I have decided to get serious about experimenting with some sugar alternatives in my baking, and see if I can find something(s) that I would be happy to switch to long term. There are a few things to factor in, for example - Does it taste good? Does it easily replace sugar in any given recipe, or do I have to adjust the other ingredients to make it work? Is it truly a healthier option? Is it affordable?
I've been trying a few alternatives recently, but by no means all! Let me tell you a bit about what I have looked at so far, and as I experiment more I will report back on how they perform.
XYLITOL - Despite its name this is not an artificial substitute, but a naturally occurring one. I have been familiar with it for many years and have also known it as birch tree sugar, though some more reading tells me it can also be extracted from other plant materials. Xylitol has approximately 2/3 the calories of sugar, you need a little less of it when replacing sugar (so that's even less calories) and it has a very low GI, causing less impact on your blood sugar levels. And to add to these awesome credentials, it is good for your teeth. Not just not bad for your teeth, but good for them, and is often used in toothpaste. Amazing! Xylitol looks pretty much just like sugar, but has a minty taste, and gives a bit of a zing on the tongue, much like toothpaste, when eaten on its own. Too much of it will cause a laxative effect. It is extracted through hydrogenation.
GLUCOSE/DEXTROSE - A very fine powder. It's the good part of sugar. Sugar minus the fructose. Dissolves quickly on the tongue and has a slightly minty fresh feel. A really effective and safe substitute for sugar, though it is very high GI.
COCONUT SUGAR - Drained from the flower stem of the coconut tree, and also has a fairly low GI. Packed with vitamins and minerals that you won't find in your usual sugar. Has a dark, rich taste, and appears much more like brown sugar than white. Is not highly processed.
AGAVE SYRUP - LADEN with fructose - this a bad sugar alternative. Fructose is what we are to avoid as much as possible.
"SWEET FREEDOM" - A syrup made 100% from natural fruit extracts (apples, grapes and carob). Contains 23% fructose, as opposed to 50% in sugar. So a great improvement and relevant alternative. I haven't tried it in everything yet, but suggest using in place of honey, golden syrup, maple syrup and possibly condensed milk. Also 25% fewer calories than sugar, plus you can use less as it is very sweet. So far I have only found it in the UK and ordered it online. Which is not hard. Easier than going to the supermarket actually.
STEVIA - there is much debate on the safety of stevia. More research for me to be done here.
HONEY - high in calories and in fructose, so not a better option than sugar in this regard. It does contain vitamins and minerals which white sugar does not, and is not highly processed.
I'm also interested in learning about whether HONEY is actually a healthier alternative to sugar. I came across an all natural APPLE CONCENTRATE syrup recently that could be interesting to try. BANANAS and DRIED FRUIT in baking add to sweetness and reduce the amount of sugar you need to use. So there is much to experiment with.
And finally, a note on sugar as we know it. Table sugar is highly processed, but you can get less processed versions. Rapadura sugar is the most unrefined sugar you can get, at the opposite end of the scale to table sugar. Although it is still high in calories and has a high GI, it does contain vitamins and minerals that are not found in our fine, white, refined sugar. Raw sugar comes somewhere on the scale between white and rapadura. Also, when baking I tend to reduce the amount of sugar that the recipe suggests, and it's never noticed in the end result. Even this is a good place to start if you are keen to reduce your sugar consumption.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on sugar and sugar alternatives. Are you excited that there are some healthier options out there? Do you have any other suggestions that I haven't covered? Do you care about how much sugar you eat? Enough to make a change? Are you looking forward to hearing the results of my first experiment in my next post...?
The info above has been collected from prior knowledge, learning from friends, Wikipedia, BBC Good Food and the backs of various packets. If you want to know more, I suggest you start with some Googling and Wikipedia-ing. All the products I have mentioned above can be found by Wellingtonians at Moore Wilson's and/or Commonsense Organics.
RESULTS can be found below and find more details in these posts:
Sugar-Free Chocolate Chip Biscuits
More Sugar-Free Results
|Here's the sweetest thing you'll find anywhere. She's good enough to eat.|
To be updated as I trial different sugar substitutes in various recipes
Biscuits - Taste: dark, syrupy and a little bitter. Texture: cakey
Chocolate pudding - No taste or texture difference, though possibly makes it a little drier. Add a drop more liquid.
Biscuits - Taste: no discernable difference. Texture: cakey
Muesli Bar - Taste: no discernable difference. Texture: cakey
Pikelets - No taste or texture difference
So far have only used very happily in place of honey.
Biscuits - taste: noticeably less sweet. Texture: normal but more experimenting needed
Cakes/puddings: no discernable difference. Possibly slightly less sweet
NZ$25.90/kg in bulk bins (best value)
or $12 for a 300g bag*
NZ$23/kg in bulk bins (best value)
or $11 for 400g bag*
3 UK pounds + another 3.50 for postage.
Click here for the link
NZ$3.80 (?tbc) for 400g at Pak n Save
NZ$3.20 for 400g at New World
Stevia Powder (not yet tested on The Cook's Sponge)
NZ$6.99 for 250gms.*
* Coconut sugar, xylitol and stevia costs are from Commonsense Organics - Wellington City, Kilbirnie and Lower Hutt. Thanks to Kilbirnie for detailing the costs. Not all stores have all products in bulk bins. Ask for a better price if buying in seriously big bulk - get together with your friends and share it out perhaps?
Moore Wilsons prices very similar. They have a 1kg bag of coconut sugar for $19.09 + GST.
They don't stock Xylitol.