Palm sugar is used in a variety of Indian, Thai, and African dishes. It has a deeper and richer flavor than refined white sugar, which allows it to give dishes a distinctive taste. Unfortunately, palm sugar can be difficult to find unless you live near an Indian market. It can also be expensive. For a palm sugar substitute that can provide the right flavor notes, consider any of the options below.
Your best bet: Maple sugar
Maple sugar is an alternative to palm sugar made from reduced maple syrup, in much the same way that palm sugar is made from reduced palm sap. Maple syrup is the only ingredient in maple sugar. The result of the reduction process is a caramelized solid that has a butterscotch flavor similar to that of palm sugar. Like palm sugar, it is possible to get maple sugar in solid form. You can use maple sugar exactly as you would palm sugar. It is a versatile sweetener that can be added to beverages and desserts.
Note that while palm sugar is slightly less sweet than refined white sugar, maple sugar is actually sweeter than refined sugar. You will have to use less of it to avoid over-sweetening your food or drinks. Start by using half of what your recipe requires for palm sugar and adjust to taste.
A decent second choice: Dark brown sugar
Like all the varieties of brown sugar, dark brown sugar consists of molasses and white sugar. Dark brown sugar simply has more molasses to give it a deeper brown color than light brown sugar. The molasses also gives it a stronger caramel flavor.
Like palm sugar, dark brown sugar is less sweet than refined white sugar. You can use it as a 1:1 replacement for palm sugar in any recipe.
In a pinch: Muscovado sugar
While muscovado sugar bears a close resemblance both to dark brown sugar and to palm sugar, it has some major differences to both. While dark brown sugar is refined white sugar with the addition of molasses, muscovado sugar is unrefined sugar. With muscovado sugar, the molasses content is never removed the way it is when refining white sugar. The result is a sugar with a darker color than dark brown sugar as well as a much different flavor. The flavor of muscovado sugar is richer and it has bitter notes with a smoky aftertaste.
When using muscovado sugar as a palm sugar substitute be mindful of the taste differences. While the two are similar in color and some flavor notes (both have smoky elements), muscovado sugar has a stronger molasses flavor. The result is that it may not be suitable for all dishes that require palm sugar, particularly those where a strong molasses note may not pair well with the other flavors. Start with half the amount of muscovado sugar that your recipe requires for palm sugar and increase to taste.
Like palm sugar, honey is a carbohydrate that consists mostly of fructose and glucose. Honey is sweeter than palm sugar, but is still an effective substitute for it. Using liquid honey will call for you to adjust your recipe’s other liquids. To get around the need to do that, you can use honey powder. Keep in mind that baked goods sweetened with liquid honey tend to brown more quickly than use those that use other sweeteners.
A mixture of white sugar, molasses, and maple syrup can be a good palm sugar replacement. This mixture can give you a sweetener that looks and functions exactly like palm sugar and that has a similar taste as well. Use equal parts of all three ingredients to get an effective palm sugar substitute.