Palm sugar is a common sweetener in Asia; however, finding it in the West can be tricky. Because of this, I have created a list of the ten best palm sugar substitutes. Some of the palm sugar substitutes you might already have in your pantry. I will walk you through the various substitutes for palm sugar that offer similar textures or flavors. This will help you find the best substitute for your recipe.
What is Palm Sugar?
Palm sugar, derived from palm tree sap, is a natural sweetener. The flavor is complex and caramel-like. The texture is slightly grainy. This sugar is unrefined and retains its nutritional value. Palm sugar is used in desserts, stir-fries, and sauces. It is a common ingredient in Thai and Asian foods.
Even though it adds a complex flavor to a dish, it can be difficult to find. If the recipe calls for a caramel-like flavor with a hint of nuttiness, try substituting it with one of the following palm sugar replacements.
Are There Different Types of Palm Sugar?
Yes, because of the different varieties of palm trees, there are several different types of palm sugar. These types are narrowed down to five: palmyra palm, date palm, nipa palm, sugar palm, and coconut palm. The flavor and texture of all five types of palm sugar are similar and can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Reasons for Substituting Palm Sugar
- Availability - In the West, palm sugar is often a specialty item found only in Asian markets or online
- Environmental impact – Palm sugar production is highly controversial due to environmental and human rights issues. You might avoid it for ethical reasons (I do!)
- Taste preferences – Palm sugar has a mild sweetness; you might like more (or less) sweet things depending on your preference.
Ten Best Palm Sugar Substitutes
As someone always looking for cruelty-free and sustainable alternatives, I've been exploring various substitutes for palm sugar while cooking and baking. Let's dig into the details of the ten different substitutes I've tried instead of palm sugar:
1. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is near palm sugar in sweetness, flavor, and texture. It is a natural sugar that comes from the sap of a coconut palm. The flavor can be described as a delicately sweet taste with hints of caramel.
This palm sugar substitute is best for drinks, pancakes, waffles, or other baked goods. Coconut sugar is a healthier choice because it has fewer calories and carbohydrates. Moreover, this nutrient-packed substitute is sustainable as coconut trees yield higher yields. It has quickly become my go-to sweetener while I cook and bake, offering a similar caramel-like texture and taste.
Substitute at a 1:1 ratio - Example: 1 cup of coconut sugar = 1 cup of palm sugar
2. Maple sugar/syrup
Like palm sugar, natural maple sugar has no additives or unnatural flavorings. Pure maple syrup has a distinctly rich and warm flavor. The texture can vary depending on which maple syrup you use.
Maple syrup is a natural and popular sugar substitution among vegans. Generally, maple syrup can be added to any recipe, from traditional Asian recipes to desserts. I love using maple syrup as a sweetener in oatmeal and desserts with a warm feeling.
Substitute at a 1:1 ratio - Example: 1 cup of maple syrup = 1 cup of palm sugar
Honey is a versatile natural sweetener and a popular substitute option. That is because honey has a similar flavor profile: mildly sweet but slightly warm natural.
Honey can be used to sweeten your tea and is great for spreading on pancakes, crackers, or oats. Honey is also a popular palm sugar baking substitute.
One key thing to note, while there is disagreement among vegans, honey is generally considered vegetarian and not vegan.
Honey does have textural differences. As a result, you probably will need to adjust your wet ingredients when using them as a substitute for baking. Getting the ratio right is the key to avoiding a kitchen disaster!
Substitute at a 1:2 ratio - For example, ½ cup of honey equals 1 cup of palm sugar.
4. Monk fruit sweetener
Native to Southern China, the Golden monk fruit is also known as Lo Han Guo. For weight watchers with a sweet tooth, a monk fruit sweetener is the way to go.
This natural palm sugar substitute has zero calories. It adds sweetness while reducing calorie intake. For this reason, I suggest adding it to morning smoothies. It makes the smoothie sweet without the sugar rush/crash.
Besides offering various health benefits, monk fruit sweetener is also heat stable. It is perfect for baking and cooking without worrying about a drastic flavor change.
Substitute at a 1:1 ratio - For example, 1 cup of monk fruit sweetener = 1 cup of palm sugar.
A byproduct of sugar production, molasses has a deep, rich flavor with a moist texture. Because of this, molasses is often found in gingerbread, cookies, and holiday cakes. The warm color and flavor enrich the warm holiday feel.
If you use molasses as a substitute but do not want the holiday feel, combine the white sugar and molasses to replicate the palm sugar flavor.
Substitute at a 3:4 ratio - For example, ¾ cup of molasses for every 1 cup of palm sugar.
6. Date Sugar
Date sugar is an excellent alternative to palm sugar, but it might be difficult to find. However, you can produce date sugar at home by dehydrating dates or roasting them in the oven. The roasted dates are ground in a coffee grinder or food processor till it reaches a sugar-like consistency.
Though a pricey alternative for palm sugar, this sub is intensely sweet and highly nutritious. It contains vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. This one-on-one replacement will not spike blood sugar levels when consumed in moderation.
Date sugar offers a distinct flavor, which only works for some recipes. You must experiment with whether the earthy, fruity taste complements the dessert.
