Can I use maple syrup instead of brown sugar?

Maple syrup and brown sugar are both sweeteners, but they have some key differences that impact how they can be used in baking and cooking. This article will explore whether maple syrup can be substituted for brown sugar in recipes.

Quick Answer

Maple syrup can be substituted for brown sugar in some recipes, but there are important modifications you need to make. The main considerations are that maple syrup is a liquid while brown sugar is dry and granulated. Maple syrup is also much sweeter and has a strong maple flavor. To use maple syrup in place of brown sugar:

  • Reduce the total liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons for every 1 cup brown sugar replaced
  • Use only 1/2 to 3/4 cup maple syrup for every 1 cup brown sugar
  • Add a small amount of cornstarch to help absorb moisture and prevent a wet batter
  • Expect a maple flavor in the finished product

Maple syrup may not be suitable for recipes where brown sugar is used for texture, such as cookies or granola. It can work better in moist cakes, muffins, breads, and sauces.

Brown Sugar vs. Maple Syrup

Brown sugar is a granulated white sugar with molasses added back in. The molasses gives it a soft, crumbly texture and rich caramelized flavor. Brown sugar contains up to 10% molasses and has a distinctive light or dark brown color depending on the molasses concentration.

In contrast, maple syrup is an all-natural liquid sweetener made from the sap of maple trees. It has a distinctive maple flavor and aroma. Maple syrup grades range from light to dark amber, with a sweetness and intensity of maple flavor that increases with darkness. Compared to refined white sugar, maple syrup also contains some vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and polyphenols.


The key difference between brown sugar and maple syrup in terms of sweetness is that maple syrup is significantly sweeter:

  • Maple syrup has a sweetness index of 54-66 on a scale of 100 for sucrose
  • Brown sugar has a sweetness index of 96-98 compared to white sugar at 100

This means you get much more sweetness from maple syrup using smaller volumes. You only need 1/2 to 3/4 cup maple syrup to equal the sweetness of 1 cup brown sugar.

Moisture Content

Brown sugar has a low moisture content around 5%, whereas maple syrup is 100% liquid. When maple syrup is used in baking, the higher moisture content can make batters wetter or prevent cookies and bars from setting up properly. Reducing other liquids in a recipe helps compensate when substituting with maple syrup.


Brown sugar has a neutral flavor with caramel/molasses notes. Maple syrup has a pronounced maple flavor. Substituting maple syrup will result in a maple taste in the end product. This can be desirable for pancakes, muffins, and breads but may not always work depending on the desired flavor profile.

Substitution Ratio

When substituting maple syrup for brown sugar, you need to use the appropriate substitution ratio. As a general guideline:

  • For every 1 cup brown sugar, use only 1/2 to 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • Reduce any other liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons for each cup of brown sugar replaced

Using a 1:1 direct substitution of maple syrup for brown sugar can make recipes much too sweet, wet, and strongly maple flavored. Reducing the maple syrup amount balances moisture levels and sweetness. Keep in mind you may still need to experiment and tweak the ratio slightly for each recipe.

Example Substitution

Here is an example substitution in a recipe calling for 2 cups brown sugar:

  • Instead of 2 cups brown sugar use 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups maple syrup
  • Reduce other liquids by 6-9 tablespoons (3 for each cup brown sugar)

Tips for Using Maple Syrup in Place of Brown Sugar

Here are some helpful tips when using maple syrup in place of brown sugar:

1. Reduce moisture in the recipe

Lower total liquid by 3 tablespoons for each cup brown sugar replaced. You can reduce milk, juice, water, butter/oil, eggs, or other liquid ingredients. Be careful not reducing so much it makes a batter dry.

2. Add a small amount of cornstarch

1-2 teaspoons cornstarch per cup of brown sugar can help absorb excess moisture from the maple syrup.

3. Use grade A or amber maple syrup

Lighter maple syrup grades have a more delicate flavor. Dark amber maple syrup can be overpowering. Medium amber is a good middle ground.

4. Store properly after opening

Once opened, store maple syrup in the refrigerator to prevent mold growth. Let it come to room temperature before using in baking.

5. Expect a maple flavor

The maple syrup will likely impart a noticeable maple taste to foods like cakes, cookies, granola, etc. Whether this is desirable depends on the type of dish.

6. Skip maple syrup in recipes where texture is key

In cookies, granola, streusel, and other recipes where brown sugar’s granulated texture matters, maple syrup may not work as well. Stick to recipes where moisture and flavor are more important.

7. Experiment with amounts

The substitution ratio may need to be adjusted slightly depending on the specific recipe. Be prepared to tweak the maple syrup quantity and liquid reduction as needed.

8. Mix well when creaming

Since maple syrup is a liquid, it incorporates differently when creaming butter. Make sure to mix thoroughly to properly cream the butter and maple syrup.

How to Measure Maple Syrup Accurately

Measuring maple syrup can be tricky since it’s a sticky liquid. Here are some tips for accurate measurement:

Use a liquid measuring cup

A clear measuring cup with ounce and cup markings is best for getting an precise maple syrup measurement.

Spray the cup first

Lightly coat the measuring cup with cooking spray before adding the maple syrup. This prevents sticking and makes it easy to pour out every last drop.

