Friday, September 20, 2013

Sugar Substitute: Choosing a Sweetener

Earlier I wrote about Gluten Free Baking and the ways to choose the best flours for your recipes. Today we are going to tackle different sweeteners and their benefits and drawbacks. If you are focused on removing highly processed foods from your lifestyle, replacing white sugar in your recipes is a great way to start. Alternatives to white sugar offer more nutrients as they are closer to their original form and/or are a more nutrient-dense source to begin with, which means you can enjoy your treats while receiving more nourishment for your body.

Jar of honey

As someone who loves to create recipes, there are lots of choices that can seem overwhelming when you stand in the baking aisle of your grocery or health food store. Not to mention, some of them can be expensive. So here’s your guide on what to substitute for sugar.

Liquid Sweeteners -- Offer a wonderful sweetness and more moisture to your recipes.
  • Honey is an amazing option for sweetening your favorite recipes. Depending on the flavor of the honey, it can gently guide the complexity of your final product. Whether you choose standard clover honey, orange blossom honey, or wildflower honey, they tend to lend a pleasant sweetness to your recipe. Buckwheat honey has a stronger, smoky flavor that works best in pancakes and breads. Local raw wildflower honey is my favorite to add to recipes, and you can substitute most honeys at a 1:1 ratio.
  • Maple Syrup has a lovely, unique flavor that works well as a substitute for white sugar. I prefer it in things like muffins and pancakes, but you can use it as a brown sugar substitute to sweeten cookies and cakes. This can be added at a 1:1 ratio. Pumpkin pancakes come out perfect with a little maple syrup added to the recipe – and on top!
  • Blackstrap Molasses works great in recipes like gingerbread cookies. It has a strong flavor, which can significantly change the outcome of your baked goods, so do some research before using it to replace white sugar. When you are ready to start adding it in, check out this article for advice on how to substitute it for the best results.

Granulated Sweeteners -- a great sugar substitute when nothing else will do.
  • Coconut Sugar offers a similar flavor to brown sugar, along with a medium-sized granular texture that is perfect for cookies, for cinnamon-and-sugar shakers, and for sprinkling over baked sweet potatoes. Check out Natural Sweet Recipes for some great baking ideas and tips. Coconut sugar can be substituted 1:1 depending on the recipe, but it does have a muskier flavor than regular sugar, so proceed with an adventurous spirit.
  • Date sugar offers the perfect blend of fruit and sugar-like texture. And you can make it yourself! It’s another great addition to recipes as a brown sugar substitute or desserts that have a caramel-like finish. Check out these Salted Dark Chocolate Truffle Cookies to test out some date sugar.
  • Organic Sugar can be substituted in any recipe where sugar is called for. It’s still a somewhat processed sugar, but much of the molasses and minerals are still present. Many companies also subscribe to Fair Trade standards, which makes this a more conscientious baking choice, and it’s a very easy sugar to find at almost any grocery or health food store. If you are considering making icing, check out this helpful video on how to powder your organic sugar for the task.

Coconut palm sugar

Low-calorie Sweetenersfor those with diabetes or a desire to lower their sugar intake, there are some substitutes that provide sweetness without the glycemic load.
  • Stevia is the product of the green leaves of the stevia plant. While there are many options when it comes to blends of stevia, for a true stevia flavor, stick with brands that have only stevia as the ingredient. Stevia can taste bitter to some folks, as their taste receptors are more sensitive to bitter flavors than others. But if you like stevia, it can be a great additive for those trying to avoid sugar. You can purchase it in liquid or granulated form, and it often works best in beverages like smoothies or tea. Or perhaps, even in soda…
  • Xylitol is a great sugar substitute for those looking to lower their sugar intake. Standard xylitol is sourced either from corn or fruit, and organic xylitol is usually sourced from birch trees (check the package to be sure). When using it in the place of sugar for a recipe, you may need to put the required measurement into a coffee grinder to powder it to ensure that your recipe doesn’t turn out grainy. Xylitol can have a cooling affect on the tongue, but usually after it’s heated in an oven, that dissipates. It’s not quite as sweet as sugar, so you will need to increase the amount of sweetener you add to your recipe. I find that I add about a quarter more xylitol when substituting for sugar (example: 1 ¼ cup xylitol for 1 cup sugar). These Carrot Cake Cookies are a great way to try out xylitol.
Let us know what you discover as you experiment with sugar alternatives!

Contributing Writer

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