How to reduce sugar in muffins: the 50 percent solution

Many of us enjoy a sweet treat for breakfast. Example: a warm blueberry muffin, straight from the oven, its crackly sugar top the perfect complement to the moist berries and tender cake underneath. Heaven! But with sugar acquiring an increasingly bad nutritional rep, many of us want to know how to reduce sugar in muffins — and quick breads (think banana bread), as well.

Can you just cut the sugar in your muffin recipe in half? Or leave out a couple of tablespoons?

For best results, no. Neither solution takes into account the wide range of muffin recipes out there, ranging from barely sweet to over the top. Reducing sugar by 50 percent in a recipe that’s already lower in sugar will leave you with a tasteless “treat;” and omitting just 2 tablespoons sugar from a recipe that starts with 3/4 cup isn’t making a significant difference, calorie-wise.

What's the best way to reduce sugar in muffins? The answer is simple (arithmetic). Click To Tweet

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

I recently tested a few muffin recipes using baker’s percentage (baker’s math), a simple way to both scale recipes up and down, and to adjust the balance of ingredients within a recipe.

Using this method, the weight of the flour is 100%; and other ingredient amounts are shown as a percentage of that, by weight. Don’t like arithmetic? Bear with me; this is easy, I promise.

Here’s an example: If you’re making a batch of muffins using 2 cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, and you’re adding 3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) brown sugar, then your sugar level is 44 percent (3 1/2 ÷ 8 = .44; i.e., 3 1/2 is 44 percent of 8).

I decide to take three muffin recipes, assess the initial sugar level of each as the control, then test each recipe four ways: with sugar levels of 25, 50, 75, and 100 percent.

Test 1: Reducing sugar in basic muffins

Let’s start with our King Arthur Flour Basic Muffins. Seems like a good choice, right?

I toggle to the grams display, to make it easy to determine the muffins’ current sugar level. I’m using unbleached all-purpose flour, so that would be 100g sugar ÷ 240g flour = 42 percent.

I make the muffin batter without sugar, then divide it into four bowls. To one bowl of batter I add enough sugar to equal 25 percent of the flour weight. To another I add 50 percent sugar; the third gets 75 percent, and the final bowl gets enough sugar to total 100 percent of the flour weight.

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

I scoop the four batches of batter into a muffin pan. The lowest-sugar muffins (25 percent sugar) are the vertical three on the far left; the 50 percent sugar version is next to them, etc.

I notice the lowest-sugar muffins don’t fill the cups as fully. What other differences will there be?

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

Once baked, the lowest-sugar muffins aren’t as brown. Which makes sense: sugar promotes browning. All of the other muffins brown nicely.

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

The lowest-sugar muffins rise unevenly. The rest rise evenly, with each increase in sugar producing an increase in overall volume of the muffin.

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

Texture-wise, the lowest-sugar muffins (upper left) show some tunneling. They feel a bit rubbery to the bite, and they’re definitely drier.

The remaining three muffins — 50, 75, and 100 percent — are remarkably similar, texture-wise: they’re moist and tender, with a medium grain.

And what about flavor? The lowest-sugar muffins taste similar to Northern-style cornbread: a touch of sweetness, but nothing you’d call a “sweet treat.”

The 50-percent sugar muffins are mildly sweet, and offer a hint of butter and vanilla, with some nuttiness from the flour. At higher percentages of sugar, sweetness tends to overwhelm these other more subtle flavors.

Now remember, the original recipe calls for 42 percent sugar, which seems pretty low. Why is that?

Because the recipe was developed to include add-ins: chocolate or cinnamon chips, dried fruit or fresh berries, a sprinkle of sugar on top … all of which add to the muffins’ overall sweetness.

Test 2: Reducing sugar in muffins with fruit

What about muffins with a higher degree of sweetness — and added fruit to boot? Our Famous Department Store Blueberry Muffins are jam-packed with sweet berries, and their sugar level ranges from 82 percent in the batter …

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

… to a whopping 103 percent if you add the sugar topping.

Let’s see what happens when we bake these muffins using four different sugar levels.

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

The 25-percent sugar muffins are, once again, slightly dry and rubbery. And again, I find myself choosing the 50-percent muffin (no sugar on top), which really accents the flavor of the blueberries. If I decide to go for a sweeter treat sometime, I’ll add the sugar topping rather than add sugar to the muffin itself.

Test 3: Reducing sugar in chocolate muffins

What happens when you introduce unsweetened cocoa powder into the equation? Since chocolate itself is bitter, will the 50-percent rule still apply — or will I need to use more sugar?

