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Your Complete Guide to the Best Coconut Sugar Substitutes—Plus 6 Recipes!

So you've decided to get creative and try out that new Thai recipe. But when you sit down to go over the ingredients and make sure you have everything on hand, you see it calls for coconut sugar. Coconut sugar? You ask yourself. What on earth is that? We're glad you asked. Because in this article, we're going to take a look at all things coconut sugar, including what it is, how it stacks up to regular sugar, and what you can do when you need a coconut sugar substitute.

What Is Coconut Sugar?

Like its name suggests, coconut sugar comes from the coconut palm tree. Known also as coconut palm sugar, coconut sugar is made by boiling the sap of coconut palm flower buds until almost all of the water has evaporated.

The resulting caramel-colored crystals are comparable in size to raw sugar but possess a flavor more akin to light brown sugar, without the aftertaste of other sugar substitutes, like stevia or erythritol.

Coconut Sugar vs. Regular Sugar

While coconut sugar is a regular ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, it's only recently begun to gain popularity in the West as a potentially healthy alternative to refined white sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS).

Both table sugar and HCFS are highly processed products with essentially no nutritional value. By contrast, coconut sugar is only marginally processed and thus retains many of the nutrients found in its parent plant, including:

  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium

It also contains antioxidants and inulin—a type of soluble fiber that acts as a prebiotic, or food for healthy gut bacteria.

Does this mean coconut sugar is good for you? 

Not exactly.

Why?

Because all of these nutrients are present in coconut sugar in only small amounts.

However, it does mean that coconut sugar may be slightly less bad for you than either HCFS or regular granulated sugar (one caveat: like coconut sugar, organic cane sugar also retains some of the nutrients of its parent plant).

And when it comes to the glycemic index, there really is no comparison.

That's because coconut sugar has a glycemic index of 35—approximately half that seen with both table sugar (which comes in around 65) and HFCS (which has a glycemic index of over 70).

Coconut sugar's lower glycemic index also makes it much more similar to some types of fruit, including cherries, peaches, dates, plums, and grapefruit.

So while coconut sugar may not be running over with health benefits—it is sugar after all and loaded with calories—adding a little of this natural sweetener to your favorite recipes won't wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. 

What Is Coconut Sugar?

Cooking with Coconut Sugar

If you've ever tried cooking with sugar alternatives, you've no doubt delighted in the chance to exercise your math skills as you calculate the proper substitution ratio. And if your calculations were off, well...

But with coconut sugar, you can put the math away because 1 cup of sugar equals 1 cup of coconut sugar.

Yet, like other sugar substitutes, coconut sugar doesn't possess the same chemical properties as regular sugar, which means it doesn't lend the same level of moistness to baked goods. However, this can be compensated for by adding additional wet ingredients.

Still, coconut sugar is one of the more versatile sugar alternatives and is great for making sugar syrup or as a sweetener in smoothies and coffee drinks. But be careful. Coconut sugar has a lower burning point than regular sugar, so it's not suitable for all types of candy making.

6 Coconut Sugar Substitutes

Coconut sugar is easy to find online and is generally available at any health food store, but if you're having trouble finding it or are just in the market for a coconut sugar substitute, these five options are your best bet.

1. Light Brown Sugar

Because coconut sugar has a slight caramel flavor, your best bet when looking for a coconut sugar substitute is to reach for some light brown sugar. 

Brown sugar actually gets its color—and its caramel flavor—from molasses, which is a byproduct of the sugar-making process. In fact, you can make your own brown sugar at home by simply adding a little molasses to regular sugar.

Another plus to using brown sugar as a coconut sugar substitute is that it's both easier to find and cheaper.

However, brown sugar is also a tad sweeter than coconut sugar, so while some people recommend using a 1:1 substitution, others suggest decreasing the amount of brown sugar by a third.

2. Sucanat

Sucanat—which is a shortened version of sucre de canne naturel, or sugarcane natural—is a brand name that refers to a type of unrefined cane sugar. Basically, Sucanat is just crystallized sugarcane juice, so it retains all the molasses that's normally removed. Thus, like brown sugar, Sucanat has a caramel flavor that makes it a good substitute for coconut sugar.

The one drawback is that Sucanat is a coarse type of sugar, so it doesn't dissolve quickly. However, unlike brown sugar, Sucanat has about the same amount of sweetness as coconut sugar, so it can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio.

