Sugar, Natural Sweeteners and Alternative Sugars
Gluten Free Mama has a lot of requests for information about baking with different sugars, sweeteners and alternative sugars. I am a baker and there are many baked goods that call for sugar, without sugar they would not be called Cake, Donuts, or Cookies. I am not a nutritionist nor a doctor, I am a baker. So instead of debating the health issues regarding each sugar/sweetener I will share the basic information that I know about them and how to effectively use them in gluten free baking. It is up to you to decide which sweetener is the best for you or if you even want to use a sweetener. Check out my list and try a few of them out. You will find that each of them will be different and will produce different textures in your baked goods. Experiment until you get the flavor and texture you want. And like the old saying, “Everything in moderation.”
- White Sugar – This is the typical american sugar. Most of us know it, have used it and have eaten it. White sugar is extracted from the pressing the juice from the stems of sugar cane. White sugar is refined by immersing the dried sugar crystals in a concentrated syrup to remove the sticky brown color. They then are bleached with sulphar dioxide or treated in a carbonation process to produce the white color and dried and crystallized to form what we call table sugar. When a recipe calls for sugar, most people refer to this sugar. If a recipe calls for sugar this sugar can be used exactly as described.
- Organic Sugar or Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar – Organic sugar or evaporated cane juice is also derived from pressing the juice from stems of sugar cane. The juice from the sugar cane is partially refined by immersing in a syrup and evaporating the syrup and then crystallized. It is a natural blond or tan color. It is certainly healthier, because it has not been overly refined and not bleached and contains trace nutrients. But do not be dismayed, this is still sugar and still reacts in the body the same way white sugar does. So if you need to watch your sugars, have diabetes, still count this as you would white sugar. However, if you enjoy sugar, and do not want the “chemical process” in your foods this is a great alternative. It has a better flavor with a hint of molasses. When a recipe calls for sugar this can be used 1-1, exactly as white sugar. One thing to note, the crystals are a little bigger, not as finely ground as white sugar, so in some recipes you may want to run them through a food processor to make finer, for example when used in whipping cream.
- Brown Sugar – Brown sugar is also expressed from the leaves of cane sugar, processed, exactly like white sugar and then molasses added back in, giving it the brown color, molasses flavor, and sticky texture. Light brown sugar has 6.5 % molasses added where dark brown sugar has 10 % added. In baking brown sugar is often added to cookies, cakes, breads, and anything that a molasses like flavor is desired. When measuring brown sugar you want to pack the brown sugar into the measuring cup and scrape across. Brown sugar is also good added to sauces in cooking, and added to applesauce, oatmeal and more. There are now organic varieties of brown sugar available too.
- Raw Sugar – Raw sugar is expressed from the leaves of cane sugar as well. Raw sugar most often has not been refined at all, and much of the natural molasses stays in tact giving it the golden or tan color. The crystals are larger in size. Raw sugar is sometimes also called Turbinado. I like to sprinkle raw sugar over scones and muffins.
- Sucanat – is also expressed from sugar cane, but processed a little different. The leaves and stems are crushed, expelling as much of the juice as possible, it’s then heated, the reduced to a sugar and then dried through a heating and paddling/stirring process. It is rich in molasses flavor and is a dark brown color. It contains trace amounts of calcium, B6, iron, potassium, and chromium. It is a great substitute for brown sugar. I use it in my pizza crust mix to add a rich flavor. It is great in bread, cookies, chocolate recipes, sauces and more. Use 1-1 for brown sugar or sugar.
- Coconut Sugar – Coconut sugar is the new it sugar. People love it because it is not as sweet as regular sugar. It is produced from the flower bud of the coconut tree. It has naturally occurring nutrients including magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and amino acids. If you add two tablespoon of molasses to it, it is similar to brown sugar. Use 1-1 replacement for sugar. GI = 30.