Our Chocolate Breakfast Muffins recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups brown sugar; my calculations tell me that reducing that amount by about two-thirds, to a scant half cup sugar, will bring me to the 50-percent mark.

Is this going to produce an acceptable muffin?

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

Yes — though the muffins are helped immeasurably by adding chocolate chips to the batter, which offsets the extra bitterness in the chocolate. Without those chips, I think the muffins will be a bit too austere, as far as sweetness goes. As for the sugar on top — not necessary if you use chips, but it does add pleasant crunch and, of course, additional sweetness.

Test 4: Reducing sugar in banana bread

Since muffins and quick breads are interchangeable, batter-wise, I decide to test my 50-percent solution with an old favorite: banana bread.

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

This proves a bit more challenging, since our Banana Bread recipe includes four sources of sugar: brown sugar, honey, apricot jam, and the bananas themselves. As you can see, this test takes a bit of figuring!

The original recipe checks in at 109 percent sugar, so I test loaves with 25 percent, 50 percent, and 75 percent sugar. I include the original amounts of bananas and honey in each recipe; leave out the jam, and adjust the brown sugar to reach the desired sugar level.

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

The loaves are similar in appearance but again, texture is where I see the biggest difference. Despite the moisture of both honey and bananas in each version, the lowest-sugar version is rather dry. Flavor-wise, I like both the 50 and 75 percent versions; neither is overwhelmingly sweet.

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

Just because, I do one more test using no sugar at all, relying solely on the bananas themselves for sweetness. At left is the no-sugar bread; at right, the full-sugar control (see the rivulet of melted sugar oozing from the top?)

No-added-sugar banana bread is, surprisingly, more than edible — if you’re willing to warm the bread to increase its moisture, and to spread it with a spot of jam.

Are you ready to reduce sugar in muffins?

First, manage your expectations. If you want cake, eat a cupcake. Muffins should be less sweet than cake. And once you taste a muffin with less sugar than a cupcake, you’ll realize what you’ve been missing: the flavor of other ingredients, like butter and cinnamon, fruit and nuts, previously hidden by sugar’s dominant sweetness.

Next, decide what degree of sweetness you’re after. Is barely sweet acceptable to you and your family? Would more sugar go over better? Are you able to strike a successful balance between your family’s sugar intake and their desire for cupcake-like muffins?

Finally, be willing to get over any math anathema. Get out your calculator; this isn’t rocket science. (I can say this because I know several honest-to-God rocket scientists.) Find your favorite muffin recipe. Determine the weight of the flour and the weight of the sugar. If the sugar’s weight is more than half the flour’s weight, reduce the sugar to just 50 percent of the weight of the flour. THERE. You’ve mastered baker’s math — congratulations!

How to Reduce Sugar in Muffins via @kingarthurflour

How to reduce sugar in muffins: key takeaways

  • Reducing sugar in muffins affects not just their sweetness, but their texture and volume.
  • Reducing sugar to 50 percent in muffins that begin with a higher amount of sugar (over 50 percent) will yield muffins with sufficient sweetness; moist, tender texture, and balanced, interesting flavor.
  • Reducing sugar in muffins whose recipe calls for a lower amount of sugar to begin with (50 percent or lower) will yield muffins with bland flavor and increasingly poor (dry, tough) texture.
  • Topping lower-sugar muffins with a sprinkle of sugar adds a nice hit of sweetness in each bite while only raising the sugar level of the muffins slightly.

Practice this method for reducing sugar in muffins, and you’ll soon be treating your family to muffins you can all enjoy — you for their lower sugar content, everyone else for their muffin-y goodness!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. Ruth Conner

      I/2 apple sauce dirs the trick. I make me own Apple sauce. You can get apple sauce without sugar
      There are always ways to get around the sugar thing.
      It us all about chemistry
      Cooking is Chemustry.
      Ruth Conner I ha e cooked for 75 years.

  1. Carolyn

    This is sooo helpful. Thank you. One correction – in your first example you have 8 divided by 3.5 — I think it should be 3.5 divided by 8, to get the percentage.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re so right, Carolyn! Thanks to your keen eye, we’ve already made the correction. Happy baking! Mollie@KAF

    2. Lolita

      I sometimes bake cake from cake mix. I reduce the sweetness adding garbanzo bean for vanilla cake or yellow cake. For chocolate cake I add a can of
      black bean.And add a teaspoon of baking powder.
      It always come out yummy and moist.

