Alternative Sweeteners to Sugar
Updated: Mar 24, 2022
No one needs to eat sugar.
We like it, but not only do we not need it to survive, but it isn’t good for us. You might be thinking something along the lines of, “but we do need to maintain blood sugar levels - what do you mean?” Or, “all kinds of foods have natural sugars. Can we not eat anything??”
That’s not what I’m talking about. For the purposes of the dietary intolerances, I’m just talking about sugar that comes from the Sugar Cane. That includes white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, powdered sugar, etc.
Some of you are completely intolerant to sugar. Others may have it as part of a combination of foods you’re supposed to avoid, such as fruit with sugar or grain with sugar. Some few of you have no intolerance issues with sugar whatsoever. However, since refined sugar has such a high glycemic impact and is generally rough on the digestive system, you might want to avoid it anyway.
So, if you don’t use sugar, what are you supposed to sweeten foods with? Here are a few of our favorites.
Everyone knows what honey is. Sweet, with a distinctive flavor. Soothing in a hot cup of tea or water with lemon when you have a sore throat. This amazing sweetener is naturally antimicrobial.
However, some honey bothers people who are fruit intolerant. That used to be due to citrus strips that beekeepers use to prevent mites, but now they use other methods. Since that change, most honey is ok for fruit intolerant people. Just avoid ones that are labeled things like "blackberry" and instead choose one like "clover".
If you are not sensitive to fruit, this is not a bad alternative to sugar. Baking with it can be a bit tricky. It is sweeter than sugar and adds moisture. This can be a good thing if you want a moist product or are working with something like a bread dough or pancake batter. If you are making something that should turn out dry, you may want to reduce the quantity of honey ½ to ⅔ the amount of sugar called for.
Honey has a lower burning point, so you may want to reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees. Also, honey is more acidic than sugar. Adding ½ tsp of baking soda for every cup of honey used will counter the acidity.
This uncommon sweetener is just what it sounds like: malted barley. An article about barley malt explains that there are many nutritional benefits in the sweet grain, including being gentle on the digestive system due to containing digestive enzymes.
It is less sweet than cane sugar, so you may want to use an additional 25% of barley malt for the amount of sugar called for in a recipe. It can be liquid or powder.
If you are gluten or grain intolerant, this is not a good sweetener for you. This might not be the best sweetener also for people who avoid the combination of egg with grain or potato with grain.
You may have heard of this sweetener and wondered just what it is. Stevia comes from a South American plant called Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. It is much sweeter than sugar, and it has no carbohydrates.
For the purposes of the dietary intolerances, this sweetener does not bother people who are sensitive to sugar, potato, grain, or even fruit! This is awesome news, if you like the flavor.
Note that baking with stevia can be a bit tricky because of the conversion rates. You’ll only want to use about half the amount of stevia in place of sugar. So, a recipe that calls for 1 cup of sugar will only need ½ cup of stevia. This means that there will be less dry ingredients to balance the wet ones. The Stevia website has various tips about this, such as adding nuts or almond flour to cookies to compensate for this. Also, since it has no calories or carbohydrates, it can’t be used to activate yeast or in fermented foods.
Rice syrup or brown rice syrup is another good replacement for sugar. Like barley malt, it is less sweet than cane sugar and is considered to be a grain. It is a liquid, and similarly to honey, will add moisture to recipes. If you want a liquid sweetener that is not too sweet, this may be a good option.
This is our favorite sweetener to work with. Typically, it is only a liquid, but if you can find it in a granulated form (called maple sugar) it works really nicely in recipes.
Like stevia, maple is sweeter than cane sugar. If baking with it, you generally only want ½ the amount of maple as you would use sugar. Again, like honey, you’ll want to keep the additional liquid it adds to your baked goods in mind, unless you’re using the granulated version.
It has some nutritional benefits as well. According to a Canadian article, “Maple Syrup provides several essential nutrients. It’s considered a source of calcium, a good source of copper, and an excellent source of riboflavin and manganese”, as well as 67 different polyphenols which have antioxidant properties and help fight disease.
Also like stevia, maple syrup is a sweetener that doesn’t cause problems for any of the dietary intolerances. Good stuff and so helpful when baking for a variety of sensitivities!
High Fructose Corn Syrup
The corn syrups are grain, maltodextrin and dextrose can be made from grain or potato - though dextrose tends to bother potato intolerant people regardless. Aspartame is made from amino acids in labs. Saccharin is also made in labs - it’s the one that was accidentally discovered by scientist Constantin Fahlberg in 1879 when he was working with a coal tar derivative. We don’t recommend using any of these.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to contact us with questions or leave a comment below!