All sugars can cause cavities, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease when consumed in excess. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day if you are on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Sugar performs many important roles in baking. It provides moisture and tenderness, liquefies as it bakes, increases the shelf-life of finished products, caramelizes at high temperatures, and, of course, adds sweetness. Because of these critical functions, bakers can’t simply replace sugar with a different sweetener. Baking is as much a science as it is an art. However, in many recipes, you can decrease the amount of sugar by one third without affecting the quality of the product.
Tested recipes from trusted sources will yield the best results.
Sugar is Sugar!
All refined sugars–brown sugar, white sugar, and “raw” sugars such as demerara or turbinado – are equal from a nutritive standpoint. Brown sugars simply contain a higher molasses content. Refined sugar is 99 percent pure sucrose, a simple carbohydrate.
In recipes calling for white sugar, try substituting some of these other options for natural sweeteners:
Agave is a liquid sweetener produced from the sap of the agave cactus plant. If you’re replacing sugar with agave in your recipe, use ¼ of a cup of agave for every cup of sugar. Since agave is a syrup it will moisten your baked goods so reduce other liquids by ⅓ to ½ cup. Increase the cooking time by 6 percent and bake at 25 degrees lower than what the recipe states.
Barley Malt Syrup and Molasses
Both barley malt syrup and molasses are intensely flavored and super rich. It’s very good for cooking, baking and in drinks or marinades. Molasses is also very acidic, which makes for light and airy cakes when combined with baking soda. You may find the flavor of molasses and barley malt syrup too intense. Use it in gingerbreads, cookies, and as additions to other sweeteners.
When substituting barley malt syrup or molasses for sugar, use 1⅓ cups for 1 cup sugar, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 4 or 5 tablespoons. These are more acidic than sugar so add ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup used. Replace no more than half the sugar called for in a recipe with molasses.
Brown Rice Malt Syrup
Brown rice malt syrup is an amber-hued syrup resembling honey, but it is not as sweet as honey. It can’t be used for any recipe that requires creaming. Use it in candies and brownies. It can be substituted cup per cup for sugar, but the liquid ingredients should be reduced by ¼ cup per cup of rice syrup.
Coconut sugar doesn’t taste like coconut, which makes it very versatile. Coconut sugar has a softer texture than refined sugar, which means that, despite its similar appearance, the granules don’t perforate butter as well. This results in denser pastries. It can also make for baked goods with a dry texture. It’s excellent in cookies, shortbreads, candies, and frostings. If melting coconut sugar for candy, be aware that the burning point is about 10 degrees lower than that of white sugar. Coconut sugar can be substituted cup per cup for sugar.
Date sugar is made from dried, pulverized dates. Some brands add oat flour to make it free-flowing, others add oil for softness. Date sugar does not dissolve, but is delicious in baking and crumb toppings. Date sugar can be substituted cup per cup for sugar.
Fruit Juice Concentrates
Fruit juice concentrates are wonderful substitutes for sugar and add interesting flavors as well. Although juice concentrates come from fruit, they are still a sugar. Use ¾ cup for every cup of sugar, and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons.
Honey is rich, intense, and syrupy-sweet, and the different types of honey are endless. You can’t use honey in any recipe that requires creaming (the process of beating together softened butter and sugar). Granulated sugar crystals contain sharp edges that slice through the butter, creating air pockets that expand when heated, contributing to a risen pastry. Honey doesn’t create those air pockets, and it results in a denser baked good. It makes a softer product, but dries out quicker than baked goods made with sugar. Use it in soft, moist cakes and quick breads, puddings, ice creams, and gelato.
Use ¾ cup honey in place of 1 cup sugar, and reduce the other liquid ingredients by 2 to 4 tablespoons. Unless the recipe includes sour cream or buttermilk, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acidity. Decrease the temperature by 25 degrees when baking.
Maple syrup has a beautifully thick consistency and an earthy sweetness. Like honey, maple doesn’t “cream” into a recipe the way granulated sugar does. Maple is sweeter than sugar, which means you can use less. Use it in caramels, candies, ice creams, and puddings.
Use ¾ cup for every cup of sugar and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons. Also add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of maple syrup as the syrup is slightly acidic and it will help to bake evenly. Drop the oven temperature down by 25 degrees since the syrup will caramelize and brown more than sugar.
You can also find evaporated maple syrup, which comes in golden-brown granules and has a texture similar to muscovado sugar. Maple sugar can be substituted cup per cup for sugar.
You may use natural sugar alternatives in your baking, however, remember that you may need to reduce liquids, add baking soda, increase the cooking time, and/or and lower the baking temperature when you use these substitutes. It might take a bit of experimenting with the ratios to get a quality product.