How to Substitute Sugar
So its the holidays. And you’ve been trying SO hard to stay healthy, and you know that baking is around, and you’re starting to sweat a little. How to survive the next few weeks without falling totally off the wagon? I wish I could say I was blessed with nerves of steel but I’m not. I know loading up on protein and fat helps curb sugar cravings. But for heavens sakes- put those brownies in front of me and I am a mess! What to do?
This is what you do. You compromise. I’ve got a little list below to help you out- something a little sweet that will replace white sugar in your baking so that in small portions, you still get a festive treat. Hopefully you’ll be encouraged to give these a shot to help through the holiday season….
Ok, so, substituting sugars. If you are sugar sensitive, diabetic, dealing with candida, or want to make your treats a little healthier, using a sugar substitute will often reduce the glycemic index of a food and make it more suitable to your diet.
You’ll note below that I don’t even touch sugar alcohols like Splenda, Nutrisweet, etc… or High Fructose Corn Syrup. Why? Because they aren’t real food. They make my gut go bonkers. And frankly, I think they’re gross. :) If you want to learn more about the nature of sugar and how it affects your body’s health and digestion, and how your body actually digests sugars differently- check out this phenomenal video- Sugar: The Bitter Truth. Keep in mind, that just because the ingredients below aren’t refined sugar, it doesn’t mean to use as much as you want :) they are still sweet, they are still sugars, but they are less refined and a bit healthier. Use sparingly for safer baking.
A little about finding these products
Certain sugar substitutes are more sweet than refined white sugar (like honey) and have a similar caloric value. Others are more sweet than sugar (stevia) but have almost no caloric value at all. Overall, unless you are using fruit purees, you’ll find most sugar substitutes are more expensive than sugar. The craziest ones are definetly Yacon syrup ( 18.00 for 4 oz!), Agave inulin powder (20 freaking dollars for 1 1/2 cups worth) and Coconut sap (10.00 for 2 cups worth). The others are varying in their prices. Most you can find at your local health food store (in Ottawa, Rainbow Foods seems to carry all of them, Natural Food Pantry is also pretty good).
NOTE: This is part of the Substitution Series: Part 1 is Understanding Gluten Free Flours, Part 2 is How to Substitute Eggs, Part 3 is How to Substitute Sugar, Part 4 is How to Substitute Fats/ Oils, Part 5 is How to Substitute Dairy and Part 6 is Substituting the Top 10 Allergens in Baking.
Substituting Sugar in Baking
So! Here we go. Sugar alternatives and their equivalents to 1 cup of refined white sugar or brown sugar. I hope this helps in your baking.
If you are subbing a dry sweetener where a wet is called for, increase the wet ingredients by 1 tbsp per cup. If you are subbing a wet when dry is called for, you will need to reduce the wet ingredients in that recipe as indicated below. Each item below is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar.
Honey: 1 /2 cup = 1 cup sugar
Sweeter than sugar, and adds a lot of moisture to your recipe. For every 1/2 cup of honey, reduce your wet ingredients by 1/4 cup. I tend to use this the most. Its the most cost effective, has a wonderful very subtle floral note it adds to baked goods, and its got enough sweetness for my palate. Honey is a humectant- it makes your recipe wetter. I don’t recommend using more than 1/2 cup in your recipe, or else you might get a gummy baked product. If you need additional sweetness, combine it with another sugar substitute like coconut sap, or chopped/pureed dried fruit, stevia, etc… If your batter seems particularly wet, try adding 1 tbsp of starch or coconut flour or chickpea flour to absorb it. (coconut flour works the best and has a slightly sweet flavour- great for baked goods).
Agave Nectar: 1 ¼ cup = 1 cup sugar
Agave nectar is less sweet than sugar. It is also not as thick of a syrup as honey, therefore resulting in a slightly drier product. Note- agave nectar is high fructose- there is conflicting research about whether or not it is indeed better than high fructose corn syrup. If your concern is health related, see if you can find some more information on it. Regular agave nectar is dark brown and thick like maple syrup. Raw agave nectar is less sweet, a clear liquid, and thinner viscosity. When you use 1/2 cup agave, reduce your wet ingredients by 2 tbsp. If your batter seems particularly wet, try adding 1 tbsp of starch or coconut flour to absorb it. I wouldn’t recommend using more than 3/4 cup per recipe when substituting. If you need additional sweetness, combine it with one of the suggestions below.