Read at eye level

Place the measuring cup on a flat surface and bend down to read the marking at eye level. The meniscus curve of the maple syrup can make it hard to read the volume accurately.

Weigh for precision

For the most accuracy, maple syrup can be weighed on a kitchen scale. Use weight measurements in grams or ounces.

Never estimate

Since maple syrup is so sweet, estimating can make recipes too sweet or cause other issues. Always carefully measure using proper technique.

Recipes Using Maple Syrup in Place of Brown Sugar

Here are some recipes that use maple syrup as a brown sugar substitute with tasty results:

Maple Banana Bread

This banana bread uses 1/2 cup maple syrup instead of 1 cup brown sugar. The maple flavor pairs perfectly with ripe bananas.

Maple Spice Cookies

For chewy, spiced cookies, use 2/3 cup maple syrup in place of 1 cup brown sugar and add cinnamon.

Maple Syrup Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal cookies get a hint of maple flavor when you use 3/4 cup maple syrup instead of 1 cup brown sugar.

Maple Pumpkin Muffins

These moist pumpkin muffins use 1/2 cup maple syrup in place of 1 cup brown sugar for great pumpkin and maple taste.

Maple Pecan Pie

For a twist on classic pecan pie, maple syrup provides flavor and sweetness instead of brown sugar.

Should Maple Syrup be Warmed Before Using?

There is some debate over whether maple syrup should be warmed before substituting in baking recipes. Here are the pros and cons:

Reasons to Warm Maple Syrup

  • Thinned consistency makes it easier to pour and measure accurately
  • Enhances the maple flavor
  • Allows it to blend and incorporate more smoothly

Reasons Not to Warm

  • Doesn’t require warming for measurement if proper technique is used
  • Heating slightly alters the taste and aroma
  • Chance of overheating and losing flavor nuances

For most baking purposes, it is not essential to warm or heat the maple syrup. At room temperature in a liquid measuring cup it can be portioned out without issue. However, if the syrup is chilled and highly viscous, briefly warming to room temperature can make it easier to work with.

Storing Leftover Maple Syrup

Maple syrup has a long shelf life, but should be stored properly after opening. Here are some storage tips:

  • Transfer to an airtight container or jar
  • Store in the refrigerator to prevent mold growth
  • If crystallization occurs, warm gently until smooth again
  • Can be kept refrigerated for 12 months once opened
  • For long term storage, keep frozen up to 24 months
  • If syrup tastes bitter or sour, it may be spoiled and should be discarded

Properly stored maple syrup retains its delicious sweet maple flavor. Refrigeration is key to preventing bacteria or mold growth after opening. Always inspect maple syrup before use and discard if it looks moldy or separating.

Maple Syrup vs. Other Brown Sugar Substitutes

Besides maple syrup, what are some other substitutes for brown sugar that can work? Here is how maple syrup compares:


Like maple syrup, honey is a liquid sweetener with distinctive flavor. It is not quite as sweet as maple syrup. Honey can work in some instances but also thins out batter.


Molasses is brown sugar without the refined white sugar component. It provides an intense caramel-like flavor. Blackstrap molasses can sometimes be substituted for brown sugar.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is granulated like brown sugar but with a hint of caramel flavor. It can often be substituted 1:1 for brown sugar.

White Sugar + Molasses

Combining white sugar and molasses can mimic brown sugar. Usually 1 tablespoon molasses per 1 cup white sugar.

Ultimately, maple syrup stands out due to its pure maple taste and liquid properties. Just adjust moisture and use a moderate amount.

Nutrition Comparison

How do maple syrup and brown sugar compare nutritionally? Here is an overview:

Calories and Carbohydrates

Maple syrup and brown sugar have a similar calorie density at about 50 calories per tablespoon. They are both high in carbohydrates and sugars.

Vitamins and Minerals

Maple syrup contains small amounts of minerals like calcium, potassium, and manganese. Brown sugar has very minimal vitamins and minerals.


Maple syrup provides beneficial plant compounds like phenolic acids and flavonoids not found in brown sugar.

Glycemic Index

Maple syrup has a lower GI of 54 compared to brown sugar at 64. This results in a slower blood sugar spike.

While both should be enjoyed in moderation, maple syrup does offer slightly more nutritional benefits.

Cost Comparison

The price of maple syrup vs. brown sugar is an important consideration for home cooks:

  • Brown sugar costs around $1-2 per pound
  • Maple syrup costs around $12-15 per pint ($24-30 per quart)

So brown sugar is the cheaper option per ounce. However, since less maple syrup is used in recipes due to the sweetness difference, the cost per recipe may be more comparable.

Buying maple syrup in larger quanties usually offers some bulk discounts. Also consider the cost per use – while pricier upfront, pure maple syrup lasts a very long time in the refrigerator after opening.


Maple syrup can be used in place of brown sugar in some recipes, with a few modifications needed. While they are both sweeteners, maple syrup is liquid and has a stronger maple flavor. Adjusting the maple syrup quantity, reducing other liquids, and adding cornstarch can help swap it into a brown sugar recipe. Maple syrup works best in moist cakes, muffins, and breads rather than cookies. Be mindful that maple syrup is more expensive by volume, but a smaller amount is required in recipes. With the proper substitutions, maple syrup can bring its unique sweet maple taste to baked goods in place of brown sugar.

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