I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of jaggery substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Muscovado sugar is the best substitute for jaggery. You can also use Piloncillo, but it’s harder to find. Or raw sugar alternatives like demerara or palm sugar. In a pinch, brown sugar or white sugar mixed with molasses can save your dish.
I baked small batches of these jaggery cookies to put several substitutes to the test.
Jaggery is an unrefined sweetener made from sugar cane juice or palm sap. It typically comes in blocks or hard crystals, which you have to dissolve or grind before using.
Its flavor is sweet, with hints of earthiness and nutty, caramel-like notes that make it a staple in Indian desserts. It’s also often used for balancing the flavors of richer dishes. I was looking for substitutes that could replicate or get close to this flavor profile.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Muscovado||Excellent for hot drinks||9/10|
|Brown sugar (or granulated sugar + molasses)||Very accessible and affordable||8/10|
|Demerara||Great as a finishing sugar||8/10|
|Palm/coconut sugar||Comes in solid and ground form||8/10|
|Maple syrup||Replace jaggery with ¾ the amount||7/10|
First up on our list of jaggery substitutes is muscovado sugar. Muscovado is an unrefined sugar like jaggery, which means most of its molasses content remains intact.
It has a rich flavor that’s similar in strength to jaggery, but it tastes more like molasses than caramel. It’s also got a pretty different texture. Muscovado sugar is moist and sticky, with a sand-like consistency – which means it will work great as a substitute in recipes where you need to melt or crush the jaggery. But it won’t be suitable if you’re relying on the denseness of jaggery.
You should be able to find muscovado in most well-stocked grocery stores, especially ones that have a large international selection or a specialty baking section.
How to substitute: Replace jaggery in a 1:1 ratio with muscovado sugar.
Next on our list is palm or coconut sugar. Palm sugar is made from the sap of different palm trees, but the production process is similar to the production process for jaggery. The sap is boiled once and then formed into cakes.
Both jaggery and palm sugar often come in compressed blocks, granules, or paste-like forms, and their color can range from golden to dark brown. To someone unfamiliar with the nuanced differences, they might look quite similar!
I found palm sugar to have a milder caramel-like flavor than jaggery, without any of the earthy undertones. But the difference wasn’t so pronounced it mattered. You should be able to find some in any health food store.
How to substitute: Replace jaggery in a 1:1 ratio with palm or coconut sugar.
Another unrefined sugar you can use in place of jaggery is piloncillo. You might know this sugar by one of its other names, like panela, rapadura, or chancaca. It comes from Mexico and is made from boiled sugarcane juice.
Piloncillo is unprocessed like jaggery and muscovado, so it has a beautiful golden brown color and a robust, molasses-like flavor with smokey undertones. It’s normally molded into a cone shape that solidifies when cool, so you’ll need to chop it or grate it before using it. Think of it as an extra arm workout!
Wondering where to buy this? Try checking your local Latin American or Mexican store.
How to substitute: Replace jaggery in a 1:1 ratio with piloncillo.
Brown sugar (or granulated sugar + molasses)
Brown sugar is an easily accessible and affordable alternative for jaggery – you might even have it sitting in your cupboard right now. It’s refined white sugar with molasses added back in. The touch of molasses imparts similar flavor notes to jaggery, although they won’t be as rich or complex.
If you only have white sugar, you can make your own brown sugar by mixing it with molasses. Add 4 tablespoons of molasses to a cup of granulated white sugar and you’ll have a pretty decent jaggery substitute.
I could definitely tell which of the cookies were made with brown sugar rather than jaggery, but this option is great in a pinch.
How to substitute: Replace jaggery in a 1:1 ratio with brown sugar or a granulated sugar and molasses mix.
This golden-colored sugar undergoes minimal processing, making it another unrefined sugar like jaggery. It has the same sweet, toffee-like notes, but the taste is more subtle compared to jaggery. Like with white sugar, if you want a more pronounced flavor, you can mix in some molasses to the demerara.
Demerara sugar has large, distinct crystals that can take a while to dissolve. If you need a fine powder, you can crush the sugar with a rolling pin or put it through a spice grinder.
Pro tip: Demerara sugar is delicious in coffee, so if you’re a coffee drinker it’s definitely worth getting some.
How to substitute: Replace jaggery in a 1:1 ratio with Demerara.
Maple syrup is a handy alternative you can use if you can’t go on a grocery run and hunt for jaggery. But remember it’s a liquid, so you’re going to need to make some adjustments to your recipe. It’s also sweeter than jaggery, so I used 3/4 of the amount called for and then reduced the milk by half.
This made sure my batter wasn’t too wet.
Pro tip: Make sure to use 100% pure maple syrup. The market is flooded with imitations made with corn syrup, and they won’t give you the authentic flavor you’re looking for.
How to substitute: Replace jaggery with 3/4 the amount of maple syrup.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks for jaggery substitutes, but they aren’t the only options. Here are some other things you can use if you already have them on hand:
- Honey: This tends to be sweeter than jaggery and the exact flavor will depend on the honey source, in general, it’s much more floral than jaggery.
- Date sugar: This is made with dehydrated dates that have been ground to replicate granulated sugar. It has a butterscotch-like flavor that’ll remind you of the robust taste of jaggery. But be aware it doesn’t dissolve completely, so it won’t work in all applications (like beverages).
- Coconut nectar: Coconut nectar is coconut sugar in liquid form, so like with maple syrup you might need to reduce another liquid in the recipe.
Substitutes to avoid
I came across lots of different suggestions for jaggery substitutes while I was researching, but not all of them worked out well in my experiments.
One of the websites listed caramel as a substitute, but I found this far too sweet to stand in for jaggery. Another suggestion I encountered was turbinado, which is a raw sugar like jaggery. But the larger crystals mean it doesn’t melt as quickly, so my cookies ended up with a much drier texture.
It’s more commonly used as a topper or finishing sugar.
Best Jaggery Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- ½ cup muscovado
- ½ cup grated piloncillo
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup demerara
- ½ cup palm/coconut sugar
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen jaggery substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.