If you are baffled by all the sweetener names I throw out on my blog, here is an enhanced, updated recap of the natural sugar substitutes I like to use... And how to make sense of them in cooking.
My children are inundated with refined sugar. School, church, friends houses, grocery store shelves... I feel it's crucial to provide them healthier alternatives so they don't feel neglected or weird. We do not live a sweetener free life. But we have zero artificial sweeteners and virtually no refined sugar and zero high fructose corn syrup. Here is a breakdown of my favorite natural sweeteners:
Agave Nectar-Is tapped like honey from the agave cactus plant. This is probably my favorite sweetener. It contains trace vitamins and minerals. It is sweet and mild. It is expensive, but not as bad as others. This works great in cooking and in hot chocolate and yogurt. I substitute 1:1 for honey or sugar. Reduce liquid if using for white sugar. Available at health and cooking stores. Buy organic and raw from a reputable store. Buying in bulk allows for the best pricing. I purchase the Madhava brand. Note, the herbal supplement containing agave should not be consumed when pregnant, but the nectar is fine.
Raw Honey-Not for babies but for the rest of us! It is actually sweeter than sugar but contains trace vitamins and minerals. Great for baking and candies. Reduce the baking temperature in your recipe and decrease liquid by a couple tablespoons. Honey has a strong flavor, so only use it in recipes where you want the taste of honey, or you are using another strong flavor to mask, like cocoa or pumpkin. It is also a good idea to buy your honey locally, it actually can help with allergies. Honey is a staple in my breads, granola, and candies.
Pure, Organic Maple Syrup-Great flavor, it is expensive but works really well. Great for baking cookies, oatmeal, pancakes, and fudge. I also like it to sweeten yogurt, soups, and candy nuts. Try sweetening both hot and cold cereals. When baking I like to combine maple syrup with agave in cookies. Decrease cooking temp and liquid in recipe.
Sucanat-Stands for sugar cane natural. This is unrefined sugar cane crystals which still have all the vitamins and minerals. It is fairly inexpensive and has a yummy brown sugar taste. You may taste the molasses. (Molasses is all the nutrients stripped from sugar cane during the refining process.) We use this for cinnamon rolls or fruit crisps. 1:1 substitution. It doesn't get "gooey," or melt like refined brown and white sugar so I like to combine with a syrup like brown rice, barley malt or agave.
Brown Rice Syrup-This sweetener is a whole food sweetener produced from brown rice and barley malt. It is thick and creamy and has a nice caramel taste. This is perfect in pecan pie, fudge, cinnamon rolls, cookies, anything gooey or crispy. I have found this is the only natural sweetener that makes the "crisp" on a fruit crisp crispy. You can also add it to soups. It is not quite as sweet as white sugar, so you may want to add more when replacing in a recipe. Also, as with all the liquid sweeteners, decrease oven temp by 25 degrees and decrease liquid by about 1/4 cup. This is considered a "whole food" and is therefore a favorite natural sweetener for many. The sugars are also complex which will not spike blood sugar levels. I like Lundberg.
Xylitol-I was introduced to xylitol by our naturopath. She recommends it exclusively. It is a sugar alcohol derived from berries and corn cobs and does not spike blood sugar like honey or refined sugar. It also prevents cavities and has been proven to help ear and sinus infections. A great alternative to fluoride. We chew xylitol gum and mints. We also use it to sweeten cereal, hot chocolate, yogurt. It is replaced 1:1 in recipes. It is not my favorite to bake with, I don't recommend it... but works well in some recipes like the sugar cookie. Available at health food stores or online. I buy the brand Unique Sweet from Vitamin Research Products. This is the only brand I can find which derives the xylitol from berries instead of corn. According to our naturopath, that is important. It looks and tastes just like sugar. My children love it.
Barley Malt Syrup-Not just for beer. Beer making is by far the most common use of this substance, but it also makes a wonderful sweetener. It has a dark, rich flavor similar to molasses. It is made by simply sprouting, drying, then cooking barley. It has complex sugars and therefore will not spike the blood sugar. Low glycemic index. This is wonderful in anything rich and full of flavor. Cookies and cakes are wonderful. I substitute 1:1 and decrease liquid slightly. Purchase at your local health food store. I like the Eden brand.
Quick quiz....what is the sweetest of all...these kiddos. I will take all the sweetness they will dish out to me!
t h e m a y f i l e s is foremost a family blog, chronicling everyday life. Life including natural, healthy eating (with recipes thrown in at random), home educating (with ideas popping up sporadically), an attempt to homestead on .2 acres (with very meager yields), raising 3 of 4 children with a rare genetic disorder, and lots of highly personal family triumphs and failures. You may also find an eclectic array of musings on politics, exercise, sewing, emergency preparedness, backyard chickens, and religion. This blog isn't a campaign to glorify anyone or anything. Just simply a record.