Most of us love sweets. We start the day with a sweetened breakfast cereal, breakfast bars, toast with a sweet spread, or a breakfast pastry. As the day progresses, we indulge in sweet beverages from softdrinks to sweetened coffee and tea, and keep our sweet tooth satiated with confectionary, chewing gum, icecream and the like.
The sweetness we crave can come from refined sugar, chemically derived artificial sweeteners (like aspartame or Splenda), or a host of natural products that are less processed, so they contain nutrients that are otherwise removed in the refining process. Natural sweeteners cause less environmental damage than sugarcane plantations, and many offer more complex flavours than plain old sugar.
Historically, sugar was made by pressing the juice from cane and boiling away the water. The product retained its critical vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients. With industrialisation came processed refined sugar made by dividing the cane juice into two substances; ultra-refined pure sucrose and nutrient-dense molasses which was fed to animals.
The sucrose portion is easily dried, stores for longer, pours easier and transports easier, making it more economical in terms of human labour and wastage. Modern manufacture of sugar from cane juice also employs a potpourri of chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, lime, phosphoric acid, bleaching agents & viscosity reducers.
Unfortunately refined sugar creates havoc within our bodies and like anything refined, it is highly addictive. Once refined, sugar is no longer a food, it is a drug. And today, most of the western world is addicted.Here’s a list of the alternatives on sale at Flannerys (please note that not all stores carry all types).
It is important to remember that all sugar substitutes - natural or artificial - have positive and negative attributes. Most still have some glycemic effect and do add to your caloric intake, so it’s always wise to sweeten in moderation.Organic Honey
that hasn't been pasteurised, clarified or filtered is the most eco-friendly sweetener. It is raw, unprocessed, minimally packaged, and, wherever possible is sourced locally. Coconut Palm Sugar
is a traditional sweetener in Southeast Asia and India. The collected flower nectars are kettle-boiled into thick syrup, then dried and ground to produce a grainy, crumbly sugar that's organic, unbleached, contains amino acids, B vitamins, and minerals (potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron), and has a low glycemic index. Palms grow in diverse agro-ecosystems which support wildlife habitats, restore damaged soils and require little water. Per acre, coconut palms produce 50-75% more sugar than sugar cane plantations, and use less than 1/5th of the nutrients for that production. Yacón
is related to the sunflower and native to the Andes. Its crisp, sweet tuberous roots have long been eaten by the Incas of Peru and Bolivia. The syrup is made by juicing the tubers, then concentrating the liquid by boiling. Because the Yacón’s sweetness comes chiefly from fructo-oligosaccharides, compounds the human body doesn't absorb, the syrup is a low-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener. Stevia
is a South American herb that has been used as a sweetener by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay for hundreds of years. The body does not metabolise the sweet glycosides from the Stevia leaf or any of its processed forms - so there is no caloric intake. Stevia doesn't adversely affect blood glucose levels and may be used freely by diabetics. Stevia is also being used as an aid to weight loss and weight management, since it contains zero calories. It is ideal for children as it prevents tooth decay and cavities. It does not taste exactly like sugar but has a slightly different taste that most people adjust to easily. The whole leaf can have a slightly bitter or licorice aftertaste, but some people prefer this taste. Stevia is extremely sweet and must be used modestly. The biggest problem people face when switching to stevia is that they use too much of it and find it intensely sweet which ruins the overall flavour, so use sparingly at all times.It is heat-stable and can be used in almost any way ordinary sugar is used. To sweeten drinks or baked goods or sprinkled over cereals. As it is much sweeter than sugar, you will need some trial and error to get the quantities right. Stevia leaf and is about 30 times sweeter than sugar and refined Stevia crystals are 200-300 times as sweet as sugar.Agave Syrup
comes from the sap of the Agave Tequilana plant, whose flowers, leaves, stalks and sap are edible. The Aztecs in Mexico boiled this juice into a traditional sweetener. Agave syrup (also called nectar) is a healthy alternative to sugar - raw, 100% natural, with a low glycemic index. Xylitol
