Life is full of sweetness. But what about all the different sweeteners such as sucanat, stevia, and agave to name a few? They are all unique and delicious healthier alternatives to white refined sugar. The question is—what is the difference and how do I use them to best fit with a recipe? I’m going to help you understand and decipher the differences between them. Here are just a few to get you started.
This is made by extracting the juice from the cane plant and dehydrating the juice. It is in a crystallized form.
Molasses is the liquid that is thrown off the dry sugar after the centrifugal stage of refinement. Sulphured molasses is from the young cane juice. It contains sulphur dioxide which releases more molasses and is also used as a preservative. However, unsulphured molasses from mature sugar cane is even sweeter. Blackstrap molasses, which is the final extraction of molasses, has the highest content of vitamins and minerals. It is best known for being used in gingerbread or molasses cookies.
Sucanat is the least processed of all the sugars. It is processed by dehydration and aeration. Sucanat is in a granular form so it does not dissolve in liquids very well. It contains all of its molasses and has a lower sucrose level. Some people like to use it in place of brown sugar because of its molasses content. It is delicious in coffee because of its sweet, rich flavor.
Turbinado sugar is more processed and contains less molasses. It is made by evaporating the juice by heat. The crystals are spun in a turbine to remove moisture. This is where the name Turbinado comes from. Some people like to mix it with cinnamon and sprinkle it on top of toast. It is also a popular sugar for caramel making.
Barley malt is made by cooking down sprouted barley grains into a sweet syrup. It is not as sweet as sugar but still works very well in most recipes. It does not give one an instant sugar high because the sugars release slower and are more complex.
Agave syrup is from the Blue agave plant which is the same plant we get tequila from. The juice from the plant is evaported to make agave syrup. Agave syrup is very popular among vegans because sugar can often times be refined with animal products. To replace sugar with agave nectar, just use 2/3 cup of agave for every cup of sugar and reduce other liquids by 1/4 cup.
Maple syrup is made only in the United States and Canada. Once the sap is collected from the maple tree, it is boiled down to evaporate the water thus becoming maple syrup. Not only can you top pancakes or waffles with maple syrup, you can also substitute sugar with maple syrup in most recipes. Maple syrup is a good source of the trace mineral manganese.
Honey is probably the oldest sweetener. It is the product of blossom nectar gathered by bees and converted into a sweet liquid. The darker the honey, the higher the nutritional value. Honey is also a natural antiseptic. It can be used topically to keep wounds sterile and help the healing process. A single bee will only produce one tablespoon of honey in its lifetime.
Stevia is probably one of the most controversial sweeteners. It was only recently that it was approved by the FDA as a herbal supplement. Now you can find it as a sweetener in some diet soda products. Stevia, an herb native to South America, is up to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar. A little goes a long way. Since stevia is just an herb, it doesn’t contain any calories and does not affect your blood sugar. This makes it a great sweetener for diabetics. It does have a slightly bitter aftertaste, so it works better as a sweetener for coffee or oatmeal instead of using it in baking. There are a couple of methods to extract stevia from the plant, many of which are patented. Most involve a water extraction from the dried leaves followed by clarification and a crystallization process.
Eating nature’s sweets is truly a delectable treat, but with all good things moderation is key. Too much sugar can wreak havoc on your body. It’s a vicious cycle of highs and lows that too many of us are stuck in. So a word of caution: even though some sweeteners are natural, that does not mean they are good for you. The nutritional value in raw sugar and molasses is nothing compared to fresh fruits. So if you need to eat something sweet, I recommend reaching for a ripe strawberry or a juicy peach and save the sweets for special occasions.