Sugar is a common ingredient in both cooking and baking and is an important ingredient in a lot of recipes. It’s also a common ingredient for spicy foods, even savory ones since the sugar can help cut the heat of the spice.
There are a couple of different problems with using sugar, especially a lot of sugar, though, and finding good substitutes can be challenging.
Here’s what you need to know, and some of the best sugar substitutes you can get.
Why Use Sugar Substitutes Instead Of Sugar
There are a few different reasons to use a sugar substitute instead of real sugar.
One of the most common reasons to make the switch is that sugar is a calorie dense food, but doesn’t bring a lot of nutrition to the table in return for all the calories.
It’s also pretty common to switch because of your blood sugar. Diabetics and people who are pre-diabetic or have trouble maintaining a consistent blood sugar all might benefit from eating less sugar, or switching away from sugar entirely.
Other people switch from sugar for environmental or ethical reasons, since sugarcane production, like a lot of modern crop plants, can be very hard on the environment and the people producing the produce.
No matter what your reasons, while we can all agree that sugar is an incredible product, it's also one that might be healthier to remove from your diet.
Top Sugar Substitutes:
Sugar is a tricky ingredient to substitute. There are plenty of options when it comes to adding a sweet flavor to your foods, but that doesn’t mean that every option is going to be a good choice for every situation.
It’s common for people who aren’t eating sugar to keep several different sugar substitutes around for different uses in cooking, baking, and beverage making.
Brown sugar is a good substitute for white sugar and raw sugar if you’re looking for an option that’s a little bit healthier and more nutrient dense.
However, this option isn’t going to work if you’re trying to change away from sugar because of its effect on your blood sugar, or because of the sheer calories in sugar.
Honey is a good option to replace sugar in both cooking and baking. However, while it is more nutritious than white sugar, it has basically the same caloric content and isn’t quite as sweet as sugar, on average.
That means that honey can be a good option to help you transition away from sweet foods, since you don’t taste as much sweetness from the same amount of honey. This trick won’t work if you’re just adding more honey to compensate for the sweetness though.
You should also be aware that honey works in most baking, but can add too much moisture to sensitive recipes, and can make doughs a little stickier and harder to handle.
Maple syrup is becoming more and more common as a sugar substitute, in part because it has a lower glycemic index than white sugar.
Having a low glycemic index means that food doesn’t have as big of an impact on your blood sugar, or that the effect on your blood sugar is slower than foods with a high glycemic index.
That makes maple syrup a slightly better option for people watching their blood sugar, and even for people who want to lose weight since it’s less likely to cause a hunger crash.
At the same time, like other calorie rich sugar substitutes, maple syrup is a little more nutritious, but still has basically the same caloric content as regular sugar.
Maple syrup works particularly well in Autumn flavored desserts. Consider trying it in these 25 Fall Dessert recipes!
Date sugar is the first substitute on this list that is a little less traditional. Dates are a naturally sweet fruit that are commonly used in desserts and as sweet snacks everywhere date palms grow naturally.
Dried and ground, dates can work a bit like sugar in your foods, adding plenty of sweetness, while also adding a bit of fiber and nutrition.
However, since dates don’t fully dissolve, this isn’t a good sweetener for anything you want to be very smooth, though it works wonderfully in breads and sponge bakes.
Date syrup is an alternative to date sugar that is basically the same product, but in liquid form. That way you can get the same sweetness and nutritional benefits as date sugar, but without having to worry about a grainy or unpleasant texture.
However, neither of these options is low calorie. So, while nutritionally better than sugar, and better for your blood sugar, you’re still adding calories to your foods and beverages when you add date syrup or sugar.
Agave nectar is a product made from agave fruit, and has become a popular vegan alternative to honey.
However, while agave works well as a sugar substitute and is a little more nutritionally dense than sugar, it’s calorie rich and has significant glycemic impact.
So, this option works if you don’t like the taste of sugar, don’t want to support sugarcane farming, or are looking for a vegan honey replacement, but it isn't the health-conscious choice a lot of people think it is.
Stevia is the first no-calorie sweetener we’ve included. It’s made from the stevia plant, which produces a sweeter than sugar compound that is non-digestible. That means you get all the sweetness you want, but without any calories.
Stevia is available in liquid and powdered forms, and in products that mimic white and brown sugar. It holds up to baking well, and works as a good all-purpose sweetener.
