11 April 2011

Gimme some of your sweet lovin’: 12 natural alternatives to sugar (part two)

Greetings and salutations, fine TDIV readers. What makes Monday mornings just a wee bit more tolerable? Not having to make an appearance at the office is the obvious response, but if you're one of the lucky ones out there who has a full time job, you're actually in the enviable minority these days. No...I was aiming for a different answer...and for some reason, Mary Poppins' chirpy little tune about a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine to go down comes to mind. Beginning with that naturally bitter morning brew that so many of us guzzle down every A.M., just a squidge of sugar is capable of smoothing out the flavor profile and making it good to the last drop.

Who can stop at one cup or a solitary teaspoon of the white stuff, though? Moderation, they say, is key...however, sugar has infiltrated so many consumer products that we're inadvertently gobbling up far more than we realize throughout the course of a day. Reducing or eliminating one's consumption of processed and pre-made convenience foods can be particularly helpful in beating the sugar monster, but so can intentionally seeking out lower-glycemic index options to use in your own recipes.

In part one of this article, natural sweetening alternatives such as molasses, date/coconut palm sugar, barley malt/brown rice syrup and a tangy, lip-smacking good new apple-based product called Bee Free Honee were mentioned...but you should know that there's plenty more sugary goodness where that came from. Read on for six additional choices that could very well tickle your tastebuds while keeping your blood sugar at a more respectable range (as long as you don't go on an alterni-sugar binge ;)


In its raw form, straight-up honey is regarded as a natural wonder, not only as a superfood but also as a restorative aid for many health ailments thanks to its impressive array of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Bees work diligently to produce this astoundingly effective energy source, which ranges from 20% all the way to 60% sweeter than refined table sugar (depending on nectar source) despite its modest glycemic index of 30. When used in baked goods, it imparts a dense, moist quality to them – plus they typically brown a bit faster. For each cup of white sugar that a recipe calls for, 2/3 to ¾ of a cup of honey can be substituted – but decrease the overall liquid content of your recipe by 2 tablespoons. This sweetener is not an acceptable option for vegans, however.

Recipes Using Honey: Blue Cornmeal Honey Nut Delight and Fig Honey Cookies


With its high calcium and potassium content, refined maple tree sap is vitamin and nutrient rich despite clocking in at 54 on the glycemic index (due to its natural levels of glucose and sucrose). It is 60% as sweet as white refined sugar, so in any recipe calling for 1 cup of sugar, between ¼ to 2/3 of maple syrup can be used (but as with all liquid based sweeteners, be sure to reduce the liquid that your recipe calls for by at least 3 tablespoons). This is one sweetener that you should really buy organic if at all possible since conventionally processed maple syrup often contains carcinogenic formaldehyde in trace amounts.

Recipes Using Maple Syrup: Double Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies and Wild Berry Maple Syrup Muffins


A golden-brown paste derived from the sap of the palm or coconut tree, palm and coconut sugars are used widely in Thai cuisine and have a mellow, not-too-sweet flavor. Palm or coconut sugars are relatively low on the glycemic index (about 35) and high in vitamins and minerals, and they are also more sustainably produced than cane sugars. Here's a budget-worthy tip -- rather than purchasing this sweetener online or at a gourmet purveyor, find an ethnic market in your neighborhood because you'll pay SIGNIFICANTLY less for the very same high quality sweetener.

Recipes Using Palm Sugar: Tempeh Satay With Sesame Green Beans, Chili Cashews & Spicy Peanut Sauce and Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls With Pickled Lemon Salsa


This tart yet sweet Mediterranean culinary staple can be made simply by simmering fresh pomegranate juice over medium heat until it reduces into a thick, deep burgundy-toned syrup, although commercial brands are also readily available. Think about all of the nutritional benefits of the fruit and how they’re distilled into a concentrated form upon being transformed into molasses – seems like as good a reason as any to lay it on thick! Mediterranean markets almost always carry this yummy syrup, and even if you're not quite convinced that it will be a regular staple of your sweetening ritual, the stuff tastes darned good on pancakes. Just sayin'.

Recipes Using Pomegranate Molasses: Eggplant Lentil Stew With Pomegranate Molasses and Spiced Pomegranate Molasses Applesauce


Cultivated for centuries as an edible grain crop, Sorghum bicolor is actually a type of grass that yields grain-laden seed clusters and stalks that are pressed for their sweet juice. The liquid is reduced under high temperatures into a thick brown syrup that contains 61 calories per tablespoon along with B vitamins, potassium and assorted minerals such as iron and magnesium – it’s particularly popular in the southern United States.

Recipes Using Sorghum Syrup: Sorghum Ginger Snaps and Sorghum Cinnamon Rings


Smallanthus sonchifolius, South America’s tuberous yacon plant and close relative to the dahlia and sunflower, could very well be considered a top secret miracle food…at least for sugar junkies. With its low calorie, low sugar profile – which can be attributed to the plants’ high levels of indigestible inulin – the leaves and roots have been consumed since Incan times to combat diabetic and renal conditions as well as aid digestion. But wait – that’s not all! Offering prebiotic benefits along with toxin mitigation, better absorption of magnesium/calcium (great for those who suffer from bone issues such as osteoporosis) and a potential reduction in the incidence of colon cancer, there’s quite a lot to love about this root. Plus, it is naturally sweet and molasses-y with a rich caramel-like consistency when reduced into a brown syrup. The major downfall to this natural sweetener is its price, which is roughly $14.00 for one piddley 8 ounce container!

Recipes Using Yacon Syrup: Chocolate Chip Cookies and Caramel Chip Macaroons


Just a friendly reminder: not all alternative sweeteners are exactly dandy. If you have a love affair with agave, xylitol or stevia (among others), you might want to do a bit more research before laying any of them on thick since they can trigger varied health concerns that are not associated with the sweeteners mentioned in part one and part two of this article.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/lollyknit