A long, long time ago we started considering “sweet” good. That not only went for temperaments but also taste. I myself prefer salty or cheesy as a vice, but for all too many, sweets are your drug of choice.
This day and age we seem inundated with different sugars and sweeteners. It has been an interesting evolution to watch. First we came out with different kinds of sugars, yet they were all refined and coming from sugar cane or corn syrup. Then we saw the artificial sweetener revolution (definitely not an evolution). We were now offered a rainbow of packeted chemicals to add sweetness to anything we wanted. Then there was that whisper that perhaps chemicals that had a sweetening effect on food and beverages were not actually so good for us. Not for the obvious reason-that ingesting any kind of chemical over natural food is unhealthy, but because they had apparently been able to show that they caused cancer in rats. I think this brought us around to look at alternative sweeteners that were natural, being derived from other plants besides corn and sugar canes.
Natural sweeteners primarily beat out refined sugar and corn syrup for health because they create less of a shock on the body’s blood sugar. (It is better to take in moderate amounts of cane sugar or corn syrup than any chemically engineered sweeteners in mass quantities.) It is the other nutrients, such as minerals, in these whole food sugars that help keep the body’s chemistry in less swing. This is also why people need to be aware that artificial sweeteners, despite their zero calories, still get the blood sugar jumping. This causes insulin production to react and basically gives you the same chemical reaction in your body as eating that refined sugar plus now you have the added effects of ingesting some pretty harsh chemicals into your body.
So let’s talk about different alternatives. Stevia was a prime choice at the start. Very powerful sweeteners, about one cup of refined white sugar can be replaced by 1 tablespoon of Stevia. A teaspoon replaced by just a dash. This is good news but especially in larger quantities, has a strong flavor that can be detected.
Many of these natural sweeteners can not actually reduce the amount used, most are an equal replacement. (Some you actually use more of than sugar, such as Barley Syrup.) Honey, barley syrup, maple syrup and brown rice syrup all make excellent substitutions but primarily for baking. You must keep in mind that it is now a liquid in place of a dry good. This may change consistency and outcome of recipe which means you may have to make adjustments to other ingredients. (These adjustments are often on the packaging or can be found online quite easily.) These options have strong flavors of their own, particularly the Barley syrup. Barley syrup however is close in flavor to molasses, making it a great substitute for things like gingerbread.
There are alternative, dry sweeteners. Date sugar, evaporated brown rice syrup and evaporated whole cane juice. Beware-evaporated whole cane juice is different from raw sugar and Florida Crystals. Unfortunately, “evaporated whole cane juice” is used pretty loosely on many labels. Look for Rapadura or Sucanat. This will replace regular white sugar at equal amounts though you will need to add additional baking soda. Date sugar can also be replaced equally and has more of a consistency and color of light brown sugar. Keep it stored in a jar with a tight lid.
The best thing for your diet, and overall health, is to eliminate sugars of any kind, but living deprived is no fun and since I happen to love eating, I do not believe anyone’s diet should feel like punishment. Sugars are highly addictive so even if you can bring yourself to make the conversion to alternative natural sweeteners, try reducing your sugar intake even by a third. Read labels because unless you are eating naturally (which I highly recommend) you are probably ingesting more sugar than you ever would have guessed.
Aren’t you sweet enough anyway?!