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Wow, Lolita, that’s interesting. Clearly the beans while reducing the overall sweetness will add moistness, and healthy fiber as well. The extra baking powder is probably key to preserving their rise. Thanks so much for sharing this here — your fellow bakers thank you! PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Ah, Kay, you caught me! Yes, you’re right — thanks for spotting that, we’ve fixed it. PJH

  2. Maria

    Hi PJ, in the banana bread with no added sugar, did you still include the apricot jam or leave that out also? I am always looking for low sugar recipes for my diabetic husband. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for double checking, Maria. The apricot jam was omitted from all three of the test loaves shown here. Hope this helps! Mollie@KAF

  3. Quinn

    This is so interesting and informative – thanks you for setting up and sharing your experiments! By an odd coincidence, I’ve been reducing sugar in my simple apple crisp, and stopped at a flour:sugar volume ratio of 3:1 (original recipe called for as much as 1:1!) but next time I will weigh the ingredients to see what that relationship will be.
    Thanks again! I think I will post a link to this page on my blog, if that is okay.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re flattered that you’d like to share it, Quinn, and hope that your readers will enjoy it. Happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  4. Amanda

    This post amazing! I am always wanting my baked goods to be less sweet. No more haphazardly reducing the sugar 🙂 Thank you!

    Reply
  5. cynthia hewitt

    thanks for your scientific work up

    i started cutting sugar by half in cakes and pies as well. does not seem to cause any significantly different results……

    Reply
  6. Mandy Kelley

    I found this very interesting and helpful! I’m very often trying to reduce sugar consumption for my family. It’s important to know where it works, as well as where it doesn’t. Now I think I’ll go bake some cupcakes.😉

    Reply
  7. Deborah

    Thanks for this helpful guide! I often cut sugar in recipes, but have been doing so haphazardly- it’s great to have a rule of thumb to work with different recipes. I’m a bit inept at math, though. Am I right that the recipes you describe as having 100% sugar have equal amounts of sugar to flour, while one that has 50% has 1 part sugar to 2 parts flour etc? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, it sounds like you’ve got a solid understanding of the information presented here. (100% = equal parts flour and sugar, 100%+ = more sugar than flour, and less than 100% means less sugar than flour.) Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  8. Kam Bola

    This so helpfull for my future baking of muffins and sweet breads. How do you think altrnate sugar would do? I use Truvia in my baking and get great results, Thank you KAF 🙂

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We don’t do much testing with sugar alternatives, Kam, so we’d defer to the manufacturer for their suggestions as to how and when to use their product for best results. Best of luck! Mollie@KAF

  9. donna kerr

    I have deleted the sugar altogether and used brown sugar truiva…..they are very good…..but know know what I have eliminated…or how to do the carb count….any suggestions…..

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Donna, you can enter your adjusted recipe into a Nutrition Calculator like the one by SparkPeople to get a better idea of the nutritional profile. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  10. Lois Chabalowski

    Thank you so much for doing this for your baking community. I am anxious to try your method. My husband is a dentist, & I’m constantly trying to reduce the “sugar bugs” as he calls them in baked goods. 😋

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      “Sugar bugs”–we can’t help but love that phrase, Lois! Thanks for sharing it with us. Mollie@KAF

  11. Becky

    I would like to see how recipes would be affected by replacing sugar with honey or pure maple syrup. Reducing sugar isn’t enough for some people, especially those with cancer who need to eliminate as much sugar as possible.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for sharing this request with us, Becky. While we love using honey and maple syrup in baking, we don’t recommend making the swap between a granulated sugar and a liquid sugar in recipes like this. It will throw off the balance of liquid and dry ingredients in the recipe, which may negatively impact the texture and inhibit rise, among other things. In some recipes where there’s just a small amount of sugar (bread, for example) it’s easier to use maple syrup or honey instead of sugar. As a general rule of thumb, recipes that call for more than 1/4 cup of sugar aren’t good contestants for making the swap. Keep in mind you can always call our Baker’s Hotline to chat with one of our friendly bakers for advice on how to tweak a recipe to suit your needs: 855-371-BAKE(2253). Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Kathy and Becky, we also sell Maple Sugar via on our online catalog, although we haven’t tried substituting this type of sugar one-to-one for other types of sugar in a recipe. Barb@KAF

  12. Julie

    In your first math equation you state 2 cups (8 oz.), but each cup is 8oz. So I understand what you’re trying to do but to me it’s a bit misleading or confusing. Love the idea. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Julie, you’ve brought up a great point: fluid ounces are different than ounces by weight. Although 1 cup of water (or other similar liquids) is eight ounces, flour is lighter than this and actually weighs about half as much (4 1/4 ounces for one cup). If this seems hard to grasp, consider one cup of features vs. one cup of rocks–they won’t weigh the same when placed on a scale. So for all the measurements given in ounces here, think of them as weights on a scale. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  13. Betty

    Thank you for simplifying the process of reducing calories in baked goods. I have commented before that I’d like to try some of KAF’s recipes but would like to see healthier versions. Now I can adjust some of them myself.

