Yes, You Can Use Coconut Sugar in Place of White Sugar—but Is This Alternative Sweetener Better for You?

A cooking teacher and a dietician weigh in.

Coconut sugar in bowl

When shopping for sugar at the grocery store, most people grab a bag of granulated white cane sugar and call it a day. But if you're trying to eat more healthily and take the time to browse the shelves, you will notice there are a number of white sugar alternatives.

Enter coconut sugar, a granulated sweetener that looks similar to brown sugar. Before you make the swap, though, it's important to consider the following questions: Is coconut sugar a good replacement for white sugar, and does it have any noteworthy benefits? We consulted a cooking teacher and a registered dietician to learn the best ways to use coconut sugar—and determine if it's a worthy swap for other sweeteners.

What Is Coconut Sugar?

Coconut sugar, also called coconut palm sugar, is made from the sap of the coconut palm tree, according to Olivia Roszkowski, chef instructor of health-supportive culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. The tree grows in the Philippines and other regions of Southeast Asia. To make coconut sugar, the sap is boiled, reduced, then granulated into grains. The cooking process caramelizes the sugar, resulting in a brownish hue.

How to Use Coconut Sugar in Recipes

In general, coconut sugar can replace white sugar using a 1:1 ratio in most recipes, says Roszkowski. However, she recommends grinding coconut sugar into smaller granules using a food processor or blender first. This will ensure it seamlessly dissolves into a batter when you're baking, which is especially helpful when using coconut sugar in suspensions such as meringue, says Roszkowski.

With that in mind, coconut sugar fares better in certain applications. The sweetener is ideal for moist batters and chewy cookies, as it retains moisture well, says Roszkowski. Coconut sugar also gives finished products a golden color, which may be ideal for certain recipes. Additionally, coconut sugar tastes similar to brown sugar and boasts delicious caramel notes. This flavor profile pairs beautifully with vanilla, apple, banana bread, or cinnamon waffle and pancake batters, according to Roszkowski. It also works nicely with more intense flavors, such as cranberry, blueberry, chocolate, cardamom. What's more, coconut sugar shines in Southeast Asian recipes, whether sweet or savory, she says.

When Not to Use Coconut Sugar

Avoid using coconut sugar for airy recipes like soufflés, as it can weigh down ingredients, says Roszkowski. "Coconut sugar is also caramelized, so it can compete with more delicate flavors like lemon, rose, and lavender," she says. "Plus, since the sweetener has a golden hue, it's not the best choice for recipes that are meant to have a pale color, like angel food cake."

Buying and Storing Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is widely available in grocery stores and online. Check that packages are labeled as "coconut sugar" or "coconut palm sugar" (regular palm sugar is not the same thing). Store coconut sugar as you would regular sugar; it should be kept dry in a sealed container in your pantry and will last up to a year.

Is Coconut Sugar Better for You Than White Sugar?

Although coconut sugar has some health benefits over regular sugar, it's not necessarily the "better" option. Coconut sugar may have more nutrients, including zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins, says registered dietitian Maddie Pasquariello. However, "such small differences in overall nutrient content would only be relevant if you're already consuming huge amounts of sugar, so the benefits [are] outweighed by the consequences of consuming the sugar itself," explains Pasquariello. One significant plus? Coconut sugar is less processed than regular white sugar. If your goal is to use less processed ingredients, coconut sugar could be a "better" swap.

That being said, all sugar reacts similarly in the body, regardless of the source, says Pasquariello. If you want or need to monitor your sugar intake, be sure to approach your intake of coconut sugar just as you would regular sugar.

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