Let’s face it. Foodfacts.com is confident that not one of you knows somebody who does not enjoy something sweet. It can be as simple as a juicy piece of icy cold watermelon to something as complex as a spun-sugar sculpture or anything in between. Thirsty? Grab a Coca-Cola Classic out of the fridge. Your mouth feels empty and you just gotta put something in it? Where did that pack of Juicy Fruit gum go? You are out shopping with your friends and get an overwhelming craving for caffeine? An ordinary black coffee, without sweetener, just will not do it. Bring on an espresso. Too bitter? Pour on the sugar!
Of course, sugar substitutes have been available for years: Saccharin in tablets, powder, and liquid drops (Sweet ‘n Low), Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), Splenda, and Sorbital. They all seem to have the same inherent flaw in their chemical composition. Splenda is the only artificial sweetener that can be successfully used in baking. Sorbital is frequently used to sweeten candy and chewing gum. Unfortunately, it also frequently causes gastric distress, especially if you have a touchy stomach to start with. Aspartame can cause pounding headaches. For a while, several years ago, a substitute sweetener for brown sugar, made by Sweet ‘n Low, was available in local grocery stores but now seems to have been discontinued. Too bad.
A natural alternative to using a cup of white sugar is to use in its place one of a variety of fruits: try one cup of applesauce or mashed ripe banana. Other great substitutes could be half a cup of puréed dates, raisins, or prunes that have been pre-softened with a small amount of water. These fruits add needed fiber and also give a moist texture.
There are several other choices that can be substituted for sugar:
Agave comes from the agave cactus plant. Its sweetness is more intense than that found in white sugar. It may be appropriate for use by diabetics.
Barley Malt Syrup is a product of sprouted barley that has been roasted and reduced down to a syrup. It has a malt-like taste that goes well with baked squash, barbecue, and sweet and sour sauces. Put a spoonful of it into milk (or a nondairy substitute such as soy milk) to make your self a sugar-free “malt”.
Brown Rice Syrup comes from brown rice and a culture that have been cooked and then reduced into a syrup. It has only half the sweetness of white sugar. Its mild flavor is reminiscent of butterscotch. A versatile sweetener, it is amenable to use in cooking, baking, and in marinades or drinks.
Date Sugar is a whole-food sweetener. Made from dried, pulverized dates, some food processing companies add oat flour to help it flow freely. Other companies use oil for added softness. Date sugar has high iron, potassium, and vitamins; its elevated fiber content slows absorption. Date sugar does not dissolve, but is quite tasty in baking and as a crumbled topping. One big drawback is that it burns very easily; be sure to keep a close eye on any baked goods it might be in.
Fruit Juice Concentrates are fruit juices that have been cooked down to a syrup; they are generally frozen. Some people are fond of the flavor while others are not. Use only organic grape concentrates since non organic grapes might contain extraordinarily high amounts of pesticide residues.
Honey might possibly be the most popular alternative to white sugar. Made by honeybees from plant nectar, unheated and unfiltered raw honey is cloudy and has beneficial propolis and pollen. A simple sugar, it is sweeter than white sugar; less is needed to achieve the same result. Quite a versatile sweetener, it is terrific for baking. Honey has a health advisory for children less than two years; it can cause infant botulism.
Maple Syrup comes from the boiled sap of sugar maple trees. It is divided into Grade A, where the syrup is light and comes from early sap runs and Grade B, syrup with a more intense flavor and comes from later runs. It is best to buy organic maple syrup as to avoid residues of formaldehyde and other chemicals used to keep tap holes open for a longer period of time. Crystallized maple sugar can be used as a sprinkle and also as a melt-in-your -mouth candy guaranteed to satisfy anybody’s sweet tooth.
Molasses is a byproduct resulting from refining sugar cane. Barbados molasses, sweet and light, is extracted at the first press of sugar cane. Slightly sweet Blackstrap molasses is a product of the final press and is a good source of iron and calcium. “Unsulfered molasses” means no sulfur dioxide was used anywhere in the collection process.
Stevia is harvested from a perennial shrub bearing leaves that are 30 times sweeter than white sugar. Its best qualities are that it has no calories and is suitable for individuals with diabetes, hypoglycemia, or the fungal infection Candida. It is available in many forms: powdered, liquid, concentrate, tea, or tablets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has licensed it as a dietary supplement, but not as a sweetener.
Sugar Cane Juice may be purchased in many unbleached forms. It is made by mechanically crushing the whole cane to extract the juice.
Rapadura is a brand name for organic, unrefined crystals. It is not like other methods of cane processing in that the sugar stream is not separated from the molasses while being crushed.
Mucovado sugar is the residue left after the molasses is evaporated and drained off; impurities make the Mucovado dark and moist Sucanat is clarified, filtered, and granulated; some molasses is added.
Turbinado and white sugar are made in the same manner except for the last extraction of molasses. It is a golden color and is closer to refined sugar than it is to raw sugar.
Demerara sugar is Turbinado sugar with bigger, crunchy crystals.
Xylitol, at one time, was a byproduct of birch wood or pecan shells, but presently is usually derived from corncobs. It and cane sugar have similar taste. Xylitol is low in calories and supposedly will not cause tooth decay; it may be suitable for diabetics. I have a packet of Xylitol that labels this substitute sweetener as “all-natural wood sugar.” Doesn”t make it sound too tasty, does it?
DID YOU KNOW?
* There might be genetically engineered cornstarch mixed in with powdered sugar.
* Sugar beets that may have been genetically engineered are often used to make white granulated sugar. So much for going the natural route.