    Reply
  14. Jeff

    I have reduced the sugar as you suggested and gotten similar results. So glad hat you put this up. As for my banana bread I have added one quarter cup of plain apple sauce and two tablespoons of flour to compensate for the extra liquid. This seams to produce a good and tasty treat.

    Reply
  15. CB

    This is a great idea, but I may have missed something: how do you determine the % of sugar in ingredients other than pure sugar? It looks like you included the sugar level of blueberries, bananas, etc. in your calculations, but it wouldn’t be accurate to just weigh those and use the total since they’re not 100% sugar.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Hi — I Google the sugar amount of other ingredients like honey, jam, syrup, etc. It may not be precise, but I’ve decided it’s good enough for this purpose (unless you have health issues that require precise calculations of your daily sugar content, in which case I suspect you have other methods to rely on). As for add-ins (chips, fruit), I don’t include them in the sugar calculations, as I’m determining the amount of sugar in just the batter; I can choose to add or not add any extras. Good luck — PJH

  16. Steph

    Thank you for this informative article! I reduce the sugar in most baked goods recipes. Sometimes the results are perfect and sometimes not so good. This guide will help to eliminate the guesswork.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Monica, when we refer to ounces we’re talking about the weight in ounces, rather than fluid ounces. A cup of whole wheat flour weights 4 ounces, so 2 cups weighs 8 ounces. Here’s our helpful Ingredient Weight Chart, which gives the weight of all our flours, along with many of the other ingredients we use in our recipes. Barb@KAF

  17. Carolyn Misztal

    I use 1/4 cup honey in my oat bran/King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour muffins instead of sugar. And fruit or a veggie, and lots of freshly grated nutmeg along with some cinnamon. It’s a muffin recipe I developed over time.

    Reply
  18. Marie

    This is incredibly helpful. My daughter is a very picky eater but loves baked goods so we have to maximize their nutrition. I have experimented myself with reducing sugar, but these formulas will better guide future experiments!

    Reply
  19. SB

    I think I might need a workbook to practice baker’s math but I’m always looking to make healthier muffins because I eat so many of them!

    Reply
  20. Donna Burnett

    Thank you for the formula for reducing sugar/calories. It’s very helpful. Do you think this would also work with cookies??

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Donna, Sugar plays a more critical role in the structure of cookies, so I would be cautious about reducing the sugar to the same degree. Generally you can reduce the sugar by 10% without causing any issues. Cookies with less sugar will tend not to spread as much. Barb@KAF

  21. Melissa

    I’m a bit confused that you are using the same calculation for brown and granulated sugar. If I were to exchange one for the other I would do it by volume, rather than weight (since they don’t weigh the same). Can you clarify this?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Melissa, although brown sugar and white sugar do weight different amounts per cup, you want to focus on the weight of the ingredients when calculating baker’s percentage. It doesn’t mean you’re exchanging one type of sugar for another, but considering the weight of each of the ingredients as a percentage of the flour weight (which is always considered 100%). Here’s a helpful blog that may help to explain this concept more clearly. Barb@KAF

  22. Roseann Pairo

    Thank you! This is excellent!! I’ve also swapped out reg flour for spelt flour. Gives it more fiber and nutrition. Need to remember to decrease the liquid. Thanks again.

    Reply
  23. Trudy

    Love the idea of reducing sugar in baked goods! We bake gluten free due to celiac disease. Would the use of KAF’s gf flour (both regular KAF gf and the new Measure for Measure flour) make any difference in using these tips for sugar reduction?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Trudy, we haven’t experimented with sugar reduction in gluten-free recipes, and I suspect gluten-free baking may present additional complications. Please let us know how your results turn out if you decide to experiment. Barb@KAF

  24. Leslie

    I have purchased Pure Stevia.
    Thinking of reducing reg sugars now in my baking and adding Stevia for sweetness flavor.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Helena Mazzariello

      Stevia is the way to go. Oe Xylitol/stevia mix. Add half of an extremely ripe banana or applesauce if you want to add texture. Use almond flour. Remember, sugar= inflammation in the body, amongst other things. Be nice to people you love. My partner has diabetes, and I bake amazing things, from muffins, to cheesecake, to pies, even cannoli, without touching white sugar. Not dry, no tunneling. So worth the switch.