is a 100% natural sweetener that tastes just as sweet as sugar but has 40% less calories (2.4 calories per gram versus 4 for sugar). Derived from plants such as corn cobs and birch trees, and brightly-colored fruits like strawberries, raspberries and plums, this all-natural nutritive sweetener provides your body with a safe source of energy that doesn’t have side effects. In its crystalline form, it can replace sugar in cooking, baking, as a sweetener for beverages or sprinkled over cereals. Xylitol is used in chewing gum, mints and hygiene products, such as nasal and mouth washes, because it inhibits bacteria. It produces neither the insulin spike of sugar nor the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners like aspartame. Xylitol metabolizes inside the body without using insulin making it the perfect choice for people looking to safely reintroduce sweets into their diets. Because Xylitol and sugar react similarly to heat, Xylitol can substitute for sugar in cooking and baking on essentially a one-to-one ratio. But experts recommend starting with a smaller amount of Xylitol and adjusting to taste. Barley Malt Syrup
is a natural sweetener made by malting barley grains. During the malting process, the grains produce maltose, a unique type of sugar. The sweetener has a unique flavour and a distinctive rich, dark colour. It is used in cooking and baking, and the substance is also used in the production of beer. As a sweetener, barley malt syrup is about half as sweet as conventional sugar and it has a malty, molasses-like flavour. Because the sugars in barley malt syrup are very complex, they are also slowly broken down by the body. This means that barley malt syrup will not cause a “sugar high” like refined sugar does, since it releases slowly. Barley malt syrup can be used alone in cooking, or it can be combined with other sweeteners.Rice Syrup
is a natural sweetener which is made from cooked rice which is specially fermented to turn the starches in the ricer into sugars. The thick, sweet syrup can be used like honey, molasses, and other liquid sweeteners, and with some planning it can also replace granulated sugar. When using rice syrup to replace other liquid sugars, it can be used as a cup for cup replacement. The sweetener tends to be less sweet than many other sugars, and it has a faintly nutty flavour.Pear and Apple Juice Concentrate
- the naturally high sugar content of pears and apples is useful as a natural sweetener. Concentrating the juice by evaporation retains the natural sugars and minerals. The concentrates are approximately one third lower in calories than refined sugar by weight. As a substitute in cooking with sugar, half a cup of juice concentrate will be equal to around 1 cup of sugar, but the added moisture needs to be factored in when baking.Maple Syrup
is a viscous sweetener derived from maple tree sap. Many people use it in baking in place of sugar or other sweeteners, some use it in tea instead of honey, and it is frequently used as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast foods. Since true maple syrup is rather expensive, a wide range of imitation syrups exist, containing little or no actual maple syrup and that is immediately evident in the flavour – so wherever possible choose pure organic maple syrup.Fructose Sugar
- almost all foods contain natural fructose sugar which has one of the lowest glycemic indexes of any food - with a rating of only 20, compared to 31 for skim milk, 59 for sucrose (ordinary table sugar). It is believed to be the most sweet of the naturally occurring sugars and for some the flavour is sometimes too intense.Rapadura Sugar
(also known as Muscovado) is the only sweetener made from sugar cane that is not refined. The cane is squeezed, evaporated, then ground - that’s it. The juice is not separated, dried and then reunited with its more nutritious counterpart (molasses) in artificial proportions as are raw, brown and black sugar and Demerara. Rapadura is processed naturally, free from any harmful chemicals such as phosphoric acid, formic acid, sulphur dioxide, preservatives, or any flocculants, surfactants, bleaching agents or viscosity modifiers. It’s more a food than a sweetener and contains the natural goodness of minerals and vitamins inherently present in sugarcane juice and this crowns it as one of the most wholesome and healthy sugars in the world.
It is a nutritionally rich whole food and delivers vitamins, minerals and other trace elements as well as the sweet taste that all humans desire, and need. It substitutes one-for-one with raw sugar in recipes.