Substituting Honey for Sugar in Baking
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Substituting honey for sugar in baked goods is an excellent strategy for achieving amazing flavor while also slightly improving the nutritional value of your baked goods. You can substitute honey for sugar in many recipes with just a few careful adaptations.
We have made everything from cookies to bread and muffins with honey, and we have seen positive results almost every time. That said, it can take some finesse to land on a recipe you love, so substitute carefully and gradually as you adapt your favorite recipes.
Why use Honey Instead of Sugar?
While honey is still considered a “sugar” there are some key differences between honey and table sugar that make it a great substitute. First, honey has a lower glycemic index than sugar and causes a little bit less of a spike in blood sugar (read below for more information on that front).
Second, because honey has more sweetness per ounce than regular sugar, you can use less of it to achieve a sweet outcome (more on that to come).
Third, the additional components of honey – water, pollen, and minerals – mean that you are getting more nutritional value out of honey than with regular sugar. The amount of health benefits in a bite of any baked good will be minimal, but the fact that honey contains things like magnesium, potassium, amino acids, and antioxidants makes me feel better about using it any time!
Lastly, honey adds moisture and rich flavor to baked goods that is especially nice in certain applications (think quick breads and muffins – yum!). It can also cause baked goods to take on a beautiful golden tone and a tiny bit of a crispy finish, which just offers nice change in the final product.
Despite all of these benefits, you have to consider a few adjustments when using honey in baked goods to achieve the desired result.
Here are a couple of important considerations to keep in mind when substituting honey for sugar.
Honey is Sweeter than Sugar, Use Less when Substituting
If you have the same amount of sugar and honey, the honey would actually be sweeter because it has higher levels of fructose than regular table sugar. It does raise blood sugar like any other sweetener, but because its Glycemic Index (GI) is lower, honey does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly.
As a result of this higher sweetness factor, you can actually use less honey than sugar when you are substituting in a recipe. I typically use half the amount of honey compared to the amount of sugar called for in a recipe. While not everyone follows this practice, I find that it works quite well and does not take away from the sweetness of the final product. You CAN use a one-to-one ratio if you would prefer.
Using less honey means that you cut back slightly on the sugar content and calories of your final product. But don’t get too excited, sugar is sugar, and honey is still an added sweetener. In fact, honey is actually higher in calories than sugar, so using less is also beneficial for that reason.
Pay Attention to Added Liquid when Substituting Honey
It seems silly to point this out, but honey is a liquid and sugar is not. Yup, I wrote this article to tell you that!
But seriously, baking is a somewhat precise process that relies on the right combination of liquid to dry ingredients. So, if you are going to remove or reduce a dry ingredient (like sugar) and add a wet ingredient (like honey) you have to think about how you are going to adjust for that.
In my experience, there are two options to balance the moisture content of a recipe:
- Decrease the amount of other liquids added to your recipe; a general rule of thumb is to use 1/4 cup less liquid for each cup of honey in the recipe (you can do this by reducing water or eggs);
- Use whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour absorbs more of the liquid in a recipe compared to all purpose flour; as a result, when baking with whole wheat flour you often have to add moisture. Honey does that for you! I find that using a one-to-one substitution for whole wheat flour takes care of the moisture that honey adds to your recipe! (for more info on baking with whole wheat flour, visit this article on our sister site!)
Account for the Acidity when Substituting Honey
Honey is more acidic than regular white sugar. Baking soda helps to balance the acidity in a recipe and allow for proper rise in your baked goods. When you substitute honey in your recipe, you need to add more baking soda. As a general rule, add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used in your recipe.
Lower the Temp with Substituting Honey
Baked goods made with honey tend to brown more easily and quickly. This can create a lovely finish and a tiny bit of yummy crisp on the crust of your bread or muffin. However, if you cook at the same temperature as your usual recipe, they may brown too quickly.
When baking with honey, reduce the cooking temperature by about 25 degrees. Because baked goods with honey may cook a little bit faster, you may not need to increase the overall cooking time. Keep an eye on your baked goods to make sure they don’t over-brown.
If you substitute honey in a pie crust, consider placing foil over the crust to ensure that the crust doesn’t not get too brown.
Simple Rules for Using Honey in Baking (summary):
In summary, here are the three simple rules that will help lead to success when substituting honey for sugar in baked goods:
- Use 1/2 to 3/4 the amount of honey compared to the amount of sugar called for in the original recipe;
- Use 1/4 cup less liquid for every cup of honey in the recipe (UNLESS YOU ARE ALSO SUBSTITUTING WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR);
- Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used in your recipe;
- Decrease the baking temperature by about 25 degrees.