Care2 Directory of Natural Sweeteners

By Annie Berthold-Bond and Nava Atlas, author of The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet

The array of products in the sweetener aisle of your health food store might seem rather mystifying to the natural foods novice, but with a little help, sweeteners like rice syrup, barley malt syrup, and date sugar, among others, can be used with great effect in baked goods of all kinds.

While the detrimental effects of refined sweeteners such as white sugar and corn syrup are still being debated, there’s little doubt that Americans consume far too much of it. While natural sweeteners aren’t nutritional bell ringers, they are generally considered to produce less of a shock to the body’s blood sugar level because among the nutrients found in whole food sugars are necessary minerals that help with sugar metabolism.

From a culinary standpoint, natural sweeteners offer bolder, more complex flavors than sugar, adding delectably different dimensions to baked goods and other treats.

Here is our directory of less refined sweeteners, including a chart of equivalents:

Agave Nectar: A natural liquid sweetener that is less viscous than honey, agave nectar comes in three grades: Light, medium and amber. Light agave is sweet but neutral making it great for recipes where the stronger flavor of maple or honey may interfere. The flavor of agave becomes more intense and earthy with the darker grades. Agave is extracted from the agave plant, and is low on the glycemic index. It is about 1 1/2 times sweeter than refined sugar.

Barley Malt: Dark, sticky and boldly flavored, barely malt sugar is nonetheless neither as assertive as blackstrap molasses nor as sweet as honey. Primarily maltose, a complex sugar that enters the bloodstream slowly. This sweetener offers trace amounts of eight vitamins and several minerals. Barley malt syrup is a wonderful addition to squash and pumpkin breads, bran muffins, and hearty rye or pumpernickel breads. Use it to glaze sweet potatoes and to make winter “malteds” combined with bananas and soy milk.

Date Sugar: Not actually a sugar in the conventional sense, date sugar is ground from dehydrated dates. What a great source of sweetness. Dates are high in fiber, and rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Date sugar can be exchanged measure for measure for sugar in baking, for cakes, muffins and quick breads. Use it in place of brown sugar to make crumb toppings for pies and fruit crisps. It can’t be used to sweeten beverages, though, as the tiny pieces won’t dissolve.

Fruit Juice Concentrates: Made from the juice of fruit that has been reduced about one quarter by slow cooking. Note that some commercial fruit juice concentrates have been stripped of flavor and nutritional value.

Fructose: Derived from fruit sugar, this sweetener, closely resembles granular white sugar but is more concentrated so that less is needed for a similar effect—about 1/2 cup fructose to 1 cup of sugar. Though fructose has little nutritional value, it is generally believed that it doesn’t disturb the blood sugar level as much as sucrose. Use it in place of sugar as an all-purpose sweetener in baking and cooking, and in hot and cold beverages.

FruitSource: A relatively new natural sweetening product, Fruitsource replaces not only sugar, but also fat, in baking. Made from a natural blend of grape and rice carbohydrates, it can also be used as a general-purpose sweetener for hot and cold beverages and in cooking. To use in baking, replace every cup of sugar with 1 1/4 cups Fruitsource and reduce fat by 50 percent; optimal oven temperature is 300 to 325 degrees.

Next: G-S sweeteners

Granular Fruit Sweeteners: White grape juice and grain sweeteners that have been dehydrated and granulated.

Honey: A whole food made by bees from flower nectar.

Maltose: Sprouted grains and cooked rice, heated and fermented until starch turns to sugar. Available in Chinese markets.

Maple Syrup: Boiled-down sap of maple trees. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Maple syrup has twice as much calcium as milk. Not all maple syrup is pure; some contains traces of formaldehyde, a carcinogen, so it is best to buy organic maple syrup.

Maple Sugar: Maple sugar is what is left when all of the liquid had been cooked out of maple syrup. It was how Native Americans preferred their maple as it was easy to transport. Maple sugar has a wonderful, maple and earthy flavor that lends depth to baking and cooking. It is about twice as sweet as refined white sugar.

Molasses: Unsulphured molasses is made from the juice of sun-ripened cane; sulfured molasses is a byproduct of refined sugar; blackstrap molasses is the residue of the cane syrup after the sugar crystals have been separated. It is very nutritious, with high levels of calcium, iron, and potassium.

Natural and Organic Sugar: Such as certified organically grown from Florida Crystals, these sweeteners are minimally processed sugar cane. The syrup is dehydrated, then milled into a powder.

Rice Syrup: A traditional Asian sweetener, brown rice syrup is made from rice starch converted into maltose, a complex sugar. Rice syrup is the mildest-flavored of the liquid sweeteners and contains trace amounts of B vitamins and minerals. Use it interchangeably with honey in cooking and baking, to sweeten hot or cold beverages and cereals, or as a spread for fresh breads.

Sorghum Syrup: Sorghum cane juice, boiled to a syrup. Sorghum cane tends to need few pesticides due to natural insect resistance.