  25. Carolyn

    Baking at high altitude I already reduce sugar in muffins & quick breads. To try the 50% solution, should I reduce sugar again by another 1/2 T ? Would reducing the sugar by more than 1T per cup risk too dry a product in our climate?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Carolyn, I’m sorry, I can’t answer that; while we’ve done high altitude testing and reduced sugar testing, we haven’t done them together, and I’d wager the answer would change recipe by recipe and depending on exact altitude, to boot. I’d suggest you try your 1/2 tablespoon solution and see what happens; then take the data and go from there. Sorry I can’t be of more help — maybe we need to set up a King Arthur Flour test kitchen in Aspen, though, eh? 🙂 PJH

  26. Janie

    This is so interesting and extremely helpful. Someone did some major figuring, planning and thought. Kudos!! I so look forward to your emails!!
    Thanks a bunch !!

    Reply
  27. Bob Strippy

    It would be a great help to us diabetics if you could give the 50% figures, or whatever percentage you recommend, in each recipe from now on, perhaps in parentheses after the ingredient’s ordinary amount. I have been reducing sugar by weight, but guessing at the right proportions. This article is an absolute godsend to those of us who make blueberry muffins (for example) every week, and love KAF, but are blown away by all the carbs in your fabulous recipes. People with gluten sensitivity are only 8% of the population, but diabetics are approaching 30%–most of whom don’t know it. We don’t want to give up baking, and are glad to know there’s a way we can still participate without sending our blood sugars up to 300!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Hi Bob – Nice to see your name here! Unfortunately, with a limited staff we’re unable to do all the testing necessary to address all of the dietary needs out there, but I do see your point; we realize diabetes is a condition many, MANY of our readers are dealing with. I’ll add your suggestion to our growing list of “things to do going forward,” and perhaps one of these days we’ll be able to help via providing that information. Hope you’re having a good winter — PJH

  28. Wendy

    Hi – If I don’t have a scale for weighing small amounts like food ingredients, is there a basic rule of thumb your bakers could suggest for reducing sugar based on volume and not weight – e.g. reduce 1 c. white sugar to 1/2 c.; reduce 1/2 c. molasses to __ c., etc. I “randomly” reduce sugar in recipes all of the time; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t come out like I’d anticipated :). I tend to write all over my cookbooks and recipes to try to remember what I did.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Wendy, that’s a tough one except in the very simplest recipes. You could estimate by pegging 1 cup flour at 4 ounces, and 1 cup sugar at 7 ounces, then doing some math: e.g. to make a recipe using 2 cups of flour 50% sugar, you’d use 4 ounces of sugar, which translates to a generous 1/2 cup. But honestly, this is all a lot easier with a scale, which doesn’t have to set you back a lot; I do nearly all my measuring with a scale, in part because cleanup is so easy not having to wash measuring cups and the spoons I’d use to scrape them out. In the meantime, though, if you’re randomly reducing sugar or other sweeteners, start small and take notes; if you like the results, eliminate more the next time. Good luck — PJH

  29. C Neruda

    I love to cook – the old fashioned way! I love flavor and ingredients, I care about what I put in my body with little concern for making things overly healthy (afterall, I have lived over 60 decades and am as healthy as a fiddle!) To me, the science and chemistry is fascinating! I am so glad that I have stumbled upon your blog, even though I don’t read all the comments! Your words are valued!

    Reply
  30. amy caplan

    I’ve been doing this informally for years basically by starting out reducing sugar by about 1/3 or 1/2 and tweaking as needed. I learned to bake challah 20 years ago (which being a festival bread should, I think, have some sweetness) from a recipe that called for 1 1/4 cups sugar for 5 lbs. of flour. I cut it by half which still retains a fair amount of sweetness. Lately even that tastes sweet to me so I may be reducing it further. I’ve come upon a few cookie recipes lately that only call for 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of sugar for recipes using 2-3 cups of dry ingredients – it’s amazing how much more subtle these recipes can be once you’re not knocked out by a tsunami of sugar. Recipes that have complex spicing such as rose or orange blossom water or a kick of cayenne or cardamom are really enhanced by having less sugar.

    Reply
  31. Samantha

    Funny I should read this today , when I’m already planning to try granulated stevia in my Banana bread today . I’ve already eliminated nearly all the fat , only fat from eggs and reduced fat sour cream remain .
    Will there be a plan in the future to test with stevia ?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Samantha, we’re considering whether to examine alternate sweeteners in future posts. We did test baking with Splenda quite a few years ago, and found the results underwhelming; but we realize sweetener options have changed since then, and we may reconsider. Good luck with your banana bread — PJH

  32. elizabeth mooney

    What a wonderful article ? i have been reducing sugar on my own formula as I am not scientific nor smart enough to figure out, so do it according what I think is right. You are so wonderful telling us “baker’s percentage”! i am a baker but I truly bake for my husband who like to eat baked goods. I don’t like anything too sweet. However, the way you explain in this article make such sense & also heath us properly with photos, very interesting, very informative, thank you, Elizabeth