However, some people notice a strong aftertaste from Stevia, and don’t like the flavor of stevia combined with some foods and beverages. So, if you’re making the switch, it’s a good idea to play around with different combinations to see which foods work well with stevia, and which you don’t like.
Molasses is a byproduct of sugar refining and is all the sap and other nutrients in sugar cane that don’t make it into refined sugar.
It’s still fairly sweet, but also has a strong, almost malty flavor that can be overpowering. It’s sweet, but also relatively bitter, so, this is best as a sweetener for people who already know that they enjoy molasses and might not be for everyone.
That said, molasses often pairs particularly well with other flavors that have just a hint of bitterness, like ginger and coffee. It’s still calorie dense, but it’s also nutritionally dense.
Monk Fruit Sweetener
Monk fruit sweetener is just starting to be common on grocery store shelves, and is a good option for people who are looking for an all natural plant-based sweetener that’s low calorie or calorie free, and effective.
Like stevia, monk fruit sweeteners do have a bit of an aftertaste and don’t work with everything, but there are a variety of monk fruit sweetener products that work well for a wide variety of cooking and baking.
You can also get a good brown sugar substitute made from monk fruit, which is nice since there aren’t as many substitutes for brown sugar as white sugar.
If you’re looking to make a sweet dessert that’s lighter on calories and offers better nutrition, you can substitute the sugar in the recipe for applesauce. Apple sauce also works as an oil replacement in some recipes, but you should only use applesauce to substitute one ingredient, not both.
Apple sauce isn’t quite as good for you as a whole raw apple, but it’s still low calorie and a great way to make your favorite baked goods a little healthier.
Other Fruit Puree
You can also use other kinds of fruit puree to add sweetness and flavor to a lot of baked goods. Banana and pear purees work particularly well, but any sweet fruit you enjoy can work as a sugar substitute in baking and sometimes even cooking.
Love dessert but worried about the calories? Try these 29 Weight Watchers desserts at home!
Artificial Sugars and Sugar Alcohols
Last but not least, artificial sweeteners are another good option, especially for people who are going sugar free for health reasons, or who need true no-calorie sweeteners.
That said, some people react poorly to artificial sweeteners, and there are some studies now showing that using artificial sweeteners can have a negative effect on your gut microbiome. Those studies aren’t conclusive yet, and artificial sweeteners are FDA approved as a safe food additive, but it’s still a good thing to be aware of.
Like Stevia and monk fruit, many artificial sweeteners also have an aftertaste or a slightly off flavor, which can be made worse by certain flavors and pairings. If you are making the switch to an artificial sweetener, it’s a good idea to play around with different options to find the right one for you.
Which Sugar Substitutes Are Right For Me?
Choosing the right sugar substitute is a trick. When it comes to baking, you need to think about how much sweetness the substitute adds, whether it’s a dry or a liquid ingredient, and how well the sugar substitute holds up with extended heat.
A lot of artificial sugars and sweeteners degrade quickly when you bake with them, which means that the sweetness leaves, and they can even leave an unpleasant aftertaste.
Other sweeteners can have different problems. Using Agave honey, or maple syrup, for instance, can increase the moisture in your recipe, which can cause other problems.
The other big problem when you’re choosing a sugar substitute is finding one that tastes good to you. Since sugar substitutes don’t typically taste exactly the same as sugar, they might not always be a good fit for the other flavors in your dish.
For instance, Stevia can produce an off flavor in coffee, but is a great sweetener for smoothies, tea, and even some cooking and baking.
Chances are, if you’re trying to get rid of the sugar in your diet entirely, rather than just reducing how much , you will need more than one sugar substitute. As an example, date sugar (which is really made from dried and powdered dates) is a good all purpose sugar for baking and some cooking, but it doesn’t dissolve the way real sugar does. Date syrup is a better alternative for drinks and baking where you need a very smooth finish. You might even prefer date syrup for some sauces and soups, too!
You might also use artificial sweeteners in your morning coffee, but stick to date sugar or apple sauce in your baking.
Feel free to play around with different sweetener options in different foods. You’ll get much better results if you do some experiments to see what you like best. Wanting to find some new desserts to try with your new sweetener options? Consider trying these Indian Dessert recipes. They work particularly well with honey, agave, and date syrup.