- Date Sugar – Date sugar is made from dried dates. Dates are naturally sweet and add great flavor to baked goods. Date sugar does not melt, so it won’t work in recipes where you need to boil down sugar, spin sugar, in sauces and such. It can be a replacement for brown sugar. Date sugar is sometimes process with oats, so it may not always be gluten free. Always check labels and when in doubt call the company. 2/3 cup = 1 cup sugar GI=62
- Beet Sugar – Beet sugar is cultivated from the root of beets and has a high in sucrose. Carbonation processes remove the impurities in this sugar. Then it goes through another carbon dioxide type process until it produces a light brown juice, final processing with sulphur and then is crystallized or evaporated into sugar. Beet juice is used in many liquors. Beet sugar can be used 1-1 in any recipe. Keep in mind that beet sugar does not caramelize so if you are looking to caramelize sugar, use another form of sugar.
- Honey – Honey is the “original sweetener” before they discovered how to make tables sugar. Honey is made by bees using the nectar from flowers. It gets its sweetness from sucrose and fructose, very similar in sweetness factor as sugar. Honey is supposed to be very good for you especially you use a locally made honey. It is rich in nutrients and minerals and has some antibiotic type properties. Depending on what sorts of bees and where the bees are from will determine the different types of honey from clover, orange, sage, sunflower or mixed flower. With honey being a liquid type sweetener, you will need adjustments in baking. The general rule of thumb is that 2/3 – 3/4 cup honey is equal to 1 cup sugar, but many still think that is too sweet, so adjust according to your tastes. You can go as low as 1/2 cup honey to equal 1 cup sugar if desired. With baking you will want to lower your oven temperature by 25 ° to prevent over browning or even burning. Sometimes 1/4 tsp. of baking soda will reduce acidity of the honey in recipes. If making cookies with honey, increase the flour by 2-4 Tbsp. If making breads, pancakes, and sauces, use 1-1 replacement. For other recipes reduce other liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup for each cup or increase flour by 1/4 cup. When measuring honey, first measure your oils or spray with cooking spray so it will slide right out. The glycemic index is between 35-58.
- Agave – Agave is made from the succulent perennial agave plant. Some people think that agave is related to a cactus or aloe plant because of the way it looks, but it is actually not related. 2/3-3/4 cup agave is equal to one cup. When baking with agave, follow the same instructions as baking with honey. Agave can sometimes be a good substitute for corn syrup. It makes wonderful pecan pies, sauces and more. GI=15-30
- Organic Brown Rice Syrup – Organic Brown Rice Syrup is a natural sweetener derived from brown rice. It is a light, golden brown honey color. This sweetener is in the form of glucose not sucrose, maltose and maltotrios, thus causing some people to prefer using it. It contains vitamin B, B6, thiamin, niacin and vitamin k. It is VERY sweet! It You only need about 1/2 cup to each cup of sugar. Reduce the temperature in baking by 25°. In baking use reduce liquid by about 3 Tbsp-1/4 cup per each 1/2-3/4 cup of syrup. This syrup can be used to sweet sauces, compotes, drizzle on pancakes and waffles, or sweeten tea with it. The GI = 98, which can cause high spikes in blood sugar, so please take caution.
- Pure Maple Syrup – Maple syrup is a great choice to use as a natural sweetener. High Quality Pure Maple Syrup has to abide by exacting standards for purity and can only be made by evaporation of pure maple sap. Minimum sugar is between 66%-70% depending on region. It come in varieties such as light grade A amber, grade A medium amber, grade A dark Amber, and grade B for processing. Maple syrup being a liquid, you will need to adjust your recipes in baking. Use 3/4 cup for each 1 cup of sugar. Reduce the liquid in your recipe by 1/4 cup or increase flour by 1/4 cup. No need to adjust liquid in recipes that are syrups, sauces, or compotes. Maple syrup can be used in a variety of baking including cookies, breads, muffins and more. It is especially wonderful in the fall glazed over yams, sweet potatoes, or squashes. GI=54
- Mashed Fruit- Applesauce and Bananas Bananas and Applesauce can be used to sweeten recipes too! Bananas are rich in potassium and a good source of B-6 and calcium. Applesauce is also rich in potassium as well as vitamin c and B-6. In addition to offering sweetness to baked goods, both applesauce and bananas can be used to replace eggs in some recipes like, muffins, breads and cookies. 1 cup sugar = 1 cup mashed bananas pureed with 2 tsp. water or 1 cup applesauce. Reduce liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup per cup of fruit used or increase flour by 1/4 cup. Bananas GI = 62 Unsweetened Applesauce GI = 38.