You’re probably used to using refined white sugar made from sugarcane or sugar beets when baking. However, grocery aisles these days contain many sugar substitutes. Each one has its own unique flavor. Some contain additional nutrients, but oftentimes, additional nutrient amounts are so small that there may be little health advantage over refined sugar. Because all sweeteners are made up of mostly sugar, the amount you eat is likely more important than the type. Nonetheless, these white sugar substitutes can add more than just empty calories to your holiday baked goods.
Substitutions for 1 cup sugar are approximations–you’ll definitely want to experiment first!
Coconut sugar is a minimally processed sweetener made by dehydrating the sap directly from palm tree flowers. Its simple processing retains many beneficial phytochemicals. And because it doesn’t come from an actual coconut, it tastes like brown sugar with a touch of caramel.
Substitute: 1 cup coconut sugar.
Agave syrup, also called agave nectar, is produced from the agave plant. It tastes and acts similar to honey. Many experts have argued that agave syrup is metabolized more slowly than table sugar, however, that argument has also been disputed. Agave is actually more calorie dense than table sugar but it is also much sweeter–meaning you will want to use less agave than white sugar in your recipes. When it comes to color–light, amber or dark–some believe that raw agave and darker varieties may retain more of their natural nutrition in the processing.
Substitute: 2/3 cup agave syrup, reduce other liquid ingredients in the recipe by 1/4 cup.
Honey is categorized by its flower source, such as clover or wildflower. In addition, it is further divided into raw, processed or organic. Raw honey is never heated, which might help it retain more beneficial nutrients and reduce seasonal allergies. Pasteurized honey is heated to kill any bacteria like botulism. Organic honey must be produced according to the USDA Organic standards. Yet it can be hard to prevent traveling bees from searching out nonorganic flowers in their quest for nectar. Honey is slightly higher in calories and sweetness, so you will want to substitute a smaller volume of honey for table sugar when baking.
Substitute: 3/4 cup honey, reduce other liquid ingredients by 2 tbsp. and add a pinch of baking soda.
Maple syrup is sap from maple trees and is considered fairly heat resistant. Its natural nutrition is largely retained during processing. Darker, Grade B syrups are less filtered and contain more trace minerals. True maple syrup is different than pancake syrup. Check the ingredients for “pure maple syrup” to ensure you’re getting the real thing. Like other syrups, reduce the volume slightly to substitute for table sugar in any recipe.
Substitute: 3/4 cup maple syrup and reduce other liquid ingredients by 2-3 tbsp.
Made from sugarcane that’s mashed and boiled to make a thick syrup, molasses gives gingerbread its distinct flavor. There are three varieties of molasses: light, dark (or robust) and blackstrap. The darker the molasses, the longer it’s been boiled and the more nutrients it contains. If the label says “syrup,” it’s a blend of molasses and corn syrup.
Substitute: 1⅓ cups molasses. Reduce other liquid ingredients by 1/3 cup, eliminate baking powder in recipe and add 3/4 tsp. baking soda.
Some fruit-based sweeteners—such as dates, applesauce, overripe bananas and sugar-free jams–are becoming popular sweeteners as well. Fruit pastes and jams can bring a lot more fiber and whole food nutrition to your baked goods. However, some options may affect the texture and taste more than others. Look for options that incorporate the whole fruit, soaked and blended into the water without any added ingredients or filtering, for the most benefits.
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