    Reply
  33. Michael Temkin

    Hi PJ! Thanks for the tests. I liked seeing all of the results that you got. I only have one side question. As you decrease the sugar level, shouldn’t you increase the liquid somewhere in the recipe? Since sugar is hygroscopic and it also becomes part of the liquid component of the batter, reducing the sugar will also reduce the liquid. This may explain some of the issues with the rise of the 25% batches. Adding liquid would smooth out the batter more evenly and also add more internal steam so the crumb should become finer and the steam should give it a bit more lift.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Michael, you make an excellent point! Adding a bit more liquid to the lower sugar versions could certainly make a difference in the texture and rise of the muffins. Let us know how your muffins turn out if you experiment with this method! Barb@KAF

    2. Liz E

      I really appreciate all the free recipe research and information available through the internet these days. But I agree with this comment- a follow up article for ways to modify recipes when reducing sugar would be very helpful. Many breads have loft and moisture without a 50% or greater sugar content. I imagine liquid, fat, baking powder etc would have an impact, but like most i just experiment here and there unsystematically and hope for the best 😀 Thanks KAF

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for the suggestion, Liz. We think you’ll be glad to hear that we do plan to experiment with sugar reduction in other kinds of baked goods in future posts! We won’t be able to cover all the possibilities, but our hope is to provide enough additional guidance to help other bakers feel empowered to continue down their own, individual paths. Mollie@KAF

  34. shirley

    I like making quick breads because they have less sugar that cupcakes or cake. I have done this for years. I also do not like frosting so I sprinkle raw sugar on most of my baked goods. I also like using our home made applesauce for part of the fat. Cake will have 2 cups of sugars for 12 cupcakes, muffins will have 1 cup.m Just our preference after years of baking, and trying to make it healthier.

    Reply
  35. Barbara

    Wow, what a wonderful education for today…..Learning something new here….I try to use natural raw honey whenever I bake……cutting the sugar is a great thing……now I have measurements to follow…..Thank you so much…

    Enjoy your day……all of you…..

    Reply
  36. Deb

    I’ve been doing this for years, having lived in Europe, I’ve never been a fan of the over-sweetened pastries and deserts in the U.S. and it seems to get progressively worse each year. It is no wonder there is an obesity problem in this country.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Vini, unfortunately baker’s math depends on using the weight of the ingredients, rather than the volume measurements. I will pass along your comments to our blog team and perhaps we can come up with another approach for sugar reduction. In the meantime, we do offer the weight measurements for our flours and various types of sugar, so you could calculate the reduced sugar using our weight chart, and then convert this number back to cups. Barb@KAF

  37. Kate

    So, just so this dyslexic (really) baker gets it straight. Your dividing your sugar grams into your flour grams; and in your example your answer of 44g is then halved (reduced by 50%) to get to 22g for sugar? Have I got it right?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kate, not exactly. In baker’s percentages we consider the flour weight as 100%. Each of the ingredient weights can then be viewed as a percentage of that weight by dividing the weight of the ingredient by the weight of the flour. This will give you the percentage of sugar in the recipe as it stands. So, If the weight of the flour in the recipe is 8 ounces and the weight of the sugar is 3 1/2 ounces, this means that the sugar content of this recipe is 44%. According to PJ’s calculations this recipe already has a sugar content that is less than 50% of the flour content, so we don’t really need or want to reduce the sugar content further. Say we tried another recipe where the flour content is 200 grams and the sugar content is 150 grams. That would be make the percentage of sugar in this recipe (150/200) = 75%. To reduce this amount to 50%, you would simply multiply 200 (the weight of the flour) X .50 = 100 grams of sugar. I know it takes a leap to start thinking in Baker’s Math, so here’s another helpful blog to get you going. Barb@KAF

  38. Meg Covey

    Sooo, after all that,could I have the RECIPE for the regular muffins? and maybe the blueberry muffins? Thanks………..M

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Meg, in our blog posts all the recipes are linked right below the title photo and highlighted in orange. Simple click on the recipe title and you will be transported to the recipe page. Here are the links to the regular muffin and blueberry muffin recipes. Barb@KAF

  39. Barb

    This is one of the best descriptions I have ever seen on the ratios in baking. I always knew from Grade 7 Home Ec oh those many years ago that recipes were like chemistry experiments and removing volumes of an ingredient would give a different outcome BUT I was pretty sure there was a way to do it properly they just didn’t teach it.
    Thank you so much!!!

