Milk Street Insider Members and Digital Subscribers can post questions and answers. Insider Members will receive a response from a Milk Street expert within 2 business days. View all subscription options here. Try any plan for your first 12 weeks for just $1.

White sugar vs "other sugar"

I'm loving your cookbooks and website, but find that many recipes call for white sugar (e.g., Shanghai Style Scallion Noodles). Can I substitute another type of sugar, like "Sugar In The Raw"? I'm not a baker, so it seems silly to buy white sugar just for one-off dinner recipes. Thanks!


  • Hi Carrie,

    Great question, and you're right-- if you're not a baker you shouldn't have to commit to a giant bag of white sugar for the sake of the occasional spoonful. In savory cooking, there are two things to keep in mind when making sugar substitutions. The first is simply flavor. In the Shanghai Scallion Noodles, we call for a few spoonfuls of white sugar because we want to enhance the natural sweetness of the scallions infused into the oil, but not add an extra, competing aromatic flavor. Dark brown sugar, in contrast, would also bring out the sweetness of the scallions, but it would add a dark, molasses character that would be delicious, but might overwhelm the scallion oil. "Sugar in the raw" would be a great alternative to white sugar because it has a lighter and more delicate caramel flavor than brown sugars or demerera. But, that brings me to the second thing to remember when swapping sugars: natural sugars like demerara or "Sugar in the raw" tend to be much coarser than plain white sugar. That means that you may need a touch more than the recipe calls for (because it will pack less densely in a tablespoon measure), and that it will take longer to dissolve in the pan. For something like "Sugar in the raw," I suggest starting with the volume indicated in the recipe, and then taste and adjust the finish dish to your liking. 

    Hope that helps!

    Julia Rackow

  • Glad you mentioned the Shanghai Scallion Noodles recipe. I actually just made it with shrimp, not pork for the second time last night and was wondering the same thing. I do have plenty of white sugar on hand, but I've been using a lot of mirin lately and wondered if it might be a good substitute.

    The first time we made it, my wife thought it was too salty. Second time, I only used 1/4 cup soy sauce, but then I thought the sugar stuck out too much. For the next time we make it, I'm trying to decide between using the called for 1/3 cup soy sauce but reduced sodium, using only 2 tbsp sugar, or trying to substitute it with mirin.

  • This is great information. Thank you, Brice and Julia, for taking the time to respond!

Sign In or Join to comment or create discussion. Comment as Guest.