Dark brown sugar is important for both color and flavor in many recipes. Its flavor is versatile and can complement everything from barbecue rubs for meat to gingerbread. You should certainly do your best to keep some on hand at all times. If you run out of dark brown sugar, there are a few alternatives that will be just as effective.
Your best bet: Make your own dark brown sugar
Dark brown sugar is white sugar with 6.5 percent added molasses. You can use light or dark molasses for this, but not blackstrap molasses. In either case, you can make your own dark brown sugar by adding some molasses to it. The exact formula is 1/4 cup of molasses per cup of white sugar.
The next step is not quite as straightforward as you might think; you do not simply combine the two ingredients and mix. You have to remove as much white sugar as the molasses you add. This means that to get 4 cups of dark brown sugar, you would use three cups of sugar and a cup of molasses.
While you can mix the two ingredients by hand, using a mixer will ensure an even blend and a finished product that looks almost exactly like prepackaged dark brown sugar.
You can use your homemade dark brown sugar exactly as you would the version from a grocery store.
A decent second choice: Light brown sugar
Light brown sugar is an effective dark brown sugar substitute simply because it is also a blend of molasses and sugar. The difference is that less molasses is used. You can increase the molasses content by adding a tablespoon of molasses to each cup of light brown sugar and removing a tablespoon of the sugar.
Another option is simply to use unadulterated light brown sugar. While you will lose some of the molasses flavor and color, the difference is insignificant in many dishes.
In a pinch: Honey
Honey can add the weight and sweetness that you want from dark brown sugar. In fact, honey is actually sweeter than dark brown sugar and can make your dish more moist and flavorful. Even so, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you will want to use less honey than the amount that your recipe requires for dark brown sugar. This is because honey is heavier than the equivalent volume of dark brown sugar, in addition to being sweeter. Use the same amount of honey if the recipe requires up to a cup of dark brown sugar. For amounts greater than that, use 2/3 cup of honey for each cup of sugar that you want to replace.
Honey is slightly acidic and that acidity may affect the taste of your dish. Use a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey to neutralize the acid.
If you want a dark brown sugar substitute that does not contain molasses or you have no molasses, maple syrup can be an effective option. Note that you want to use 100 percent maple syrup and will use 3/4 cup of maple syrup for each cup of dark brown sugar that you are replacing. If you are using this substitute in baked goods, you will have to compensate for the additional liquid by reducing the amounts of other liquids in the recipe. If you add 3/4 cup maple syrup, reduce the other liquids by that amount.