3. Maple Sugar

For those of you who aren't from New England, yes, there really is such a thing as maple sugar. Like sugarcane juice, if the sap of sugar maples is boiled long enough, it eventually turns from syrup to sugar—which means that maple sugar actually comes from maple syrup. 

And because maple sugar also has a bit of a caramel flavor, it makes a perfectly acceptable substitute for coconut sugar and can be added to recipes at a 1:1 ratio. 

However, if you have maple syrup on hand but no maple sugar, don't worry, because you can use that too. Just remember to adjust the other liquids in the recipe to compensate.

4. Date Sugar

Another good coconut sugar substitute is date sugar, which is made by grinding dried dates into a powder. Date sugar is an especially good choice if you're looking for a natural sweetener that's low on the glycemic index.

Date sugar can be substituted for coconut sugar at a 1:1 ratio. However, if using date sugar, it's important to keep in mind that it isn't composed of sugar crystals, so it won't dissolve like brown sugar, Sucanat, or maple sugar.

5. Raw Honey

Although it lacks the taste of caramel, raw honey is a healthy natural sugar that can be used as a substitute for coconut sugar. However, it's important to keep in mind that raw honey is much sweeter than coconut sugar and so should be reduced in recipes by three-fourths.

6. Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that's become quite popular among people looking to cut down on added sugars in the diet. What's more, xylitol is found in small amounts in many plant foods, which makes it a natural sugar alternative.

While xylitol is slightly less sweet than regular sugar, the difference is only around 5%, so it can be used as a 1:1 coconut sugar substitute.

However, if you have dogs in the house, you may want to steer clear of this natural sweetener—amounts as low as that found in a piece of chewing gum can be enough to kill a small dog.

6 Coconut Sugar Substitutes

6 Coconut Sugar (and Coconut Sugar Substitute) Recipes

If you're ready to get cooking with coconut sugar, these six recipes are the perfect place to start—plus, they're a great way to try out your coconut sugar substitution skills!

1. Coffee Chocolate Chip Blondies

This chewy cookie recipe from Cookie and Kate combines coffee and chocolate for a rich and tasty treat. And for those wishing to make a coconut sugar substitution, they make things even easier by including instructions for brown sugar as well.

Coffee Chocolate Chip Blondies

INGREDIENTS

  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat or all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups packed coconut sugar or 1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons strong coffee, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Grease or line a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk together baking powder and flour in a medium-sized bowl.
  4. Cook butter, salt, and coconut sugar over medium heat in a medium saucepan, stirring frequently, until butter is melted and mixture is hot.
  5. Remove butter mixture from heat and stir in coffee until combined well.
  6. Let mixture cool for 15 to 20 minutes or until room temperature.
  7. Bake pecans on a small baking sheet, stirring halfway, for 5 to 8 minutes or until fragrant.
  8. Add egg and vanilla to cooled butter mixture, whisk until combined well, and then transfer to a large bowl.
  9. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  10. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans.
  11. Spread batter evenly in prepared baking dish.
  12. Bake cookies for 18 to 24 minutes or until golden brown and just beginning to crack.

2. Salted Caramel Sauce

With all this talk of caramel flavor, who isn't in the mood for a nice caramel sauce? And if you're following a vegan or paleo diet and think there can't possibly be a caramel sauce for you, don't despair—this recipe from Downshiftology has you in mind too!

Salted Caramel Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 13.5 ounces full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine coconut milk, salt, and coconut sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. As sauce begins to darken, begin stirring more frequently and continue stirring until caramel is dark amber in color and thick enough to coat a spoon.
  4. Remove sauce from heat and stir in vanilla extract and coconut oil.

3. Peanut Butter Fudge Caramel Pretzel Candy Bars

If you have a serious sweet tooth, then these peanut butter fudge caramel pretzel candy bars from Natural Sweet Recipes are really going to make your mouth water—and they're vegan and gluten free too!