Agave Inulin Powder: 1 cup = 1 cup sugar
This is the most expensive sugar substitute I have found. Its made from very finely ground agave tuber. The advantage is that it is very powdery, like icing sugar, so for those who are severely sugar intolerant, it would make a good substitute for making icing. Other than that, use sparingly. Its also not very sweet.
Yacon Syrup: ¾ cup = 1 cup sugar
Made from a tuber from South America, this syrup is a great replacement to those who are severely sensitive to molasses. It is dark, thick, cinnamon-like in scent, and only half the sweetness of molasses. It is also quite costly. Reduce wet ingredients by 2 tbsp if you use it. As a molasses substitute, its terrific. As an everyday sweetener, its a bit on the costly side. If you wish to use it more often, try combining it with another one of the sweeteners here to get more mileage out of it.
Molasses: ½ to ¾ cup = 1 cup sugar
There are two kinds of molasses, fancy molasses and cooking molasses. Fancy Molasses is sweeter- it has a higher sugar content. Molasses has more nutrients than white sugar, and makes terrific short baking like cookies or small tea loaves. Not as easy with fluffy products like cake. It often has sulfites in it for preservative- if you are sensitive check the label to make sure. Reduce wet ingredients by ¼ cup if you use 3/4 cup of it to substitute white sugar. Since its a strong flavoured sweetener, you might get more mileage out of it if you use only a little and combine it with one of the other suggestions here.
Stevia Drops: 6 drops = 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp= 1 cup sugar.
Stevia is a very sweet sugar alternative. If you are using it in your baking to replace sugar, you will have to increase both the wet and dry ingredients to accommodate the loss of volume from the sugar. Add in ¼ to ½ cup applesauce, cooked pureed sweet potato or pumpkin, or pureed banana to replace the lost volume and moisture of 1 cup of sugar. Stevia also has a pronounced flavour that not everyone loves- try only a little bit first to see if you like it. It may be best used to sweeten beverages, custards, icing, etc. I know that you can order online flavured stevia drips (like vanilla, chocolate, etc…)- you might find those more palatable. There is also stevia powder, but its often combined with dextrose (corn sugar. a.k.a….. the bad stuff).
Maple Syrup: ¾ cup = 1 cup sugar
Maple syrup is more flavourful than sugar; however it is also less sweet. Reduce the liquid in your recipe by 2-4 tbsp when using1 cup of maple syrup in baking. It has a thinner consistency than honey. You may wish to combine it with another sweetener listed here to get the flavour you are looking for. Also, you might want to consider adding a binding agent like flax or ground chia to your recipe if you only use maple syrup as a sweetener- it doesn’t bind recipes as well as sugar does (yes, sugar is a binder! who knew.!)
Brown Rice Syrup: 1 1/3 cups = 1 cup sugar
A very thick, golden coloured syrup. Has a slightly caramel taste with a slight rice-like aftertaste. Some find the after taste a touch unpleasant/bitter, others don’t notice it. You might want to try a bit before using a bunch in baking. Brown rice syrup is not as sweet as sugar. When baking, you’ll need to reduce your wet ingredients by ¼ cup for every cup of Brown Rice Syrup you use. It works well as a binder, so if you want, use it sparingly and combine it with another sweetener listed here.
Coconut Sap: 1 cup = 1 cup brown sugar
Coconut sap (not coconut sugar), is a soft, molasses-scented sugar. It feels, smells, and tastes remarkably like brown sugar but is only half the glycemic index. It’s a great substitute in baking when you need a solid rather than liquid sugar replacement. Even though its so expensive, I tend to really like using this one. A comparable product would be date sugar. You can substitute it directly in a recipe. I love the stuff.
