Technique: How I Replace White Sugar
Using sugar substitution to save a favorite family recipe can serve as an action-packed Friday night activity, I swear. A world of options crawl out from beneath the white sugar canister, where they sat patiently waiting for us to acknowledge our self-inflicted deprivation of both nutrition and flavor. Familiar things like honey and maple syrup get dusted off and re-appreciated, but upon deeper digging, options like palm sugar, honey granules and date paste rear their sweet little heads. I’ve played with them all, and in the process, narrowed it down to my own personal go-to sweeteners, which I’ve shared with you below.
Converting a favorite white sugar recipe doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts, but rather, a bit of guts and the understanding that when swapping a granular sweetener for a liquid sweetener (ex. white sugar for honey) the additional liquid in the recipe (ex. milk) may need to be reduced. And though I could pretend to give a list of exact rules for how much liquid to reduce, in truth, every single recipe is different, which is where the guts are needed. However as a generic starting point, I suggest reducing the overall liquid content of a recipe by 1/4 cup for every 1 cup of liquid sweetener that is substituting for granular.
To make life easier, I tend to stick with direct substitutes of granular sweeteners for granular sweeteners (ex. maple crystals for white sugar) and liquid sweeteners for liquid sweeteners (ex. honey for corn syrup.) A bit safer this way, but every bit as delicious.
Either way, go for it! Mess up! Try again! Once you get a good final product, you’ll be sharing your prized, healthier recipe with friends for years to come. Heck, send it over to me. I’d love to hear what you’ve been working on…
Real Maple Syrup –Real Maple Syrup comes from a maple tree. Fake Maple Syrup is colored sugar water. Look at the ingredients for the potential purchase, if they include only maple syrup, you’ve found the mother-ship. The flavor will be rich, deep, autumn-esque and caramel-y. Real Maple Syrup substitutes 1:1 for any liquid sweetener. Examples of Maple Syrup recipes include: Sprouted Apple Butter Dots & Maple Walnut Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting.
Maple Crystals – Maple Crystals are simply dehydrated Real Maple Syrup, and what a treat they are! They can substitute 1:1 for white sugar, however they do add an additional soft fluffiness to the texture. It’s quite nice, and I turn to this sweetener when I desire that effect. I also know several people who sprinkle this sweetener on their morning oatmeal. Doesn’t that sound amazing? The taste is unmistakably maple. An example of a Maple Crystal recipe includes: Carrot Pudding.
Sucanat – Sucanat is pure dried sugar cane juice. Unlike common white sugar, Sucanat is unrefined and therefore contains the molasses mineral content typically lost in the refining process, resulting in a rustic and deep flavor. Aesthetically, Sucanat’s closest relative is brown sugar, for which a 1:1 substitution is commonplace; however, Sucanat is more granular, less moist and more nutritious. Brown sugar is typically common white sugar with just a bit of molasses added back.
Raw Honey – Regular store-bought honey has been pasteurized, which means it has been heated and strained to obtain a clear product that is easier to pour. Unfortunately, during this pasteurization process, many of nature’s beneficial bacteria and enzymes that help our bodies break down the sweetener are destroyed. Although the heat of preparation negates many of these positive properties, I still recommend purchasing Raw Honey for cooking and baking. I find the overall quality of the honey to be more consistent, and I prefer supporting farmers who choose less refinement in their practices. If Raw Honey can’t be sourced, regular honey may be substituted in equal measurements. Raw Honey substitutes 1:1 for any liquid sweetener. Examples of Raw Honey recipes include: Carrot Popsicles & Green Bean Salad with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes.
Honey Granules – Honey Granules are a unique sweetener that are made from a combination of unrefined sugar cane juice (Sucanat) and a bit of honey in order to lighten the color and texture of the final product. The best place to source Honey Granules is from an amazing company out of Woodstock, GA called Bread Beckers, who ships all over the US. I buy the convenient 5lb pail. I find Honey Granules to be the most accurate 1:1 natural sweetener swap for white sugar. The color of the final product will be more rustic, resulting in a cream/egg-shell rather than a pure white. An Example of a recipe using Honey Granules is: Heirloom Watermelon Italian Ice.
Powdered Honey Granules – Powdered Honey Granules are simply regular Honey Granules that have been broken down in a blender or coffee grinder to reach a texture similar to refined white powdered sugar. Again, the color will be deeper, but the texture enables a natural cook to still make a great cookie frosting! To make Powdered Honey Granules: Keep in mind that 1 cup of Honey Granules will yield 1 cup of Powdered Honey Granules. Measure the amount needed into the bowl of a blender (or coffee grinder for small quantities.) Cover and blend on high speed. Stop every 10-15 seconds to shake the container, re-distributing the granules. Continue blending until all granules are powdered. Avoid over-blending, which can begin to melt the granules. Allow the dust to settle before removing the lid. Store in an air-tight glass container in a cool pantry for several months. Warm temperatures may cause the powder to harden. If they do harden, simply re-process in the blender.
Powdered Green Stevia – Stevia is a plant, native to South America. The natural green Stevia leaves were traditionally steeped in tea to impart a pleasantly sweet taste. The leaves can also be dried and crushed into a fine, green powder. Many people who are intolerant of all sweeteners, even natural ones, enjoy Powdered Green Stevia with no side effects. An additional refinement process can turn the green powder to white, but I feel it also imparts a bitter aftertaste, reminiscent of artificial sweeteners. I also find the white version to be much stronger. Due to the natural green color, Stevia is best used in a recipe such as Chester Cookies, where the green color blends well into the deeper hue of other ingredients, in this case almond butter and rolled oats. Powdered Green Stevia is significantly stronger than white sugar, approximately 1 tsp can replace 1/4 cup of sugar. Stevia also works well in tandem with another sweetener. For example, 1 tsp of Powdered Green Stevia + 1/4 cup of Raw Honey results in a taste that is the strength and flavor of 1/2 cup of Raw Honey, which is the technique I use in Really Healthy Granola.
Dates – Dried fruit can serve as a sweetener for anything from cakes to salad dressings. I am highlighting the Date because the texture and flavor are simply amazing! Dates come in many shapes and sizes. I personally avoid the very hard bagged variety. If you can get your hands on the moist and royal Medjool Date (shown in the picture above), please add one to a blender with some fresh-squeezed lemon juice, a dash of apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt & pepper for a delicious Lemon Vinaigrette. Just remember to remove the pit!
Date Sugar – Date Sugar is simply dehydrated and ground Dates. Used as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar, usually, but also white sugar, I find Date Sugar to impart a softness to the texture of baked goods, similar to Maple Crystals. I also find Date Sugar to be less sweet, causing me to turn to this sweetener when a subtle product is desired. Date sugar does not melt well, which results in pretty flecks of brown in the final product. But because it doesn’t melt, I skip this sweetener when candying nuts or making frosting.