Peanut Butter Fudge Caramel Pretzel Candy Bars

INGREDIENTS

For pretzel base:
  • 1 cup gluten-free (or regular) pretzels, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free (or regular) oats
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened 

For peanut butter fudge layer:

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cacao powder

For pretzel topping:

  • 3-6 tablespoons gluten-free (or regular) pretzels, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/4 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Use parchment paper to line an 8- x 8-inch baking dish.
  2. Grind oats in a food processor or blender until flour-like,
  3. Add pretzels to oats and pulse until finely ground.
  4. Combine flour mixture, protein powder, and coconut sugar.
  5. Stir in butter and combine well.
  6. Add extra protein powder if dough is too sticky (dough should be moist).
  7. Transfer dough to baking dish and press evenly into bottom.
  8. Place pan in freezer for approximately 10 minutes.
  9. Combine chocolate chips and coconut sugar in a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl and heat, stirring occasionally, until melted.
  10. Stir in peanut butter and combine well.
  11. Let mixture cool slightly and then stir in vanilla and cacao powder.
  12. Pour warm fudge mixture over chilled pretzel base and place back in freezer for an additional 2 minutes.
  13. Sprinkle crushed pretzels over fudge layer and return to freezer.
  14. Combine coconut sugar, coconut oil, and water in a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture begins to thicken.
  15. Drizzle caramel sauce over bars and return to freezer until completely set, approximately 1 hour.

 

4. Coconut Sugar Cookie Bars

If you love all things coconut, then this recipe from Crazy for Crust is just the ticket. With coconut sugar, coconut milk, coconut extract, coconut oil, and shredded coconut, these coconut sugar cookie bars serve up everything but the coconut palm itself!

Coconut Sugar Cookie Bars

INGREDIENTS

For the cookies:

  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour

For the frosting:

  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut plus more for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. 
  2. Grease or line a 9- x 13-inch baking pan.
  3. Cream coconut oil and coconut sugar.
  4. Add egg, vanilla and coconut extracts, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar and combine well.
  5. Add flour and combine well.
  6. Press dough into prepared baking pan.
  7. Bake for 16 to 19 minutes or until sides are golden brown and center appears not quite done.
  8. Combine powdered sugar and coconut oil and mix until crumbly. 
  9. Add coconut and vanilla extracts and coconut milk and combine until smooth. 
  10. Stir in shredded coconut and combine well.
  11. Frost cookie bars and add additional coconut for garnish.

    5. Healthy Nutella

    Addicted to the poplar hazelnut spread but wishing there were something a little healthier? Then this recipe from Natural Sweet Recipes may just be your dream come true.

    Healthy Nutella

    INGREDIENTS

    • 2 cups raw hazelnuts
    • 1-1/2 cups chocolate chips
    • 1/3 cup coconut sugar
    • 1-2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or coconut oil
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt

    INSTRUCTIONS

    1. Preheat oven to 400 °F.
    2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and roast hazelnuts for 10 to 12 minutes or until brown and skins are easily removed.
    3. Add hazelnuts and coconut sugar to a blender or food processor and blend to a smooth paste. 
    4. Add melted chocolate chips and oil and pulse until combined well.
    5. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

    6. Coconut Soup with Bok Choy

    If all these tasty desserts have you craving something a little more...substantial...then this soup recipe from Rawmazing should be just the thing to satisfy that itch.

    Coconut Soup with Bok Choy

    INGREDIENTS

    • 4 cups bok choy, thinly sliced
    • 6 tablespoons liquid aminos, divided
    • 4 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
    • 1-1/2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
    • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
    • 1 young Thai coconut, flesh and water
    • Enough water to make 2-1/2 cups total liquid when combined with coconut water
    • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
    • 1-inch piece ginger, finely chopped
    • 1 teaspoon raw chili garlic sauce
    • Himalayan salt and pepper to taste

    INSTRUCTIONS

    1. Toss bok choy with half of liquid aminos and sesame oil and dehydrate at 115 °F for 1 hour.
    2. Toss mushrooms with remaining liquid aminos and sesame oil as well as coconut sugar and allow to marinate for at least 1 hour.
    3. Place coconut water, coconut flesh, and water in a blender or food processor and blend on high until mixture begins to feel warm.
    4. Add cumin, ginger, turmeric, raw chili garlic sauce, pepper, and salt and blend until well combined.
    5. Pour mixture in a serving bowl and stir in mushrooms and bok choy.


    The next time you see coconut sugar listed as an ingredient in a recipe, we hope you don't hesitate to give it a whirl. Whether you choose to go with coconut sugar or a coconut sugar substitute, we think you'll agree that there are few things as rewarding as culinary experimentation. So have fun!

    Coconut Milk Masala Chai

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