Can you substitute brown sugar for white sugar in simple syrup?

Simple syrup is a basic syrup made from equal parts sugar and water. It is commonly used as a sweetener and mixing agent in cocktails, coffee drinks, and more. Simple syrup comes in two main varieties: regular simple syrup made with white granulated sugar, and rich simple syrup made with brown sugar. So can you use brown sugar instead of white sugar when making simple syrup? Let’s take a closer look.

The Difference Between Brown Sugar and White Sugar

Brown sugar and white sugar both come from sugarcane. The difference lies in the molasses content. Brown sugar contains more molasses than white sugar, which gives it its distinctive color and flavor.

During the refining process that turns sugarcane into table sugar, sugarcane juice is boiled to form crystals. To make white sugar, these crystals are further processed to remove all traces of molasses. For brown sugar, some of the molasses is retained, either by adding it back into refined white sugar or by stopping the crystallization process earlier.

This extra molasses impacts the texture and flavor of brown sugar. Molasses contains compounds that lend brown sugar notes of caramel and toffee. The molasses also makes brown sugar moist and clumpy. By comparison, white sugar has a neutral flavor and dry, free-flowing texture.

Substituting Brown Sugar in Simple Syrup

Because of the differences between brown sugar and white sugar, you cannot directly substitute one for the other in a recipe. However, you can make simple syrup with brown sugar instead of white.

One thing to keep in mind is that brown sugar contains less sucrose (pure crystallized sugar) per cup than white sugar since some of that weight comes from the molasses. To compensate for this:

  • Use 1 cup of brown sugar for every 3/4 cup of white sugar called for in a simple syrup recipe.
  • Increase the amount of water slightly – use 2 tablespoons extra water for every 1 cup of brown sugar.

So for a standard 1:1 simple syrup that uses 1 cup white sugar and 1 cup water, you would use:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups water

With those adjusted amounts, brown sugar can be seamlessly swapped into simple syrup. The resulting syrup will have a slight caramel note and may be thicker in consistency due to the molasses.

How to Make Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

Making brown sugar simple syrup is essentially the same process as regular simple syrup. Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Measure out 3/4 cup packed brown sugar and 1 1/4 cups water in a small saucepan.
  2. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar fully dissolves.
  3. Once dissolved, let the syrup simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  5. Pour the cooled simple syrup into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

The key is to continue heating and stirring the mixture until the brown sugar fully melts into the water. This can take a few minutes longer than white sugar since brown sugar contains molasses solids.

Letting the syrup simmer for a couple minutes helps intensify the flavor. Then cooling it down stops the cooking process for optimal flavor preservation.

Ideal Uses for Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

Brown sugar simple syrup works beautifully in any recipe where you want to impart subtle caramel, butterscotch, or toffee notes:

  • Cocktails: Splash into an Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, or Moscow Mule.
  • Coffee drinks: Stir into hot coffee, iced coffee, lattes, and mochas.
  • Tea: Add a touch of sweetness to black tea, chai tea, or earl grey tea.
  • Desserts: Use in cakes, cookies, puddings, fruit desserts, and more.
  • Fruit: Sweeten up fresh berries, peaches, grapefruit, and other fruits.
  • Yogurt: Mix into plain yogurt or swirl into yogurt parfaits.
  • Granola and oatmeal: Drizzle over your breakfast bowl.
  • Pancakes and waffles: Serve as a flavorful syrup option.

Any recipe that could benefit from a hint of molasses notes is a prime candidate for brown sugar simple syrup. It adds a subtly rich flavor and color while still blending smoothly like regular simple syrup.

Storing Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

Brown sugar simple syrup will keep for 1-2 months when stored properly in the refrigerator. To maximize its shelf life:

  • Make sure the syrup has fully cooled before transferring to a storage container. Heat can accelerate spoilage.
  • Store in an airtight glass or plastic container. Metal can react with the syrup.
  • Refrigerate immediately after making and keep chilled.
  • Check for signs of mold before using – discard if mold is present.
  • For longer storage, consider freezing extra simple syrup in ice cube trays for up to 6 months.

Over time, the molasses may separate and sink to the bottom of the container. This is natural. Simply stir the syrup well before using to reincorporate.

Troubleshooting Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

While brown sugar simple syrup is easy to make, here are some troubleshooting tips if your syrup doesn’t turn out right:

  • Crystals form – This likely means the brown sugar did not fully dissolve and melt into the water while cooking. Make sure to heat and stir the mixture until no granules remain before taking it off the heat. Or, you can reheat the syrup to dissolve any stubborn crystals.
  • Syrup is too thin – For a thicker syrup, reduce the amount of water slightly next time. Or, simmer the finished syrup for 5-10 extra minutes to evaporate some excess water.
  • Syrup is too thick – Add a touch of warm water to thin it out to the right consistency for use.
  • Syrup spoils quickly – Be sure to refrigerate immediately after making. Check that storage container has an airtight seal. Only make as much syrup as you will use within 1 month.

With the right technique and storage, your brown sugar simple syrup will stay smooth and flavorful. Adjust the brown sugar to water ratio to your taste preferences for the perfect simple syrup for cocktails, coffee, pancakes, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar?

Yes, you can substitute dark brown sugar in a simple syrup recipe, though it will produce a syrup with a more pronounced molasses flavor. As with light brown sugar, you’ll want to use less dark brown sugar by volume than the recipe calls for in white sugar. Reduce the amount of dark brown sugar by about 25% and increase the water slightly.

Is brown sugar simple syrup healthier than regular simple syrup?

Brown sugar simple syrup is not necessarily healthier than regular simple syrup made with white sugar. Both contain sucrose which leads to similar effects on blood sugar levels. Brown sugar does contain some trace minerals from the molasses, but not in significant amounts to make a big nutritional difference.

Can I use brown sugar simple syrup in cocktails that call for regular simple syrup?

Absolutely! Brown sugar simple syrup can typically be substituted 1:1 for regular simple syrup in cocktail recipes. The brown sugar variant will add subtle caramel and butterscotch notes that complement many cocktails. Feel free to experiment with substituting it into your favorite drink recipes.

Is there a conversion formula for substituting brown sugar for white sugar?

As a general rule of thumb: for every 1 cup of white sugar, substitute 3/4 cup packed brown sugar and slightly increase the liquid in the recipe by 2-3 tablespoons. The brown sugar weighs less per cup due to the molasses, so decreasing it by about 25% will get you closer to an equal sweetness and texture.

How long does brown sugar simple syrup last in the fridge?

Properly stored brown sugar simple syrup will keep for 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator. Keep it in an airtight container and refrigerated at all times. If you see any mold, discard the syrup. For longer storage, consider freezing unused portions of simple syrup in ice cube trays.


Brown sugar can absolutely be used to make simple syrup in place of regular white sugar. The key is to decrease the brown sugar by about 25% from the amount of white sugar called for, and slightly increase the water to compensate. This results in a simple syrup with a hint of caramel/molasses flavor that works wonderfully in drinks, desserts, yogurt, coffee, and more. Store brown sugar simple syrup properly in the fridge and enjoy its richness and versatility in your favorite recipes.

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