Palm Sugar: 2/3 cup grated = 1 cup sugar
Palm sugar comes from boiling the sap of the palm tree (from what I understand). It comes in golden little ‘pucks’ about the size of your palm, and can be found at your local asian grocer. I grate them (or if you have a strong food processor, throw them against the grater function). The result is a white fluffy sticky solid sugar- great for cakes that you want to be light in colour, or for icing. Its alot less sweet than white sugar and amazingly, I noticed I don’t get that jagged sugar high from it either. Its more labour intensive to grate it but its worth a shot- especially since its so much less expensive than other sugar replacements.
Date Sugar: 2/3 cup = 1 cup brown sugar
Made from finely ground dates, it is not technically a sugar itself but works well as a solid substitute rather than a liquid substitute. It does not melt or dissolve like other sugars. It also absorbs moisture instead of adding it, you may wish to add 1-2 tbsp more of wet ingredients. It has a really low glycemic index and is not overly sweet- it may be perfect for short baking like cookies.
Maple Sugar: equivalent to regular sugar
If you are lucky enough to live in an area where maple syrup is made (hooray Quebec!), usually your local sugar bush will sell blocks of Maple sugar, or bags of it. Its a super concentrated form of maple syrup. Its just as sweet as regular sugar, but has a wonderful trace slightly smokey flavour, and has trace nutrients in it. Its also very costly to make, and therefore not very easy to find.
Soaked pureed dates: 6-7 = 1 cup sugar
Dates themselves are very high in naturally occuring sugars. Try soaking a handful of them, pureeing and adding to your wet ingredients to substitute sugar. They work well as a helpful binding agent, and lend a really subltle complex flavour to baked goods. I like them in pie crusts, and cookies. Reduce your wet ingredients by at least1/4 cup if you use them.
Dried dates, figs, raisins, apricots, prunes and other sweet dried fruit add significant sweetness to a recipe. You can chop them for pockets of sweetness or soak over night then puree them as a liquid sugar substitute. They also add fibre, binding capacity, and moisture to a recipe along with subtle flavour. For added punch, try simmering dried fruit (like figs), in a bit of apple juice and lemon juice till the figs are really soft and gummy. They get very sweet and sticky, and you won’t need white sugar!
When you want to enhance a sweet-like flavour, try using warm spices like 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp cloves, ½ tsp allspice, and ½ tsp ginger. Try also 1-2 tsp or more of anise or fennel seeds. These work well with almond or vanilla type cookies. Warming spices give the illusion of sweetness without the insulin jolt, and they can increase the illusion of sweetness when you use them together with other sugar replacements.
Chocolate desserts are really enhanced by a combination of 1 tsp cinnamon and 2 tbsp espresso / 3 tsp espresso powder or 3 tsp dehydrated coffee crystals. Try also ¼ tsp almond extract or vanilla bean seeds or 1-2 tsp vanilla extract in your dessert.
Try adding finely grated lemon zest or orange zest, or throwing in some frozen raspberries or cranberries combined with toasted walnuts or pecans. Often the contrast of small pockets of slightly tart flavour from the fruit contrasted with the richness of sweeter nuts makes the rest of the dessert taste sweeter than it ‘technically’ is. Neat, eh?
Believe it or not, if you have a bare hint of salt, just the tiniest pinch, with your sweet, it creates a contrast in your mouth that makes the dessert taste better, and atouch sweeter, than if you added more sugar.
Throwing in a few tiny shaves of chocolate or ¼ to 1/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chips creates tiny pockets of sweetness that elevate the dessert. Try EnjoyLife chocolate chips- they are soy lecithin free. Interestingly, chopped unsweetened chocloate paired with chopped dried fruit also has a terrific effect.
Other sweeteners I’ve got to try yet (one day!):
-Frozen apple juice from concentrate – its high in sugar, but it would be more flavourful and at least its not white sugar.
- Pomegranate syrup – saw this at a middle eastern food store, looks really flavourful and would liek to try playing with it.
- Date syrup - also saw this at a middle eastern food store, looks like it might be a great alternative to pureeing dates myself
And thats it folks! If you have any info you’d like to add, please feel free to go ahead :) Stay tuned for How to Substitute Dairy in your baking, next.