Substitute at a 2:3 ratio - For example, ⅔ cup of date sugar for every 1 cup of palm sugar.
Note: Date sugar is fibrous, and it will take longer to dissolve than other sugars.
7. Brown Sugar
Readily available in most grocery stores, brown sugar has a distinctive caramel-like flavor, scent, and color. It is made by mixing white granulated sugar with molasses. The difference between light and dark brown sugar is the amount of molasses added to the white sugar.
Brown sugar adds moisture to recipes. While that sounds good, it can also wreak havoc on your baked goods. To compensate for the additional moisture, reduce the liquid in the recipe by one tablespoon per cup of brown sugar. Typically, only baked goods require brown sugar.
Vegans typically use organic or vegan brown sugar to avoid using sugar made with bone char, an animal byproduct.
Substitute at a 1:1 ratio - For example, 1 cup of agave nectar for every 1 cup of palm sugar.
8. Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup, or rice malt syrup, is a sweetener made from brown rice that has been fermented and cooked down. Once cooked down, it becomes a light brown syrup. This sugar contains no fructose or gluten and has a low glucose level with a high glycemic index.
Brown rice syrup has a mild, nutty flavor and works well in recipes that require a liquid sweetener. It is marked as a natural healthy sugar. It is popular in healthier granola bars and beverages.
Substitute at a 1:1 ratio - For example, 1 cup of brown rice syrup for every 1 cup of palm sugar.
9. Muscovado sugar
Muscovado sugar is a partially refined cane sugar with a rich, caramel-like flavor and a moist texture. It has an intense, rich molasses taste, making it perfect for adding to chocolate desserts, gingerbread, and other baked goods.
With a smoky aftertaste, the swap can be tricky. It is recommended to start by adding a small portion of muscovado sugar and increase it if required.
These are just a few substitutes for palm sugar that are tested. Experiment with different options to find the best one for your needs and tastes.
Substitute at a 1:1 ratio - For example, 1 cup of muscovado for every 1 cup of palm sugar.
10. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is another natural liquid sweetener, similar to honey, that can be used as a substitute for palm sugar. It is made from the agave plant. Agave nectar is lower on this list because, while being sweet, it does not have the same warm caramel flavors as palm sugar or maple syrup.
Agave nectar is also a popular choice instead of honey amongst vegans. It has the same sweet properties and is also a liquid. However, agave nectar is much more liquid than honey.
Substitute at a 1:2 ratio - For example, ½ cup of agave nectar for every 1 cup of palm sugar.
Frequently Asked Questions
Compared to white sugar, palm sugar has minimal processing and is unrefined. The result is palm sugar has retained essential vitamins and minerals. It is also lower on the glycemic index. However, it is still a sugar and can be unhealthy if overindulged in.
Yes, you absolutely use white sugar as a palm sugar substitute. Palm sugar has a warmer caramel-type flavor and a grainy texture. White sugar has a neutral flavor and no texture. While the differences may seem large, they are actually small when used in cooking.
Yes, palm sugar substitutes can be used in savory and sweet dishes. They can add a subtle sweetness and depth of flavor to sauces, marinades, and stir-fries.
Choosing the best alternative to palm sugar depends on your preference, the recipe, and the availability of natural sweeteners in your region. Some substitutes may have a stronger flavor or different texture, so it is always best to experiment and find the best one for your needs.
Check out my other substitution guides
Comparison Table for Palm Sugar Substitutes
Here is a quick table to help you identify the right alternative to palm sugar for your recipe:
|Palm Sugar Substitute||Uses||Taste||Texture||Ratio|
|Coconut Sugar||Baked goods, sweet sauces, and marinades||Similar to brown||Granulated, like sugar||1:1|
|Maple Syrup||Pancakes, waffles, and desserts||Sweet, earthy||Liquid, thick||¾ cup for every 1 cup of palm sugar|
|Honey||Baked goods, teas, and marinades||Sweet, floral||Liquid, thick and sticky||½ cup for every 1 cup of palm sugar|
|Monk Fruit Sweetener||Baked goods, beverages, and sauces||Sweet, fruity||Granulated, like sugar||? cup for 1 cup of palm sugar|
|Molasses||Baked goods, marinades, and BBQ sauce||Strong, bittersweet||Liquid, Very thick syrup||1:1|
|Date Sugar||Baked goods and hot cereals||Sweet, caramelized||Coarse, like sand||⅔ cup for every 1 cup of palm sugar|
|Brown Sugar||Baked goods and sauces||Sweet, caramelized||Moist, like sand||1:1|
|Brown Rice Syrup||Baked goods, sauces and caramels||Mild, slightly nutty||Liquid, thick||1:1|
|Muscovado Sugar||Baked goods, marinades, and BBQ sauce||Strong, molasses||Moist, like wet sand||Start with a small portion|
|Agave Syrup||Baked goods, teas, and marinades||Slightly sweet||Liquid, thin and runny||½ cup for every 1 cup of palm sugar|
I hope this substitution guide helps you. If you have any questions, leave a comment or contact me through my About Me page.