School milk bottles and oatmeal cookies on wooden background

Brown sugar and nutmeg are both kitchen staples, so much so that you might assume they’re always in place in your pantry – even when you’ve actually run out of one or both of them. And you had your heart set on oatmeal cookies; didn’t you? How do you make a batch of your favorite cookies now?

The Best Replacement for Brown Sugar in Your Cookie Recipe

It’s perfectly possible to make oatmeal cookies with no brown sugar on hand, even though it seems to be listed as an ingredient in virtually every recipe. White granulated sugar just doesn’t have the same depth of flavor. But you don’t have to settle for blander cookies when you have other resources in your pantry.

Brown sugar is, after all, composed of molasses and granulated white sugar. If you have a jar of molasses, you can make your own brown sugar to your own specifications. Start by mixing together 1 tablespoon of molasses with a cup of sugar.

Most recipes call for light brown sugar, which that single tablespoon of molasses should approximate. However, if you want a bolder molasses flavor, add a second tablespoonful. Stir the mixture with a fork until it reaches the desired consistency.


Bear in mind that dark molasses is not as sweet as light molasses. If you're using dark molasses, add just a bit at first and go from there. Adjust the proportions to suit your own taste buds.

Other Brown Sugar Substitutes

If you don’t have molasses in the pantry, try adding a tablespoon of maple syrup to a cup of white sugar. This will add a different, sweeter flavor profile, which many cooks find quite pleasing.

If you’re in the habit of acquiring unusual ingredients, you just may have turbinado or demerara sugar available. Use either of these as you would use brown sugar. They’re coarser than regular brown sugar and can be a bit difficult to mix smoothly into the batter. Try grinding these sugars first in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Muscovado is a minimally refined sugar that also contains molasses. In fact, it has quite a bit more molasses content than regular brown sugar, which makes it harder to mix into the batter and could make your cookies sticky if it’s not thoroughly combined. Use in equal measure to the amount of brown sugar called for, but add it a little at a time and make sure it’s entirely blended in.

Who Needs Nutmeg, Anyway?

There are plenty of easy oatmeal cookie recipes that don’t call for any nutmeg at all. In the recipes where it does figure, it’s often used in minute quantities; a little bit of nutmeg goes a long way. If you do want that extra bit of spice to your homemade oatmeal cookies, decent alternatives are available. They can be measured approximately the same as the amount of nutmeg in your recipe.

  • Nutmeg and mace actually come from different parts of the same tree and have similar flavor profiles, though mace is somewhat milder. 
  • Allspice is composed of three spices: cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. So if you have allspice in your cupboard, you already have a small amount of nutmeg. And the zesty sweetness of allspice would be a nice addition to your cookies in any case.  
  • Cinnamon can be used as a substitute for nutmeg, but since it has a stronger flavor, use about half as much. Also note quite a few oatmeal cookie recipes are out there that call for cinnamon as the only spice with no nutmeg needed.