Sugar substitutes – an overview of 12 natural alternatives

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Of course, natural doesn’t always mean healthy. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to use natural sugar substitutes in baking and cooking. Some people like the fruity taste, others like the caramel note or are watching their calorie intake. Find out here which sugar substitute offers which advantages.

Are natural sugar substitutes automatically healthy?

Natural sugar substitutes aren't necessarily healthy. Although sugar alternatives contain minerals and vitamins, the amounts are negligible. In contrast to household sugar, which contains sucrose, the alternatives are largely made up of glucose and fructose. The risk of obesity and caries therefore remains. Therefore: regardless of whether it’s sugar or a sugar substitute, moderate consumption is recommended.

Blood sugar level

After consuming sugar, the blood sugar level in the body rises. In response, the pancreas produces insulin, which causes the body to draw the sugar out of the blood. When this happens, our blood sugar level drops again and we may feel tired or listless. It is precisely at this moment that we shouldn't reach for sweets or sugary foods again, otherwise the cycle will start all over again.

Some alternatives offer certain advantages:

  • Erythritol has hardly any calories and stevia none at all.
  • Xylitol prevents caries.
  • Rice syrup contains no fructose.
  • Honey and pear syrup can be sourced locally.

Sugar substitutes for baking and cooking

In addition to its sweet taste, household sugar also provides bulk for cake mixtures and pastry doughs. This means that sugar cannot always be replaced in a 1:1 ratio. And when using liquid alternatives such as rice syrup or honey, any water or milk in the mix should be reduced accordingly. Liquid sugar substitutes are best for sweetening drinks, muesli, porridge, yoghurt or smoothies. However, care should be taken with the dosage as not everyone likes the taste. Since syrups and the like usually taste less sweet, there is also a risk of using more.

Liquid sugar substitutes are best for sweetening drinks, muesli, porridge, yoghurt or smoothies.

Coconut sugar, birch sugar and erythritol are relatively similar in consistency to household sugar, and their taste is more neutral too. These sugar substitutes are suitable for both baking and cooking. However, industrial sugar replacement substances can have a laxative effect if consumed in excess.

An overview of 12 sugar alternatives

Anyone looking for a natural substitute for sugar is spoiled for choice. Besides native alternatives such as honey or pear syrup and well-known products like maple syrup, today’s supermarket shelves also display exotic-sounding concoctions like agave syrup, coconut sugar or xylitol. Sugar alternatives differ not only in terms of their origin, but also in terms of their sweetness and effect on our health.

Agave syrup – the sugar substitute from Mexico

  • Calories: 310 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 75 g agave syrup
  • Taste: quite neutral, the darker the more intensive
  • Use: ideal for sweetening liquids and liquid foods

This sweetener is especially popular in vegan cuisine as a substitute for honey. Even the Aztecs were already using the juice of the agave as a food and remedy. Today, the thick juice is mainly produced in Mexico. Agave syrup has a high fructose content and is sweeter than conventional sugar.

Maple syrup – the sugar substitute from overseas

  • Calories: 266 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 75 ml maple syrup
  • Taste: the darker the colour, the more intensive is the caramel taste
  • Use: light-coloured syrup is ideal for warm and cold dishes alike, dark-coloured for baking and cooking

The trees of the sugar maple had already been tapped by Indians long before the North American continent was discovered by Europeans. Maple sap is harvested from about the end of February to April. One litre of maple syrup requires 40 litres of sap. Maple syrup has an official classification. The scale goes from AA, which is very light, fine and mild to C, which is strong and aromatic. Maple syrup is sweeter than sugar and tastes good not only with traditional pancakes, but also in soups, sauces and salad dressings.

Birch sugar / xylitol – a sugar substitute that helps prevent caries

  • Calories: 240 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 100 g xylitol
  • Taste: malty and slightly fruity
  • Use: for baking, cooking, sweetening desserts

Xylitol is one of the industrial sugar replacement substances. Xylitol was originally produced from birch bark, hence the name birch sugar. Today, xylitol is obtained from wood, corn or sugar cane fibres. The sugar substitute has the same sweetening power as conventional sugar and also looks similar. However, xylitol is less soluble in cold water than normal sugar. Caution is advised when it comes to dosage. In larger quantities, xylitol has a laxative effect and for dogs and certain other animals, the industrial sugar replacement substance is highly toxic. Unlike all other sweeteners, xylitol is said to prevent caries.

Pear syrup – the native sugar substitute

  • Calories: 320 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 200 ml pear syrup
  • Taste: fruity
  • Use: to sweeten pastries, Birchermuesli, fruit salad, compote and drinks

This sugar substitute is not only natural, but also native to this country. The pears mostly come from Swiss cultivated pear trees. The trees are planted in meadow orchards, which provide a valuable habitat for animals and plants. Pear syrup tastes good at breakfast in muesli and porridge, as a spread, or with French toast. However, it is only half as sweet as sugar.