    Reply
  40. Kathy

    This is a helpful article as was the additional charts you provided in some of your responses. Question: When you reduce any ingredient in a recipe doesn’t it get the volumes out of wack? If you reduce sugar what do you substitute for the volume reduction from the sugar removal, or do you adjust the cooking time up/down due to the volume difference?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kathy, like you’ll notice from the photos above, the overall volume of the muffins is slightly less in the decreased sugar versions. We don’t add anything else to make up for it—instead we just settle for a slightly smaller muffin. The baking time for a muffin made using the 50% rule will take about the same amount of time in the oven as the original version, but it’s always a good idea to use a toothpick inserted into the center to test for doneness. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  41. JP Garrison

    Here’s a challenge to the baking experts: there’s a recipe for chocolate-chip chocolate cake that came with my Zo bread machine that always comes out terribly DRY each time I make it. Any solutions (should I include the recipe?) ?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      JP, it could be the way it’s baked rather than the recipe; bread machines typically bake for a very long time (up to 70 minutes) at a lower temperature, which seems to dry things out. I’d suggest you bake that same recipe in a pan in your oven (depending on the recipe, probably an 8″ or 9″ square pan), at 350°F, until it tests done with a toothpick. If the cake is still dry, share the recipe with us and we can make some recommendations, OK? PJH

  42. Marilyn Mason

    Thank you to PJ and all the responders to this great experiment. This is a great way to teach why learning fractions and percentages are important as well as how to set up the equation. I’ll be sharing this on Facebook and will Pin it. Hugs to you all. Marilyn “Mimi” Mason

    Reply
  43. Wanda Urie

    Can you give us the weight, for reference, of one cup of white sugar and brown sugar? You said one cup of flour weighs 4 ounces. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Wanda, it sounds like you might want to check out our Ingredient Weight Chart. It’s a handy resource to have when baking. One cup of white granulated sugar weighs 7 ounces and 1 cup of dark or light brown sugar (lightly packed) weighs 7 1/2 ounces. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  44. Carol D.

    I eliminated added sugar in pancakes and waffles completely many years ago and usually just add a mashed banana (or pumpkin and cinnamon) instead of butter in pancakes. The banana/pumpkin gives some sweetness, but if I have added blueberries or other add-ins, and then use maple syrup, no one even notices! I do use butter in waffles as well, but for these thinner breakfast treats, sugar doesn’t seem to be missed either in the cooking or eating!

    Reply
  45. Mary Beth

    I’m newly gluten free due to insensitivity. I can’t wait to try reducing sugar in my baking w/ this guide, so thanks!! My Dad always said cooking was chemistry…

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lois, we decided to start simply by reducing sugar, rather than replacing it with an alternate sweetener. We may examine that approach in the future, but for now we’re keeping it simple. By all means, if you’ve found alternate sweeteners that work for you — stick with them! PJH

  46. Kay2

    This analytic approach is why I watch for PJ columns. I have to eat gluten free and I found out a long time ago that sugar plays a structural role in baking. But this is the most clear explanation I think I’ve ever read.

    Reply
  47. Alanna

    Love the way you experimented with muffins in rows so you can compare. Think I will try this too. Another brilliant post, PJ.

    Reply
  48. Sallie

    Thanks for the tip and the research!!! With my new scale ( from KA, naturally) I can do the weights and monkey with the math myself. I now know just how far to take the sugar to the edge! Many thanks!!

    Reply
  49. Elizabeth

    I read this article while eating a Morning Glory muffin I made using KAF’s recipe, but reducing the sugar from 1 cup to 7/8 of a cup and using half whole wheat flour in place of white. They are delicious and fairly healthful, with just the right level of sweetness, I think. Not sure what the ratio comes to, though.

    Reply
  50. Irena McClain

    Love this! I work at the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi and posted this on our Facebook page today. Experiments like this will help our families with type 1 and type 2 diabetes live healthier!
    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Diane

      That’s just where I am, baking for type 2. His grandfather had type 1, our daughter gestational diabetes. Reduce the carbs, increase the protein and fiber is our motto. I wonder if there might be a formula for reducing sugar in cookies?

    2. PJ Hamel , post author

      Diane, coincidentally I’m just starting to work on the reduced-sugar cookie project. Stay tuned! PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      That’s what we’re here for, Nick — to do that kitchen work you wish you had time for but just never get the chance, right? 🙂 PJH

  51. Margaret Mills

    You can accustom yourself and your family to less sweet things by gradually reducing the amount of sugar used or available. Same with salt–gradual reductions.

