Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Healthy Hint: Natural Sweeteners

I subscribe to the Nourishing Gourmet blog and I love it because I know that everything posted there is going to be 100% healthy! I was so excited to see that she had done a post on natural sweeteners and how to substitute in recipes because that is something that I have been trying to figure out! If you are interested, please check out her article HERE. I'm going to post a shortened version of it, but the whole article is well worth reading because the comments are informative as well:)

Types of Healthy, Natural Sweeteners (but of course, not to be eaten in gluttonous amounts :)

Maple Syrup

Real, pure maple syrup is not just for pancakes! I have used it in a variety of desserts with great results. Grade A is sweeter and less robust than Grade B, which has a stronger mapley taste. It sweetens apple pies and ice cream very well, and makes wonderful maple sweetened cakes as well. Just makes sure that you buy organic maple syrup because unorganic is processed with formaldehyde, which is toxic.

(For a pancake syrup, we mix half honey and half maple syrup to stretch it out more, since honey is significantly cheaper. This half and half mixture is also sweeter, which those just going off of sugary fake maple syrup like. )

Maple Sugar
This mapley granulated sugar is one of my favorites. It's not as strong as unrefined cane sugar, and so adds a lighter touch to many desserts. It can be used in place of white sugar (though like all natural sweeteners it will have a stronger taste). The only disadvantage is that maple sugar is one of the most expensive ones to by, so I use it sparingly.


Molasses is a by product of white sugar. It has a very dark, robust flavor, and contains the minerals and vitamins from the sugar cane. Since it has a fairly high iron content, it has often been recommended for those with low iron. It makes wonderful gingerbread cakes and cookies.

It's similar to molasses in flavor, though not as strong. While molasses is a by product, sorghum is a "whole food" product made from sorghum grain. You should also know that there are different types of sorghum. That first jar I was given was very light in color and flavor, while the second jar I bought recently is so dark is looks like molasses. The dark type works great in place of molasses (I prefer it to molasses because it has a sweeter flavor). The lighter type, however, I find to be much more versatile. I have found it a wonderful substitute for corn syrup in many recipes (including caramel popcorn), and even made a traditional pecan pie with it (which I loved, though my family was a little unsure of it).

Rapadura or Sucanat

This unrefined, whole, cane sugar is robust in flavor and full of all of it's natural minerals. It can be used in a one to one ratio with white sugar, though it will have a more molasses taste. We have used it in a myriad of desserts and find it very versatile.

Wilderness Family Naturals has a wonderful muscovado sugar which is a whole cane sugar (not refined at all!), which is processed with, get this, fresh coconut milk! This moist sugar is wonderful. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what brown sugar is really supposed to be like, and be used in place of your refined brown sugar. I highly recommend it.


Stevia is a green herb that is very sweet. The Japanese have used it for about thirty years as a no calorie sweetener. The ground herb by itself is very green, so it is usually refined to a white powder, with it's sweetness concentrated. If made incorrectly it can have a bitter after taste. Because I prefer to use whole food sweeteners, I try to buy the extract made from the whole leaf (the NOW brand has one I like). It can also have an herby after taste, so it is best used in small amounts. I find a few drops work well to sweeten salad dressing, and of course, I love lemonade sweetened with it. My only caution with stevia is to use it in moderation, especially if you are using an concentrated form. The leaves were traditionally used to chew on, but they weren't consuming baskets full of it! It is only in more recent years that we have started to use it in mass.

Agave Syrup

Agave syrup is an interesting sweetener. It reminds me a bit like corn syrup.It has high fructose levels, so some feel that it is a good sweetener for diabetes. I personally found, during a time when my health wasn't doing very well, that it didn't raise my blood sugar like other sugars do. However, you should eat your agave sweetened dessert on an empty stomach, because otherwise it will lose it's low blood sugar effects (that's a bit strange, isn't it!). It's also receiving a lot of fire for the fact that it is highly processed and some believe, not any better than corn syrup. (Read Cheese Slave's post about it here). Different brands are manufactured differently however (for example, Ultimate Super Food's Agave syrup is significantly different than anything I have ever gotten in the store), so keep that in mind. I stopped using agave syrup several months back, and have since learned of a new low glycemic sweetener (coconut sugar!), but I encourage you to make your own judgment call on this one.

Coconut/Palm Sugar
coconut sugar and palm sugar are used interchangeably, made either from the coconut flower or certain palm flowers. If you get one that is made with the coconut flower it is actually a low glycemic sweetener (33-35 on the glycemic scale)! Depending on how they made it, it can have a more robust, caramel like flavor, or if you are able to find it in it's moist form (usually found in a jar, looking a bit like raw honey), it will have a lighter taste. This is a newer sugar to me, but I am really enjoying it. I like it in everything from my tea to my cookies, to my chocolate ice cream!

This sweet substance can have different flavors depending on where the bees were getting their pollen, making honey have so many shades of flavor. It is the first sweetener that many people turn to when taking white sugar out of their diet as it is easy to find and very sweet. I recommend raw honey because it still has many healing properties to it when kept raw. To read more about raw honey's healing properties, check out this search on Dr. Mercola's site. Since I have been able to find a good price on raw honey, I even use it in cooking to avoid highly processed honey (which is heated way higher than if you were simply cooking with it). This really is a heavenly sweetener.

Brown Rice Syrup: She didn't write about it, but one of her commenters did and since I've heard it to be a good option, I thought I'd mention it:

Brown Rice Syrup is a sweetener derived by culturing cooked rice with enzymes (usually from dried barley sprouts) to break down the starches, then straining off the liquid and cooking it until the desired consistency is reached. Brown Rice Syrup is a nutritive sweetener that is about half as sweet as sugar. Brown rice syrup is a tasty alternative for those who watch their sugar intake. Bake with it, pour it over ice cream or pancakes, or stir it into your morning coffee. Brown rice sugar is rich in natural maltose, which supplies a more prolonged source of energy than most concentrated sweeteners. It is a polysaccharide, a complex sugar, which, due to the structure of complex carbohydrates, releases slowly into the bloodstream, breaking down slowly and not altering blood chemistry. Brown rice sugar provides fuel for the body rather than causing an imbalance in blood sugar levels. It can replace corn syrup in most recipes calling for it

Substituting Natural Sweeteners for Refined Sweeteners

White sugar: Equal amounts of rapadura, coconut/palm sugar (in granulated form), maple sugar. Or use 3/4 cup of honey in place of 1 cup of white sugar. With many recipes you can use maple syrup as well, you just may need to adjust wet ingredients.

Brown Sugar: Muscovado sugar, or Rapadura/Sucanat

Corn syrup: Sorghum, Honey, Maple Syrup, Agave Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup