Ah, the world of sweets, candies, cakes, and all sorts of desserts. I can't imagine what this world would be like without sugar.
Yes, I'm well aware of the global pushback about sugar consumption. Thankfully, we're constantly finding different types of sugar and other sweeteners to moderate our glucose intake.
That brings us to palm sugar, believed to be a healthier alternative to good old white sugar. However, not everyone has palm sugar on their shelves.
Does that mean you have to stick to traditional but risky sugars? Well, not if you have a palm sugar substitute.
Understanding Palm Sugar
When replacing a certain ingredient with a substitute, you must fully understand it. What is it? Where does it come from? Why replace it? What does it do to our recipes?
Answering these questions will determine the best alternative for a specific purpose.
What's Palm Sugar?
Palm sugar, as the name suggests, comes from palm trees. Farmers harvest the sap from palm flowers, boil it until it thickens, and let it cool until it solidifies.
You will often see palm sugar in markets sold as bricks, but some manufacturers or sellers sell granulated sugar from palm trees, too. Some come from palm sugar bricks (after grating or shaving).
The process of producing them remains the same, but the flavor profile and composition of palm sugar vary depending on what kind of palm tree it comes from (coconut, nipa, date, Palmyra, etc.).
Palm Sugar vs. White Sugar
Palm sugar is the most popular substitute for white sugar. One reason for this is its lower glycemic index. White sugar's glycemic index ranges from 60 to 65.
On the other hand, palm sugar's glycemic index is only 35. Even though palm sugar is less sweet than white sugar, it will not cause your blood sugar to spike.
Additionally, it contains various nutrients ranging from calcium, manganese, and potassium to iron and zinc, making palm sugar healthy.
Best Palm Sugar Substitutes
The only major downside is that manufacturers, sellers, and buyers source palm sugar directly from farmers. You can probably only buy palm sugar online or from specialty stores.
Nonetheless, you can still have a healthier (or at least less risky) recipe by using the best substitutes for palm sugar.
1. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is technically a type of palm sugar (since coconut trees are palm trees), but because it's extremely popular and versatile, we must separate it from the group.
Its granulated appearance resembles traditional sugar, but its taste is closer to brown sugar. The glycemic index of coconut palm sugar is also at 35 and provides several health benefits you wouldn't get from other sugars.
Coconut sugar is just as sweet as palm sugar, but its rich flavor is an excellent addition to any recipe. Because of this, you can substitute palm sugar with coconut sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
Best for marinades, sweet sauces, and baked goods.
Try it on this Coconut Cheesecake recipe.
2. Brown Sugar
Substituting palm sugar with a different type of sugar should be a breeze. That's why brown sugar is so high up on our list (aside from its caramel-like flavor that's similar to palm sugar).
Unlike palm and coconut sugar, brown sugar is widely available in grocery stores nationwide. It's probably the most accessible alternative to palm sugar on this list.
One downside to using brown sugar is its moisture which is significantly higher than other types of sugar, especially cane sugar. While that works for sauces, it can be detrimental to certain baked goods.
Use brown sugar as a substitute in a 1:1 ratio, but compensate for the extra moisture by reducing the portions of other liquids in the recipe.
Best for sauces and baked goods.
Honey is the most popular natural sweetener for all foods and drinks. Its warm and mildly sweet flavor profile makes it an excellent palm sugar alternative.
However, since the production involves bees, and bees are animals, honey is not a vegan substitute. Additionally, it's in liquid form, so you must adjust the proportions of liquid ingredients in your recipe.
Use honey as a substitute for palm sugar in a 1:2 ratio. (1 cup of honey = 2 cups of palm sugar)
Best for marinades, teas, and baked goods.
Here's a Pretzel Buns recipe to try it on.
4. Agave Nectar
Here's a liquid-based sweetener to replace palm sugar in your recipe. Unlike honey, it comes from plants, or more specifically, agave plants, so it's a vegan alternative.
Agave nectar adds a sweet flavor to your recipe. However, it doesn't provide a caramel-like flavor, so its taste differs from palm sugar. Plus, it has a thinner consistency than honey, so adjust the portions of liquid ingredients, too.
Nonetheless, it has a lower glycemic index than most types of sugar. White sugar has a glycemic index of 65 while palm sugar has 35, but agave nectar only has 17, making it one of the healthiest alternatives on this list.
Use agave nectar as a substitute for palm sugar in a 1:2 ratio.
Best for marinades, teas, sauces, and baked goods.
5. Maple Syrup/Sugar
One thing that makes palm sugar healthy is the absence of additional flavors and other unnatural additives. That's why maple sugar or syrup is an excellent substitute.
Natural maple syrup provides a warm and rich flavor to your recipe, although the consistency may vary from one brand to another.
You can make maple sugar at home by boiling maple syrup to evaporate its water content. However, since it's denser than palm sugar and other granulated sugar, they don't dissolve as quickly.
Because it's sweeter than palm sugar, you must use ¾ cup of maple syrup/sugar for every cup of palm sugar in the recipe.
Best for waffles, pancakes, and other desserts.
Check out this Savory Pancakes with Bacon recipe and use maple syrup as sweetener.
6. Date Sugar
Date sugar isn't widely available in the US markets, but you can make it at home if you can find date fruits. Dehydrate them by drying them in the sun or oven, then use a grinder to turn them into granulated sugar.
This is probably your best option since date sugar is rather expensive. Even though it has an intensely sweet flavor, date sugar is good for your health as it contains antioxidants, fiber, and several vitamins.
However, along with its sweetness are undertones of fruity and earthy taste, so you may want to assess whether these flavors work for your recipe.
