Natural Sugar Alternatives

alternative natural sweeteners

Wanting to cut back on sucralose, aspartame, saccharine, or plain old sugar?  How about trying some natural sweeteners?  I found stevia gets knocked off its horse when it comes to an actual taste test…Missing from the picture are real maple syrup, fruit juices (regular or concentrated) and the less processed sugar products, which could also be used as natural sweeteners in place of white table sugar.

While I feel much of the anti-sugar crusade has been misguided, I don’t think its a bad idea to explore reducing the amount of sweeteners we use, or in having alternatives that come from more natural sources without any exotic chemistry applied.

Stevia has been hyped as the natural alternative with zero calories, but its incredibly easy to over do it when an 1/8 teaspoon portion is so potent for an awful taste experience.   The “SweetLeaf” brand powder cuts its stevia powder with a fiber product making it less potent per measure, but beware of recipes that specify it if you’re using a more common version of stevia like the KAL photographed above and cut back the volume, or you’d need to increase the amount of SweetLeaf if the generic stevia powder was specified.  This is probably why you see conflicting reports of the same recipe being wonderful or horrible when they are stevia sweetened.  Which stevia did the recipe originator use and which did the reviewer use?  Did their measuring spoons really measure the same as yours?  When its so potent, a smidgen over or under the measurement specified might make all the difference in your results.  Over the years, I’ve seen conflicting reports of whether stevia should be used in baked goods (or heated similarly by another cooking method).  In my eyes the most natural version of stevia would be the actual plant leaves, not this white powder stuff.

For my own curiosity, On a hot summer day, I did a taste test using a generic unsweetened lemonade drink mix, by mixing up a pitcher with purified water and then pouring the unsweetened liquid into several glasses of equal volume.  I then tried the sweeteners in a taste test vs table sugar.  For the stevia’s, I preferred the manageability of the SweetLeaf portion size for a glass of lemonade, but neither stevia product tasted like sugar to me.  In minimal amounts they were OK as a sweetener (I grew up with my dad’s sweet-n-low), too much and I wanted to dump them down the drain.   Xylitol was another story.  (Xylitol is a fruit sugar.) It tasted much more like what I expected the lemonade mix to taste like, it also failed to dissolve totally in the liquid like table sugar.

I don’t remember if I did the agave nectar back then, and I know that I didn’t have the coconut palm sugar on hand for taste testing in the same fashion as the Stevia and Xylitol powders (which were purchased at the same time at a local Vitamin Shoppe store).  I have used them in homemade almond milk, unflavored-protein powder based smoothie drinks, or tasted them, a little bit all by its lonesome on my finger tip —  and they were OK’d to use and to purchase more in the future.  Stevia products on the other hand I’m still going to err on the side of caution and only use it sparingly, carefully checking the amount isn’t over or under done in the middle of a recipe before I’d serve it to others.

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