There are times when you need honey but you’re out. And there are other instances where, for dietary reasons, you might avoid cooking with honey.
Whatever the case, there are plenty of options for honey substitutions. Read on to see if you have any of them handy, and which ones are best for certain uses.
The Best Substitute for Honey
We have a vegan in our family, and a lot of vegans don’t eat honey. So when I’m making a recipe for general household consumption, my go-to honey substitute is agave nectar. It’s a syrup, just like honey. More importantly, it’s almost exactly sweet as honey, and it has similar floral notes. In recipes that call for a few tablespoons of honey, it’s fabulous.
Most of the agave nectar that you’ll find on store shelves is the light or golden kind. It’s milder than dark agave nectar. I keep the light agave nectar on hand because I feel it’s more versatile, but in recipes where you want a robust flavor, use the dark.
Unlike honey, agave nectar does not crystalize, and it’s shelf-stable for years.
Other Honey Substitutes
When you need 1/4 cup of honey or less, any of these sweeteners will work 1:1 for honey.
- Golden syrup: This ingredient, popular in the UK, is made from sugarcane and has a golden hue.
- Maple syrup: The functionality of maple syrup is similar to honey in recipes, but the two syrups have a vastly different flavor.
- Brown sugar: Use packed brown sugar for a honey-like moistness and color in final baked goods, dressings, and sauces.
- Light or dark corn syrup: Corn syrup does not have a respectable rep in processed foods, but a bottle in your panty can come in really handy for occasional use.
- Barley malt syrup: This syrup gives molasses a run for its money in the slow-pouring front. Barley malt has a distinct flavor, but it’s ace in baked goods.
- Turbinado sugar or sugar in the raw: Like brown sugar, these coarse sugars perform well for general honey swaps.
- Molasses: Molasses has perhaps the most distinct character of all the subs on this list. Use with caution, as it’ll overpower any dish you don’t want to taste like gingerbread or Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.
- Sorghum molasses: If you can get your hands on this brown syrup made from the cooked-down juice of sorghum stalks, you are a very lucky person. It’s a specialty of Appalachia and the South, and often made only in small batches. It falls in flavor somewhere between honey, amber maple syrup, and agave nectar.
When It’s Not a Good Idea to Sub for Honey
There are certain recipes where only honey will do. Like pretty much any recipe with “honey” in its title: honey cake, honey mustard, hot honey, etc. If it’s in the recipe’s name, it won’t be the same without honey. Maybe pivot your cooking plans if that’s the case.
In many Jewish cuisines, honey holds a cultural and symbolic significance. This is why some Jewish vegans opt to eat honey as a way to maintain connections with their heritage.
However, there are vegans who have doctored up versions of honey-free “honee” using assorted ingredients. Some of these can be pretty convincing imitations of grocery store clover honey.