How to Make it SWEET

6:31 AM

Sugar can come from so many places - sugarcane, beets, corn - and it can also be faked like in the case of Splenda. With all of these options, how do you choose a sweetener?

When evaluating sweeteners there are so many things to consider. I like to look most at its source and processing, as well as its nutrient content and its resulting effect on your health. Those focusing on weight loss may look at calories, diabetics may look at its glycemic index. It's also good to consider the ease of use and versatility, the availability, the taste, the shelf life and, of course, the price.

White sugar is a highly processed product refined from the sugarcane plant. It is terrible for your nervous system and kidneys, and negatively effects your mood, metabolism and ability to absorb nutrients from other foods. It has 45 calories per Tablespoon. It comes in different forms for different purposes: granulated is the regular stuff, castor is a bit finer and powdered (confectioner's or icing) is very light. The nice thing about white sugar is that since most recipes call for it, you don't need to figure out a substitution.

Sugar alcohols are refined from fruits and vegetables. Because the body doesn't absorb them as well they only contain 29 calories per Tablespoon. They're also slightly less sweet, but don't have a bad aftertaste. Xyltitol is the most common one, and has a glycemic index (GI) of 13 which is very low. They can pretty much be substituted 1 to 1 in all recipes. The good is: since yeast and bacteria can't use it well, it's a good choice for Candida diets, and for oral health. The bad is: being poorly absorbed it can end up having a laxative effect if you use it often.

When sugar is processed there is a syrupy byproduct called molasses. It tastes strong and sort of burnt due to its high mineral content - higher if you choose black strap over fancy. You can use 1 1/3 cup in place of 1 cup of sugar, but try to reduce the recipe's other liquids by 1/3 cup. It has 58 calories per Tablespoon.

Raw sugar, or cane sugar, is a broad term that means different things depending who you ask and where you are. The most raw sugar is succanat which is made from sugarcane juice that has been filtered, evaporated and crystallized. Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added so it technically contains minerals but they aren't naturally occurring. The different classes - demarara, muscavado, turbinado - all have varying levels of molasses. They can all be substituted 1 to 1 and have about 51 calories per Tablespoon but I'd recommend succanat as the best. They all taste great!

Then there are powder-style sugars made from other plants - coconut, dates, corn... They typically taste like their source, which can be great, are subbed 1 to 1, and have about 45 calories per Tablespoon. Coconut sugar is somewhat expensive. Corn syrup is the liquid form and has been criticized in the media - for good reason: it has been linked to many health problems and ethical/social issues with world food distribution and agricultural politics.

There are many delicious, sweet syrups that come from natural sources. Honey is made through beekeeping and is therefore not considered vegan. When raw or unpasteurized it is antibacterial and can even help alleviate environmental allergies if it has been produced locally. Honey has a relatively high GI (75) and caloric value per Tablespoon (64) but because it's nice and sweet you can use it sparingly. About 3/4 cup will replace 1 cup of sugar in a recipe. Honey contains many nutrients and is a good work-out food. Maple syrup is the result of boiling down tree sap. It has my favourite taste of all sweeteners and contains many important minerals. It has 65% sucrose but a hefty dose of zinc and also the much coveted manganese. It has 52 calories per Tablespoon and you'll need a bit more than a cup to use as a sugar substitute. Once opened it'll keep in the fridge for a long time. Barley malt is made from a grain and is similar to other syrups except that it is very low in sucrose. Same substitution as maple syrup but it has closer to 60 calories per Tablespoon. The biggest downfall? It is not gluten-free. Brown rice syrup is gluten-free and contains great nutrients including many minerals and sugars that are 50% in the form of maltose. It has 55 calories per Tablespoon, requires 1 1/2 cups to sub a cup of sugar and is often expensive. Agave nectar is extracted from the same cactus that they make tequila out of. It is low in sucrose and has a low GI. It tastes great! You only need 2/3 cup to substitute. My favourite thing about agave, other than memories of Mexico, is that it dissolves easily in cold liquids. It has 60 calories per Tablespoon.

Stevia is a super sweet plant sold in three forms: a spoonable powder (subs cup for cup), an extract (use only 1 tsp per cup) and a liquid (also 1 tsp per cup). It doesn't taste perfect but it does have 0 calories. It is my go-to sweetener for lemonade.

Lastly there are sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet n Low), aspartame (Equal) and more, but frankly I don't like them! They are created in labs with chemicals and do not fare well in studies looking out for your health.

So which sweetener do you like?

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3 comments

  1. This is so interesting! I like how you have layed them all out clearly. I like honey and maple syrup best. I'm curious to try agave, but I haven't yet. I probably eat too much white sugar, so I should make an effort to substitute.

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    1. I loved this Amy. I'm a huge honey fan. I wish maple syrup wasn't so expensive. Good thing we can make our own. Down with white refined sugar! I must try xyltitol and agave.

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  2. Thanks Julia! and Angela!

    I think every natural sweetener has its place. Xylitol is so nice for baking because it's an easy sub (like using spelt flour for wheat, if you can handle it). Maple syrup is really only feasible for the rich, the sparing or those who make it themselves (I'm only the third). Local, raw honey is an awesome choice and is unbeatable in coffee and tea.

    The bulk barn carries many of these options so it's fun to spend a buck or two on a small amount to give it a trial run.

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