Date syrup – the sugar substitute to make yourself

  • Calories: 276 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 80 ml date syrup
  • Taste: fruity, almost like molasses
  • Use: smoothies, shakes, fruit-based confectionery

Date syrup is good for digestion and is easy to make yourself. Just place dates in the same amount of water and soak overnight. Then purée the fruit and water until creamy in consistency. Cinnamon, vanilla or lemon my be added. The non-liquid alternative is date powder, which consists of dried and finely ground dates.

Erythritol – the low-calorie sugar substitute

  • Calories: 20 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 120-140 g erythritol
  • Taste: less sweet than sugar; slight aftertaste like a sweetener
  • Use: good for baking, however not suitable for yeast dough

In its natural form, erythritol is found in cheese, fruit or pistachios. In the food industry, however, erythritol is produced by fermentation. Unlike sugar, with 400 kcal, erythritol has only 20 kcal per 100 grams. In addition, it has little effect on blood sugar levels and can therefore also be used to replace sugar in a diabetic diet. Erythritol is slightly less sweet than conventional sugar and has a mild aftertaste. After allowing for adjustments in dosage, it can be used almost like sugar. Only in yeast-based doughs is erythritol unsuitable. Like xylitol, excessive consumption can have a laxative effect.

Honey as a sugar substitute

  • Calories: 304 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: sweetness level depends on honey type
  • Taste: from subtle to intensive (depending on blossom type)
  • Use: to sweeten drinks, muesli, yoghurt, as a spread on bread; or to replace sugar in marinades and sauces

Honey is said to have not only antibacterial, but also antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. However, the healthy substances lose their effect at over 40°C. Therefore, honey should always be added after the dish has been cooked, and hot beverages such as tea or milk are best left to cool to drinking temperature before adding honey. Honey has limited effectiveness as a sugar substitute in baking. It requires more leavening agents and extracts liquid, making pastries and cakes rather heavy and dry. For this reason, the use of honey in baking is more suited to making fillings with poppy seeds or nuts, for example, or in combination with conventional sugar. Honey can be used to thin sauces or soups that are thickened with starch. This is because the diastase contained in honey breaks down starch.

Coconut sugar as a sugar substitute

  • Calories: 385 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 100 g coconut blossom sugar
  • Taste: slightly aromatic and caramel-like
  • Use: ideal for sweetening coffee, desserts, pastries or smoothies

Coconut sugar is obtained from the blossoms of the coconut palm. The process involves cutting the blossom bud of the palm to collect the secreting nectar which is then boiled down and crystallised. Since coconut sugar also consists mainly of sucrose, it can hardly be classified as healthier than conventional household sugar. Due to its similarity to sugar in both consistency and sweetening power, coconut sugar is ideal for sweetening coffee. It adds a light caramel note to desserts or pastries. Coconut blossom syrup is also available as a liquid option. However, this has a stronger taste than coconut sugar.

Rice syrup – the sugar substitute without fructose

  • Calories: 325 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 100 g sugar = 150 ml syrup
  • Taste: little taste of its own
  • Use: vegan alternative to honey, to sweeten desserts, muesli and porridge, and to replace sugar in cases of fructose intolerance

Unlike other sweeteners, rice syrup consists exclusively of glucose and glucose compounds. This makes it an ideal sugar substitute for people with fructose intolerance. The syrup is made from cooked rice and therefore doesn't contain gluten. It is popular as a vegan alternative to honey and can be used similarly in baking and cooking. Rice syrup is less sweet than sugar.

Stevia – the sugar substitute without calories

  • Calories: 0 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar: 300 times as sweet
  • Taste: very sweet; can produce a rather bitter aftertaste
  • Use: less good for baking

Stevia is obtained from the plant of the same name, stevia rebauna, in South America. The dried leaves of the plant are crushed, and their sweetness is then removed by a chemical process. Stevia does indeed have no calories. The only problem is the dosage. In its pure form, stevia is about 300 times as sweet as sugar and also leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste on the palate. Stevia can therefore be used for cooking or sweetening drinks, but lacks bulk for baking. It is recommended not to exceed the daily amount of 10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Whole cane sugar

  • Calories: 396 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar 1 : 1
  • Taste: slight caramel note
  • Use: like household sugar

As the name suggests, cane sugar is produced from sugar cane. As with household sugar, which is produced from pressed sugar beets, the juice of the sugar cane is thickened, dried and ground. Whole cane sugar isn't refined and therefore still contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals. In the kitchen, whole cane sugar can be used in virtually the same way as conventional household sugar. It adds a light caramel note to cakes and pastries.

Yacon syrup – the sugar substitute from the South American Andes

  • Calories: 197 kcal
  • Dosage in comparison to sugar:100 g sugar = 200 g yacon syrup
  • Taste: gently fruity and caramel-like
  • Use: dressings, quark, ice cream

This sugar substitute is made from the tuber of the yacon plant. The flowers resemble sunflowers, the tuber a sweet potato. Yacon has long been known in Peru and Bolivia as a nutritious and medicinal plant. The plant grows at 900 – 3,300 metres altitude in the Andes. When pressed, the plant produces syrup. When dried and ground, the result is yacon sugar. However, yacon syrup is significantly sweeter than its dry counterpart.

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