Stevia: Stevia is derived from an herb native to Paraguay. It is extremely sweet, and a little goes a very long way. This herb is controversial as a sweetener, The FDA has approved it as a dietary supplement, but not as a sweetener. Available as a greenish powder, stevia imparts a powerful sweetness with an herbal undertone. As sweeteners go, it is quite expensive, though a little goes a very long way.

Sucanat: The trade name for this product stands for SUgar CAne NATural, and is made from evaporated sugar cane juice. It is then milled into granules much the same size as white sugar, but with a tawny hue. Sucanat is about 88 percent sucrose, or simple sugar, as compared to table sugar, which is 99 percent sucrose, but it retains more vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients found in sugar cane. Sucanat has a mild but distinct flavor, with a hint of molasses. As an all-purpose sweetener for baking, cooking, and in hot or cold drinks, use it as a 1-to-1 replacement for white sugar.

NOTE: Aspartame (brands Nutrasweet or Equal), and saccharin, are artificial sweeteners. A significant body of evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners can cause health problems. Many doctors now warm pregnant women to avoid any products containing Aspartame.

Next: sweetener equivalents for sugar

Sweetener Equivalents for 1/2 Cup of Sugar
Barley Malt: 1 1/2 cup
Date Sugar: 1 cup
Fruit Juice Concentrate: equal to sugar
Granular Fruit Sweeteners: equal to sugar
Honey: 1/3 cup
Maltose (from sprouted grains): 1 1/4 cup
Maple Syrup: equal to sugar
Molasses: 1/3 cup
Rice Syrup: 1 1/4 cup
Sorghum Syrup: 1/3 cup
Sucanat: Same as sugar
Organic sugar: Same as sugar

Tips for the Tradeoff

When a recipe doesn’t call for any liquid, such as for cookies, choose a dry, granular sweetener such as date sugar, or the cookies will be too bread-like from the additional flour needed for proper consistency. When you substitute liquid sweeteners for dry, you will need to reduce or eliminate the liquid content of the recipe, and increase the flour. For breads and pies, flavorful fruit juice concentrates and other liquid sweeteners work wonderfully well. For cakes and cupcakes that need to resemble as closely as possible “the real thing,” for flavor, choose sorghum syrup or Sucanat.

How to Make Concentrated Liquid Sweeteners
Adapted from Naturally Sweet Desserts: The Sugar-free Dessert Cookbook, by Marcea Weber.

Fruit Juices: Boil eight cups organic juice until reduced to two cups. Cool and freeze. To use, warm a knife under hot water and cut out the amount of frozen juice needed, and return the remaining to the freezer.

Brown Rice: Cook two cups organic brown rice in five cups of water for 45 minutes. Place in a glass bowl until mixture has cooled to 140 degrees. Add one tablespoon of sprouts made from grain, such as wheat. Cover and place in a warm oven (120-140 degrees) for six hours.

Nutritional Analysis of Sucanat for 150g (one cup)

water……………………………………2.7g
calories……………………………….570g
carbohydrate………………………1.05g
fat……………………………………………0g
sodium……………………………….0.5mg
potassium………………………1,125mg
vitamin A…………………………..1600IU
thiamin (B1)……………………..0.21mg
riboflavin (B2)…………………..0.21mg
niacin………………………………0.20mg
calcium…………………………….165mg
iron……………………………………6.5mg
vitamin B6………………………..0.60mg
magnesium……………………..127mg
zinc…………………………………..2.3mg
copper………………………………0.3mg
pantothenic acid……………….1.8mg
chromium…………………………40mcg
phosphorus……………………….48mg

Source: USDA Handbook of Nutrient Content of Foods

Related:
Sugar: Easy Greening
How to “Vegan-ize” Your Favorite Baked Goods
Healthy Sweets Recipes

95 comments

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogersabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn11 months ago

thank you

John W.
.2 years ago

Thanks for the information :-)

criss S.
criss s.2 years ago

Thank you

Katie Flanery
Katie Flanery3 years ago

You might want to look into adding coconut sap to your list - from everything I read about it, it is actually better for you than agave (albeit harder to actually find in normal markets), containing 19 amino acids not typically seen in sweeteners

It tasts reminiscent of a mild (not too strong) molasses/maple syrup, and is made by harvesting the sap from a cocunut tree instead of the cocunuts.

Katie Flanery
Katie Flanery3 years ago

You might want to look into adding coconut sap to your list - from everything I read about it, it is actually better for you than agave (albeit harder to actually find in normal markets), containing 19 amino acids not typically seen in sweeteners

It tasts reminiscent of a mild (not too strong) molasses/maple syrup, and is made by harvesting the sap from a cocunut tree instead of the cocunuts.

Dorlinda Chong
Dorlinda Chong3 years ago

It would be nice to see an update on this article to include the monkfruit sweetner just out, Nectresse.

Dale O.

Interesting and fascinating.

Diva M.
Diva M.4 years ago

how about brown Jeggary ? I assume it is very good.opinions please.

Elizabeth O.
.4 years ago

Useful information.