This post is part of my series on sugar. You can find the other blogs in this series here:
Sugar Part I: High Fructose Corn Syrup
Sugar Part II: The Problem with Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar Part III: Refined White Sugar
Alright, so here’s the post all of us sugar fiends have been waiting for. If we shouldn’t have HFCS, or artificial sweeteners, or refined white sugar, what can we have? Well, here’s the list. I broke it down with a little info about each one.
Before we jump in though, it is important to note that even these natural sugars can be overdone and end up being detrimental to our health. These sweeteners are still sugar sources and sugar isn’t really good for us. The great thing about these sweeteners is that they contain vitamins and minerals that ARE good for us. So, enjoy them without guilt, but enjoy them in moderation (something I’m personally still working on… so, trust me, we are all in this boat together!)
Better Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth:
This one is obvious and for me it was the one I was most comfortable with when I first started looking into natural sweeteners. But, as I’ve looked into natural sweeteners and honey more I’ve learned that not all honey is created equal. Honey carries the flavors and nuances of the flowers used to make it. This is a wonderful thing about honey as it can vary quite a lot in taste and different tasting honeys work well in different types of dishes. I also learned that darker honeys are higher in antioxidants than lighter colored honeys which is good to note as you are choosing which honey to buy.
The most significant thing I learned though is that in order for honey to be truly healthy it SHOULD NOT BE HEATED. Most store bought honeys in America are processed and pasteurized. This destroys the enzymes which give honey it’s most significant health benefits. According to Ayurveda (an ancient science of health and medicine which originated in India) honey even becomes toxic when heated. I’ve never seen a study done by modern science which proved the toxicity of heated honey, but I tend to think that doesn’t mean that this ancient belief isn’t accurate. Either way, honey DOES loose important enzymes when heated, thus losing some of its health benefits over other natural sweeteners.
The take away from this is that it’s best to by RAW honey. Honey that has not been heated over 117 degrees F. Raw honey is the healthiest form of honey for you and is packed full of amylases http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amylase and other helpful enzymes. When cooking it’s a good idea to also avoid heating honey as much as possible and especially avoid using it in high heat cooking.
As for substituting honey in recipes:
1 cup sugar = roughly ½ cup honey (reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup)
Maple Syrup is another natural sweetener that many of us in the states are very comfortable with. And it is a great substitute for sugar because it’s full of healthy minerals which many of us don’t get enough of in our normal diets – minerals like zinc and manganese. But, again, not all maple syrup is created equal. Many of the maple syrups you find in stores aren’t really maple syrup at all – they are just artificial maple flavored substitutes. So, the first thing to look for is pure 100% maple syrup.
The other concern I learned about is that some maple syrups are processed with formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals. In the US it is now illegal to use formaldehyde in processing, but other processing concerns have yet to be addressed. Organic maple syrups are held to a higher standard, though, making this a good example of when it’s worth buying organic.
1 cup sugar = between ½ and ¾ cup Maple Syrup (reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup)
This sugar is made by evaporating the liquid out of maple syrup. I haven’t tried it, but it’s supposed to have a very nice maple flavor without being quite as strong as unrefined cane sugar. It is, however, pricey (which is why I haven’t tried it!). So, if you can afford it and want to check it out, go for it! If not then there are lots of other options.
1 cup sugar = roughly 1 cup maple sugar
Rapadura/Sucanat (Unrefined Cane Sugar):
Rapadura and Sucanat seem to be essentially the same thing although there may be slight differences in the processing. From what I could learn Sucanat is the brand name that first sold whole, unrefined cane sugar in the US. That’s basically what these two sweeteners are –unrefined cane sugar. There are a lot of other unrefined cane sugars on the market, but these two seem to be the least processed.
Here’s what Heidi at 101 Cookbooks says about choosing a cane sugar:
“I generally look for cane sugars that are moist and similar in appearance to brown sugar with a fine grain echoing the size of standard white sugar grains. More often than not they’ll have some combination of the following words on the packaging: natural, raw, unrefined, whole, and/or unbleached.”
One of the great things about these sugars is that they are fairly easy to use and substitute.
1 cup sugar = a little less than 1 cup unrefined cane sugar
Turbinado and Raw Sugar:
Ok, so these sugars are better than white sugar, but basically not as good as unrefined cane sugars like Rapadura and Sucanat. The reason being, that they still undergo quite a lot of processing. Oh, and they are not really “raw”. They do contain more nutrients than white sugar though and are a better choice than refined white sugar. Although if you are going to use a natural sweetener instead of white sugar I would say, why not go all the way and use rapadura or some other higher nutrient sweetener.
1 cup sugar = 1 cup Turbinado/raw sugar
Molasses is a byproduct of making white sugar. It contains most of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are removed from the sugar during processing. It is particularly rich in iron. Molasses has a strong, concentrated robust flavor, which can add depth to many baked goods.