    Reply
  52. Kathryn Grace

    Thank you so much! This may explain why my brownies turned out so dry and blah this weekend. I reduced the sugar by nearly half, but did not take into account the ratio of sugar to flour. How well do you think the 50 percent sugar-to-flour ratio would work in brownies?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Kathryn, I’m just starting my reduced-sugar brownie and cookie testing, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d say given brownies’ very chocolate (bitter) nature, 50% would be too low — way too low, also given their moistness, which comes in large part from a significant sugar to flour ratio. Brownies may just be one of those things that needs to be high sugar — but I’ll find out soon! PJH

  53. Linda

    I reduce sugar in most of my recipes. Have never actually done the math. I have found that increasing the liquid usually by a Tablespoon or two helps the cakes, cookies and muffins not to be as dry. You might want to try that in your 25% muffins.

    Reply
  54. Judy Van Schoyck-Fritschler

    My mom’s recipe for blueberry muffins has 2 cups of flour, and 2 Tbsp sugar, with no other sweet ingredients, and no sugar on top. They are delicious. I find commercial muffins are generally way too sweet for my taste, and think of them as “unfrosted cupcakes,” rather than muffins.

    Looking through all my other muffin recipes (I have a lot), none we like and continue to use have more than 3/4 cup total sweeteners.

    Reply
  55. Jean Avitabile

    Thank you so much for doing this in depth article on reducing sugar in different baking things I Iove to make. I have always wanted to try to do this but was afraid of poor results in the product and ending up with something horrible to eat . Thanks for the information . In the future would there be time to print an article on substituting whole milk yogurt for butter or oil in these kinds of recipies to reduce the fat and calorie content. , but keep the flavor and texture in check.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jean, we’re glad to hear you found this article helpful! We have written a past blog about substituting fats (it happened to be in the context of gluten-free baking, but the general findings still apply). We haven’t explored using yogurt in this way, but we’ll be sure to keep it in mind going forward. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  56. Diane

    I have reduced sugar in my baked goods for a long time. My family now expects it in home baked sweets. I have found the same results in using too little sugar. Many times we have slathered butter on microwave warmed muffins and sweet breads to counteract the dryness caused by removing too much sugar.

    You did an excellent job explaining the science behind the sweetness of quick bread baking. Thank you! From today on I will bake with more confidence and I will pass this new knowledge on to my children. We will all be better bakers!

    Reply
  57. Marcy

    Thanks for posting this! I pinned this and then asked your experts a question about increasing the sugar in your healthy blueberry muffins recipe as I like them but they need just a bit more sweetener. They referred me to this blog. So while this works for decreasing, it would also work for increasing the sugar. Just wanted to share in case others had the same needs as I did and just didn’t think about it. 🙂

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Marcy, that’s a sharp idea — it never even occurred to me, but you’re right, sometimes things don’t seem quite sweet enough. Thanks for sharing! PJH

  58. Judith O

    Your experiments are based on volume ratios. If I had done this, they would be based on mass ratios. With this approach, you adjust baking time to achieve constant final weight (adjusting for sugar reduction). This yields muffins with the same % moisture.

    As an aside, whenever oz. are used in a recipe – I never know whether it applies to oz (by weight) or oz (by volume). Thanks for your comments on this pet peeve of mine.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Thanks, Judith — I think this is probably a bit more math than the typical reader wants to perform, but it’s good information for those really interested in delving into the subject. Our weights are calculated by weight — if I understand your question correctly. E.g., to calculate the weight of molasses, I tare a 1-cup measure, fill it with molasses, and weigh it on a scale. Hope that helps – PJH

  59. Laura

    I love this idea and am throwing down a challenge. Please help me reduce the sugar in cookies. I grew up with German cookies which aren’t so sweet and never had icing (think Biscoff). I have a lot of newer recipes but they are so much sweeter. Help, please!

    Reply
  60. Cynthia Gilbreth

    I’d like to make the Sourdough Blueberry Muffins which call for no sugar but 156 g of maple syrup or 170 g of honey or molasses. So how do you calculate this? Should I just reduce by 1/4 of the amount and add a bit of water or milk to make up for the liquid lost?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Cynthia, Google maple syrup, honey, and molasses for their nutritional values, and you’ll see how many grams of sugar is in each for the amount you’re using (I know there’s 140g sugar in 1/2 cup honey, don’t know the other two). Then decide what level you want to reduce the sugar to; I recommend 50%, in order to retain good texture and pleasing flavor. Doing the math in this recipe, I see that the current level of sweetener is 54% (weight of liquid sweetener divided by weight of flour/cornmeal), so be careful about reducing the sweetener too much; especially if your sourdough starter is quite tart, you could end up with a pretty tangy/tough muffin. If you do end up reducing the sweetener by more than a tablespoon, then yes, add a bit of water or milk to make up for whatever you don’t add of your liquid sweetener. Good luck! PJH

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