Humans have had a taste for honey for thousands of years. We bake cakes with honey, we use it to soothe sore throats and satisfy sweet tooths, and we drizzle it over pancakes. But while honey is one of the most traditional sweet nectars to have in the cupboard, there are a large number of alternatives that make for a great honey substitute.
Perhaps you've run out of honey and need a quick fix to bake that cake, or perhaps you're looking for a vegan-friendly alternative. From agave nectar to brown sugar, there are lots of ways to replace honey when it's needed.
In this article, we explore the top 8 alternatives to cooking with honey. Here are the best honey substitutes.
How to make substitutions for honey in recipes
Honey is a sweet, syrupy nectar, and it's utilized for its sweetness, its taste, and its sugar content. For many bakers, honey is used as an alternative for sugar, as honey is often seen to be a 'healthier' ingredient, being less refined, and perhaps, more 'natural'.
But for strict vegans, honey isn't an alternative to sugar. That's because honey comes from bees (although not all vegans, we should add, always give up honey). Certain honey farming methods are also damaging to the environment, so be careful when selecting honey at the store (try to find locally sourced, sustainably produced honey).
Sometimes, we just run out of honey too and need a good substitute for honey in a recipe we've been itching to make. The following are all excellent honey substitutes; however, they aren't all suitable for the same job.
For example, honey is a liquid, so in a recipe, you can't simply replace honey with sugar. You need to mix the sugar with water and heat it up into a honey-like substitute first. Alternatively, you could use maple syrup instead because that's already liquid.
Honey is commonly used as a binding agent. It holds together baked goods or cereal bars, for instance. In this case, you need a sticky substitute like corn syrup (or, again, maple syrup) to get the job done. Just like cooking without oil there's a subtle art if you want to substitute for honey in baking.
Honey has its own distinct taste too. All the ingredients in our list, while sweet in nature, will have their own distinct taste as well. Substituting honey for sugar, for instance, requires you to add more sugar to the recipe, as honey is naturally sweeter than sugar!
But without any further ado, here are the top 8 honey substitutes to try out at home.
What can I substitute for honey: top 8 alternativesMaple syrup
Maple syrup is one of the best substitutes for honey because it has a very similar texture and consistency. If you usually drizzle honey over pancakes or enjoy mixing natural yogurt with honey, then maple syrup is the perfect honey replacement.
When used for baking, it can directly replace honey in the recipe. It's already liquid, and so it's possible to use a 1:1 ratio to substitute honey for maple syrup.
This syrup is sourced from the maple tree, of course, and this makes it an excellent vegan substitute for honey.Brown sugar
If you've run out of honey and are just about to start baking cakes, then it's more than likely that the closest alternative for you is going to be sugar; either brown sugar or white sugar.
We all have a bag of sugar in the cupboard (we prefer brown sugar over white), but for baking, it's impossible to just directly substitute honey for sugar. To learn how to substitute honey for sugar, first consider that sugar is not liquid.
To get around this, we can substitute honey for brown sugar by essentially caramelizing the sugar in a saucepan, with water. You'll be left with a sticky treacle-like substance that works particularly well as a honey alternative! We suggest adding 3 cups of sugar for every half cup of water to get the best consistency and the optimal honey to sugar ratio.
If you're using other substitutes, such as maple syrup or corn syrup, then you can sweeten these up by adding in sugar if you've run out of honey.Agave nectar
It's easy to substitute agave for honey, as agave nectar has very similar properties to honey. Agave nectar, or agave syrup, is deliciously sweet and just as sticky as your favorite honey. For that reason, it's easily substituted for cooking and baking at a ratio of 1:1.
Agave nectar is a good substitute for vegans, too, as it's plant based. However, the nectar is taken from cacti plants, which only grow in certain climates. For the environmentalists, then, the need to transport the syrup over large distances to reach your local store can be a cause for concern.Date paste
Date paste isn't nearly as common an ingredient as the other substitutes on this list, but it's packed full of nutrients and entirely plant-based.
You'll need to source a few dates and then turn them into a paste yourself for cooking. It's easy, though. Simply blend together one cup of dates with 2 cups of water, and you'll have a super sweet and extra sticky paste that can be used as a direct substitute for honey (1:1 ratio when cooking).Coconut nectar
Vegans will love trying out coconut nectar as a substitute for honey, particularly if they already enjoy cooking with other coconut products (such as coconut oil or coconut milk).
Coconut nectar is taken from the flowers of a coconut tree, and it's not nearly as sugary as honey. This is great news if you're cutting down on your sugar intake, as the consistency and thickness of coconut nectar ensure that it can be used as a 1:1 replacement for honey in recipes.Molasses
Molasses (we know, it's not the most delicious sounding of names!) is one of the best honey substitutes. Molasses is very sweet and incredibly thick. It's often referred to as 'black treacle,' given its consistency.
You can substitute molasses for honey on a direct ratio, but you might prefer using a little less, as it's a very thick substance.
This thick syrup is a product of the sugar refining process, so as you might expect, it's packed full of sugar!Corn syrup
Corn syrup (made from corn, of course) is a very good substitute for honey, as it has a very similar consistency. However, people are often put off from using corn syrup due to its very distinctive flavor (it's not exactly a sweet substitute!).
It is, however, a healthy alternative to other sugary honey replacements, and you can substitute honey for corn syrup on a one to one basis.Barley malt syrup
Barley malt syrup is another 'healthy' alternative to honey and sugar, as it's not nearly as surgery. Barley malt syrup is the same consistency as honey, however, so it's easy to make the switch when baking and cooking. Use it on a one to one basis when the recipe calls for honey
The taste can get a little getting used to, however, so if you're looking for a sweet honey substitute, add extra sugar or try maple syrup instead!
It's time to start cooking with your favorite honey substitute!
Preparing sweet recipes without honey isn't a problem when you know how to substitute the honey for other similar ingredients such as brown sugar or agave nectar. Remember, though, that when baking with a honey alternative, you need to consider the ratios, or your recipe could turn out quite different!
Whether you're looking for a vegan honey substitute for honey, or have simply run out of honey, there are some excellent alternatives to start trying out at home. Why not bookmark our guide to honey substitutes, so you can start cooking without honey?