An interesting thing to note about Molasses is that it comes in different grades depending on which boiling of the sugarcane it comes from (first, second, third, or fourth). Blackstrap Molasses is from the last boiling and is thus very concentrated in flavor and nutrients. It’s worth it to buy organic when buying blackstrap molasses because of how concentrated it is.
1 cup sugar = 1 and 1/3 cup molasses (reduce the liquid in the recipe by 5 Tablespoons)
This is syrup made from sorghum grains. It is very similar to molasses and is in fact called molasses or sorghum molasses in some parts of the U.S. Like molasses it’s a good source of iron, calcium and potassium. Also like molasses there are different types and grades of sorghum, varying in color and flavor from light to dark. It can be a great substitute for corn syrup.
1 cup sugar = 1 and 1/3 cup sorghum syrup (reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/3 cup)
Coconut Sugar/Palm Sugar:
Coconut sugar is a sweetener made from the coconut flower. Palm sugar is made from the palm flower. These two sugars are often used interchangeably – sometimes a sugar made from the coconut flower will be called palm sugar for example. You can get it in dry blocks, as a paste, or in granulated form. The flavor can vary a bit depending on the process used to make it and the form it is in. Generally it has a lighter flavor than cane sugar and other stronger sweeteners.
Coconut sugar is full of minerals and nutrients and most significantly it has a low glycemic index. So, it might be an acceptable sugar for diabetics. You can read more about the glycemic index of coconut sugar and the minerals it contains here.
I couldn’t find a conversion for how much coconut sugar should be used in place of white sugar. I would probably guess it’s about a 1:1 ratio but I have no idea really. Does anyone else know??
This sweetener has been widely used in Japan for the past 30 years and seems to be gaining some attention in the US now as well. Although it’s availability is currently restricted in the US. It is really an herb and you can just use the ground dried leafs, but you can also get it as an extract. Supposedly, it can have a bit of an herby taste.
The great thing about stevia is that it is very low in calories and does not negatively affect blood glucose like sugar does. It’s even said to have various health benefits – for example reducing high blood pressure and aiding in weight control. The extracts can be up to 300 times sweeter than white sugar, so a little bit goes a long way.
Because stevia comes in a variety of different forms I’m going to just direct you to this chart for conversion information.
Ok, this one has some controversy around it. I have never used Agave syrup, but I was definitely familiar with it and thought of it as a healthy natural sweetener. I’m realizing lately that might not be the case. Since many people have written very detailed and helpful articles on this topic already I’m going to just direct you to them to learn more about Agave syrup:
- Sally Fallon on Agave Nectar: “High Fructose Agave Syrup”
- Is Agave Worse Than High Fructose Corn Syrup?
- The Good, The Bad, The Agave
- Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?
- Agave Nectar, the High Fructose Health Food Fraud
Ok, this isn’t really a sugar at all, it’s just a dried fruit. It is made by grinding dehydrated dates. It contains all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals of the fruit itself. To me this seems like the purest, most unprocessed choice for a natural sweetener. It has a sweet rich flavor, but it isn’t always a good substitute for sugar because it clumps and doesn’t melt. It’s also expensive, so…
1 cup sugar = roughly 1 cup date sugar
Ok, if you want the healthiest way to satisfy your sweet tooth this is probably it. Have an apple, a pear, some fresh berries, a peach, plum, tangerine, orange, banana… Oh, the list of yummy sweet fruity goodness goes on and on. You can use fruits to sweeten recipes or just eat them on their own. Bake or dehydrate them to intensify their flavor and sweetness.
The above list of natural sweeteners is of course not a complete list of natural sweeteners, but hopefully it gives you a start and introduces you to the wide variety of sweet flavors available.
If you want to try using a natural sugar, here are some recipes to get you started:
PS – None of these recipes are from me, so check out the great sites they come from and take a look around while you’re there.
Well, I hope this post is helpful for all of you who love your sweets as much as I do. If you are interested in some further reading on this topic, see the list bellow.
Today may you find true deep satisfaction from the sweetest things in life – a child’s laughter, a shared kiss, the hug of a friend, and whatever else makes you smile the sweetest of smiles.
Rejoicing in the journey –
Further Reading and References:
- A Few Favorite Sweeteners
- My Favorite Natural Sweeteners
- Whole Can Sugar: A Better Way to Sweeten
- Are Natural Sweeteners Good for You?
- Sugar Part 2: Best to Worse
- Maple Syrup vs. Sorghum Syrup
- Should we Buy Organic Maple Syrup?
- Q & A: More on Natural Sweeteners
- A Guide to Natural Sweeteners
- The Cook’s Thesaurus: Sugars
- Is Truvia Healthy
- In My Kitchen: Coconut Sugar
- Palm & Coconut Sugar
- Organic Coconut Sugar: Low Glycemic Natural Sugar Substitute
- Agave and Stevia: All Natural, Unsafe, or Unhealthy?
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Food on Fridays
Fight Back Friday June 18th
Vegetarian Foodie Fridays
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