of sugar for a recipe, it has to do with the size of the crystals.
That’s what we have to keep in mind when substituting cane sugar. But first, we need to learn some more to choose the best substitutes.
Let’s get down to business!
About Cane Sugar
There’s refined, unrefined, and raw cane sugar.
Raw cane sugar tastes exquisite. However, such expensive ingredients should be used where they can shine and when you can actually taste them in a recipe.
Baking them into a cake is a waste of flavor and resources. We love fancy, raw, organic cane sugar in tea, or where it can help fermentation processes and doesn’t undergo heat processing.
But make no mistake: sugar is not solely for sweetening purposes. We use it to extend the shelf life of foods and help preserve them. ( * )
The most important characteristic of cane sugar in terms of usage is the large size of its crystals.
Surprisingly, the slight brown-colored one isn’t necessarily caramelly like demerara.
The taste depends more on the processing. Raw cane sugar has a distinct warm undertone, while the refined version is like white beet sugar.
Suggesting specific types of sugar for each recipe is not just nitpicking. The size of crystals can actually affect the structure of your recipe.
There’s plenty more to know about cane sugar, like that it comes from Southeast Asia and has been farmed since the 1750s.
It tastes terrible in its original form but has been used as a calorie-dense drink for hard-working people. The source is a grass-type plant full of nutrients.
But you don’t need a BA in farming and food to successfully substitute cane sugar.
Simply read this handy guide for our best cane sugar replacements.
The 7 Best Substitutes For Cane Sugar (Convenient, Cheap, & Bomb Alternatives)
Raw, organic, and super-fancy ingredient recipes seem obnoxious. When just the sugar for a Sunday bake costs $20, it may not be worth the hassle.
No way you need to buy so much hard-to-find stuff for a cookie. But different sugars do different things, and you can’t interchange them for something random.
Also, keep in mind that some recipes are simply advertisements for a specific ingredient; this is why they push it so hard.
In most cases, there’s more room for experimenting with ingredients than they admit, so let’s see what we’ll do instead of good old cane sugar.
We’re suckers for honey in our kombucha. It tastes much better and is healthier when made with honey instead of cane sugar.
To tell the truth, honey alters the taste, so it’s not suitable for every recipe.
If you love your food sticky-sweet, use it in a 1:1 substitute ratio. However, if you want to recreate a similar level of smack, use only half.
Besides the taste and sweetness, you also need to mind the liquid content of your recipe. When you substitute cane sugar for honey, reduce the other liquids by the same amount.
Your food caramelizes and browns quicker, and it has fewer calories and glucose as opposed to cane sugar.
To reap all the health benefits, prefer the honey substitute when you don’t do any heat processing.
For diabetics, honey is no better than plain sugar. But our next cane sugar substitute is an ideal choice instead.
2. Coconut Palm Sugar
Honey was great for Kombucha, but funnily enough, the sole thing we don’t recommend using coconut palm sugar for is Kombu.
Fermentation will turn this type of sweetener disgusting and painfully acidic. Instead, use it for flavoring in desserts, creams, soups, and sauces.
It will add a deep caramel flavor with hints of coffee. But don’t be too generous, as the taste is super potent; halve the portion.
Pro bakers mix it with some refined sugar for anything oven-baked. But that kills the otherwise low glycemic index, which is great for diabetics.
Ecologically, health-wise, and usability-wise, coconut palm sugar is probably your best cane sugar substitute. However, the next one comes closer to our culinary connoisseur’s heart.
Molasses is a forgotten gem. It was in every household around a century ago, deepening the flavors in everything from bread to stews.
It’s a culinary tragedy that it became so quickly overlooked. It has calories, of course, but molasses packs dense nutrients.
Heck, even brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses when done right, and not with simple food coloring.
It’s a byproduct of sugar processing, and all of the vitamins, calcium, and iron end up in molasses rather than sugar.
This gleaming syrup with a deep, almost black color adds a distinct flavor to everything.
There’s some variety to it, ranging from mild to dark, so you need to choose the best one for your recipe.
After this spectacular option, the next cane sugar substitute is plain boring, but available everywhere.
4. Regular White Sugar
In some countries, like Brazil, plain white sugar is made from sugar cane. But most often, it comes from beet plants.
Any substitute can be the best when it’s only a walking distance away. And regular white sugar is available everywhere in the world, in all grocery stores.
The crystals are distinctly smaller than in cane sugar. But the flavor is the same, especially compared to refined cane sugar.
If you want to substitute raw cane sugar with plain white, you can caramelize it slightly, or add a touch of molasses to match the taste.
As opposed to modern, refined commercial sugars, the next one is an ancient way to sweeten our lives.
5. Date Syrup
Age-old date syrup has served as our sweet fix for thousands of years now. In fact, it is our oldest cultivated fruit. ( * )
You can use it in a 1:1 ratio to substitute cane sugar. The taste will be unchanged, and it’s so much healthier, despite the calorie count.
We think they are perfectly interchangeable in any recipe, but our favorite is healthy, homemade granola with fresh date syrup.
You can also make huge batches and freeze them for later use. But in the fridge, they will be good for 3–4 days, or 5–6 days with a spoonful of lemon juice in them.
It’s easy to make some date syrup in a blender or food processor in mere minutes.
We love to serve surprising substitutes, so the next one is for those who love experimenting in the kitchen.
6. Monk Fruit
Monkfruit is often used as a sweetener and adds no weird aftertaste. This Chinese-origin round fruit can be used in a 1:2 ratio to cane sugar and is absolutely natural with zero calories.
You heard that right, zero calories!
We love it for heavy heat processing and for its stability at high temperatures. The only bummer is that it’s easy to overdo it: you only need a small amount of this shockingly sweet fruit.
Still keeping to natural cane sugar substitutes, the next one can be your best friend on a healthy diet or for kids.
We think applesauce is great to use in kids’ food for some natural sweetness. It doesn’t distort their little tastebuds with overtly processed sweetness.
Similarly, if healthy eating is a priority for you, apple sauce can be your go-to sweet fix.
The naturally high-fiber content with reduced calories and healthy nutrition content makes it a superior alternative to cane sugar.
You can either buy ready-made ones or fix up some homemade applesauce. There won’t be any change to the overall taste of the dish.
After our last, healthy cane sugar substitute, we would love to give you some final useful words for your next cooking adventure with sugar.
Learn more: Everyday Cooking Ingredient Substitutes
We know there’s expensive, fancy stuff like organic raw cane sugar, but you don’t have to spend that much for a boring Sunday lemon loaf.
Especially when there are way healthier and cheaper alternatives.
Buy some bargain, lower grade, slightly ugly apples and make some applesauce instead. Add some lemon juice to it, and freeze in batches.
To enhance the sweetening power, you can add a hint of molasses as well. That’s our favorite, healthy way to sweeten any dish.
We missed, on purpose, one frequent alternative: corn syrup. If your health is dear to you, avoid it like plaque.
This high fructose industrial ingredient poses a grave danger to your immune system, heart health, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. ( * )
Instead, go for some monk fruit or applesauce with a hint of molasses, so you can enjoy the sweet things in life for many long years to come.