There are many reasons to use sugar alternatives, whether you’re looking for less of a sugar high and crash or even to explore new flavours in your bakes. Sugars unfortunately can’t simply be replaced with alternative sweeteners. Baking is a science and the balance of ingredients is essential. Sugar in baking of course adds sweetness; however that is not its only purpose.
Sugar in baking:
- Holds moisture and helps the shelf life of the finished product
- Tenderizes the texture of a cake
- Helps the growth of yeast in bread causing the bread to rise
- Is used as a raising agent when beaten with eggs or fat
- Caramelizes, giving a golden brown colour to breads, cakes and other bakes
The bees have literally worked their butts off to make this delicious natural sweet liquid. Honey is made from flower nectar, combined with an enzyme secreted by bees and is then concentrated by reducing the moisture in the honeycomb. Honey works well in dense, moist bakes such as quick breads, moist cakes or ice creams. Due to honeys runny texture and sweetness, less liquid and less honey is required in bakes. Honey is made of about 20% water so you will need to replace 2-4 tbsp of the liquid in the recipe. The use of honey in cakes that require creaming (the beating of butter and sugar together) will not work. The sugar when beaten with butter cuts through the fat creating air pockets, the pockets expand when heated. Honey cannot create these air pockets resulting in a denser texture. Honey is great for adding colour to a bake. Melting honey in a pot is also a great glaze for cakes, giving them shine and flavour.
Maple syrup has a thick consistency with an earthy sweetness. It is an unrefined natural sweetener made from the sap of a maple tree and is high in antioxidants. It has similar properties to honey in baking as it will not work in recipes that require creaming. It is best used for caramels, ice creams, puddings and icings. Mixing avocado, cocoa powder and maple syrup makes a delicious mousse like icing for cakes. Maple syrup is sweeter than sugar so less is required in a recipe. It can be more expensive than honey which is something to keep in mind. The use of maple syrup will give a sweet caramel flavour to the bake and is also a great way to make a sticky glaze by boiling it in a pot. If you wish to replace honey in a recipe for maple syrup it is a simple swap.
Coconut sugar is a natural sugar obtained by heating the sap of the coconut flower until most of the liquid has been evaporated. Coconut sugar has a low glycemic range, meaning you will not have a sugar spike and fall. It does not have a coconut flavour and is very similar to brown sugar, making it quite versatile. Coconut sugar can be a 1:1 substitute for white or brown sugar recipes however it is slightly more course. It is best used in cookies, biscuits and recipes that use chocolate or warm spices. When using a recipe that requires creaming the butter and sugar, the use of coconut sugar can result in a speckled appearance to the bake and will appear more porous. If the recipe uses melted butter, milk oil, yogurt or other liquids, allow the coconut sugar to dissolve for about 5 minutes. This will result in a smoother texture to your bake, similar to cooking with white or brown sugar.
Stevia is a sweet, natural plant extract from the leaves on the Stevia plant. Stevia can be purchased in crystallised, powdered or liquid form. It is much sweeter than sugar so a little goes a long way and also contains no calories…WINNING! Stevia works well in fruit desserts, ice creams or jams. As stevia is sweeter, it is not a direct substitute for sugar. The liquid and the powdered forms are the best to use in baked goods. In baking, 2 tbsp of stevia powder is the same as one cup of sugar. It is important to know that stevia does not caramelise as well as some of the other substitutes.
Fruit is packed with natural sugars and will add sweetness and flavour. Using purèed fruit such as apples, mashed bananas or using fruit juice is a great way to add sweetness and texture to your bake. Fruit is a great addition to a cakes or a quick bread. When baking with fruit it is important that complements the other ingredients, for example adding pineapple or orange juice to a carrot cake. Dried fruit is also a great addition to add some bite to any bake. The use of a fruit puree or juice will make a wet batter so it is not a simple swap with the sugar in the recipe. Working with fruit is trial and error, sometimes more fat, flour or eggs is required to get the consistency right for the bake.
There are many other sugar alternatives such as molasses, agave, brown rice syrup and more that can commonly be found in health food shops. When altering a recipe to use a sugar alternative, it can be hit and miss.
A top tip is to buy a set of measuring cups as it is easier to convert the weights. Measuring cups can be found in kitchen supply shops and some supermarkets.
For 1 cup of sugar
Honey ¾ cup, reduce liquid by 2-4 tbsp and reduce oven temp by 25 degrees
Maple Syrup ¾ cup, reduce liquid by 3tbsp and reduce oven temp by 25 degrees
Stevia 2 tbsp
Coconut sugar 1 cup
Fruit purée 1 cup