Natural Sweeteners at Your Local Shop
Refined sugar has been around since the dawn of the industrialised nations, but its effect on humankind has been less than sweet.
It’s played a leading role in the spike of obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, heart conditions, and even cancer.
Luckily, there are plenty of other plant-based options with natural sugars that are far kinder on your body, and add lots of fun to your cooking.
These nine fantastic natural sweeteners are a brilliant alternative and, best of all, they’re easily available from supermarkets and health food stores.
Extra little note: stay away from artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. These are ‘tested’ safe but like most man made chemically-derived foods, I usually suggest to avoid them completely.
Stevia is a plant that looks a bit like mint and is 200 times sweeter than refined sugar. You can get it in powder or liquid form. It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the nasty side effects of artificial sweeteners. Use just a tiny amount in recipes, not as a 1:1 replacement!
Raw honey is a true superfood and one of the best natural sweeteners. It’s packed with enzymes, antioxidants, and nutrients, and feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Some people worry about blood sugar levels and honey, but one tablespoon of raw honey (it must be raw, not heat treated) has less impact on glycemic load than a banana. Heating honey damages its properties, so choose a different sweetener if you’re planning on adding it to cooked recipes.
Good quality maple syrup – not maple flavoured syrup, which is basically all sugar and artificial flavours – is minimally processed and heat stable. The darker the syrup, the more virgin it is. It adds a beautiful caramel taste to baked goods (and of course, it’s divine on pancakes!).
Tasting a little bit like licorice or aniseed, blackstrap molasses is essentially all of the ‘good stuff’ (think nutrients, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin B6 and so on) that’s taken out of the sugar cane when its refined to create white sugar. It’s delicious in chocolate smoothies and any recipes with ginger as a feature. It’s strong though, so only use a tiny bit!
Check out this delicious gingerbread biscuit recipe featuring blackstrap molasses!
Rice malt syrup
Also called brown rice syrup, RMS is free from fructose and has minimal impact on blood sugar levels. It contains complex carbs that your body uses as a slow release of energy. RMS and maple syrup can be used interchangeably in recipes that call for a liquid sugar and a beautifully rich, deep taste.
Coconut sugar is the new kid on the block, but it’s a fantastic 1:1 replacement for white sugar in recipes. It’s full of polyphenols, iron, calcium, antioxidants and potassium.
It is a little high in fructose, so use sparingly, and it is a little less intensely sweet compared to refined sugar. To increase sweetness, I add blueberries or sultanas to the recipe.
To make a healthier brown sugar, add two tablespoons of molasses to ½ cup coconut sugar. Blend together in a food processor or blender until combined.
Dried fruit: Dates, raisins, goji berries
Dried fruits are a great way to add a pop of sweetness to recipes. They’re full of nutrients and many dried fruits help reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood. Just add them right into cakes and muffins, pancakes, even curries!
Read this recipe for an amazing date paste to use in recipes.
Bananas get a bad rap for being really high in sugar, but they’re actually not bad for you. They are really high in the potassium we are lacking in our modern diet. In terms of sugar, they contain the same amount of natural sugar as an apple or pear.
Mash or puree bananas to use as a natural sweetener. It’s cheap, sweet, adds volume and texture, and basically covers a multitude of baking sins (thank you, bananas!).
Berries are an amazing addition to baking projects to give a burst of sweetness, so you can cut down on the other types of sugar. They’re also really low in fructose and don’t cause insulin spikes. I throw raspberries on top of black bean brownies and blueberries in banana bread and muffins.
The other thing you can do is create a super simple fruit puree that you can use as a topping on pancakes, muesli, or as a liquid sweetener.
The recipe can be found right here, and trust me, you won’t regret it!
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