Use date sugar as a substitute for palm sugar in a 2:3 ratio, but if you're trying to reduce your calorie intake, stick to a 1:2 ratio.
Best for hot cereals and baked goods.
7. Monk Fruit Sweetener
The monk fruit sweetener comes from luo han guo or golden monk fruit. The fruit is native to Southeast Asia, making it difficult to find in the US.
Nonetheless, you will find monk fruit sweeteners in numerous stores nationwide, albeit it comes from the green variety of monk fruit.
The only difference is that the golden monk fruit tastes slightly richer and less bitter than the green monk fruit.
It's one of the best palm sugar substitutes because it contains zero calories and does not change flavor after baking or cooking.
Use a monk fruit sweetener as a substitute in a 1:1 ratio.
Best for smoothies, baked goods, and sauces.
You can even use it to make Homemade Peanut Butter!
Stevia is gradually becoming more popular as people become conscious of their sugar intake. Stevia sugar comes from the stevia plant leaves and is significantly sweeter than regular sugar.
Unprocessed stevia sugar is around 30 times sweeter, but purified stevia can reach up to 300 times the sweetness of white sugar.
But surprisingly, it's a relatively healthier alternative because of the absence of additives and additional flavorings. It also doesn't contain calories.
Like monk fruit sweeteners, stevia is heat-stable, so the flavor will not change during baking or cooking.
You can find this in granulated or liquid form. If you're using pure stevia, replace 1 cup of palm sugar with 1 teaspoon of stevia.
Best for beverages, sauces, and baked goods.
9. Muscovado Sugar
Muscovado sugar is almost the same as brown sugar, except that it's less refined sugar, therefore retaining much of its molasses content.
As a result, it also has a more intense flavor with a slightly smoky aftertaste. While it contains more nutrients than white sugar, it still has a glycemic index of 65, so you must moderate its consumption.
The widely accepted ratio for muscovado sugar as a substitute for palm sugar is 1:1. However, because of its complex flavor, I recommend adding smaller portions to your recipe and adjusting based on taste.
Best for chocolate desserts and other baked goods.
10. Fruit Puree
If you're really trying to make the healthiest recipe you could ever make, use fruit puree to sweeten your dessert.
Fresh fruit purees are widely available in supermarkets (usually in the baby food aisle). However, be sure to read the labels to ensure it doesn't contain artificial sweeteners or sugar.
You can also make fruit purees at home using fresh mango and/or plum. Just use it in recipes where its flavor will blend perfectly.
Best for fruity desserts.
Try it on this Easy Raspberry Cake recipe.
Tips When Replacing Palm Sugar
Palm sugar works in many recipes because of its versatility and nutritional value. However, some substitutes may not be exactly like palm sugar.
That's why you need to be careful when replacing it. Here are some valuable tips to help you use a palm sugar substitute more effectively.
Be mindful of additional flavors.
While all the substitutes above will add a degree of sweetness to your recipe, they also bring certain flavors to the table.
Take, for instance, date sugar. Aside from sweetness, it also adds earthy undertones to your baked goods or dishes. Ergo, you should only use it on recipes that will still taste great despite the slightly earthy flavor.
Be more lenient on the subtle changes in flavor as well since some substitutes do not have the caramel-like flavor you want from palm sugar.
Determine the potency.
The next thing you need to be mindful of is the potency. Not all substitutes for palm sugar must be used in a 1:1 ratio.
Otherwise, your recipe will be extremely sweet or lacking in flavor. Research how much of a substitute you must use to replace palm sugar.
If you can't find valuable information on it, add small amounts of the substitute and adjust the proportions according to taste.
Liquid vs. granulated sugar
Lastly, be mindful of the texture and consistency of the substitute. Some substitutes are in liquid form, and proceeding to use them without adjusting the proportion of other liquid ingredients may ruin your baked goods.
If you're not confident with your skills on this, it's best to stick to granulated sugar substitutes since they're solids.
Palm Sugar Substitute FAQs
Among all the substitutes on this list, coconut sugar is perhaps the most similar to palm sugar in taste and texture. Plus, they both come from palm trees.
Nonetheless, brown sugar, stevia, maple sugar, and honey are also excellent palm sugar substitutes.
Raw or unrefined sugar will work just fine in any recipe that calls for palm sugar. However, don't expect it to be as healthy as the latter. Moreover, raw sugar tends to be sweeter than palm sugar.
Brown and palm sugar differ in taste, origin, and moisture content. Brown sugar is sweeter, slightly moist, and comes from sugar cane molasses.
Choosing the Best Palm Sugar Substitute
Even though palm sugar is not always available in supermarkets, it's nice to know that there are several substitutes that are just as sweet and healthy.
Just be mindful of how you use them in your recipe. Coconut sugar, brown sugar, and stevia are some of the best solid substitutes for palm sugar.
On the other hand, maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar should be perfect for liquid recipes. Let me know which one works for you!
If you have other ingredients you want to replace, visit Also The Crumbs, Please.
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Palm Sugar Substitute
Option 1 (Coconut Sugar)
- 1 cup coconut sugar
Option 2 (Brown Sugar)
- 1 cup brown sugar
Option 3 (Honey)
- ½ cup honey
Option 1 (Coconut Sugar)
- Use 1 cup of coconut sugar to replace 1 cup of palm sugar in the recipe.
Option 2 (Brown Sugar)
- Use 1 cup of brown sugar to replace 1 cup of palm sugar in the recipe.
Option 3 (Honey)
- Use ½ cup of honey to replace 1 cup of palm sugar in the recipe.
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