How to Cook With Sugar Substitutes

If you are looking to cut down on calories or manage blood sugar levels, then cooking with sugar substitutes is a good way to start, and, thanks to food science and nature, there are many from which to choose. Cooking with sugar substitutes can be challenging at first because they differ in sweetness level and moisture. When using sugar substitutes, most recipes need some modification because sugar also contributes to volume, color and texture in foods. To be more scientific, the term sugar refers to sucrose and is the refined white granulated substance found in foods and kitchens. Follow the steps below to understand how to cook with sugar substitutes.


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    Decide which sugar substitute to use. There are natural sugar substitutes and artificial sugar substitutes.
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    Natural sugar substitutes have calories and sugar in them, but may help control blood sugar levels and contribute other potential health benefits. Artificial sugar substitutes have little or no calories and have little effect on blood sugar levels. The most popular natural and artificial sweeteners are:
    • Honey: This is slightly sweeter than sugar and higher in moisture. Honey is good for use in baking because it has browning and bulking properties. Honey also contributes to mouth feel and tenderness. It can be used 1 for 1 as a substitute, but because of honey’s higher moisture content, some of the other liquids in the recipe may need to be reduced. Honey has been shown to raise blood sugar levels slower than sugar and have anti-microbial properties.
    • Agave Nectar: Agave nectar affects blood glucose less than sugar and is about 1.5 times sweeter. Agave nectar is also good for baking because it has good browning properties and helps retain moisture in products. It is a liquid, and, like honey, liquids in the recipe will need to be decreased to compensate.
    • Stevia: The highly refined Reb-A, an extract from the Stevia plant, is available for use in food. It can be 300 times sweeter than sugar. It does not affect blood sugar levels and has no calories. It works very well in sweetening beverages and goes well with citrus flavors. It has a slight bitter note, but can be masked by blending with sugar or using certain flavors, such as orange or vanilla. Stevia works well in beverages, but would need to be blended with sugar for baking. When blending with sugar, for every half cup the sugar is reduced by, add 3 1/2 tbsp. of stevia.
    • Sucralose: This is 600 times sweeter than sugar and has been made popular under the brand name “Splenda.” Sucralose is very soluble in water and works well for beverages. It also works well for baking, but it needs to be combined with another sweetener to add bulk.
    • Acesulfame Potassium: This is 200 times sweeter than sugar and can easily be found in the grocery store. This sweetener works well for beverages and will work well for baking when combined with other sweeteners to bulk it up. It can have a bitter aftertaste that can be masked by using other sweeteners with it or putting it in bitter foods (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.).
    • Saccharin: This is 300 times sweeter than sugar. This sweetener works best in cold items, such as beverages and whipped cream. It doesn’t work well for baking because the heat brings out a bitter taste.
    • Aspartame: This is 200 times sweeter than sugar. This sweetener also works best in cold items. When it is heated it breaks down and is no longer sweet. For this reason it is not recommended for baking at all.
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    Choose a recipe. Desserts are a good way to begin cooking with sugar substitutes because they tend to have the most sugar in them. It is also good to start with cold items, such as ice cream or sweetened beverages. This way you can become familiar with the taste of the sugar substitute before diving into cooking with it. Keep in mind that the recipe you choose may need to be modified to work well with the different sweetener.
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    Purchase ingredients. Most of the substitutes listed above have name brands and generic brands that can be easily found in any supermarket. Some of them come pre-mixed with sugar or maltodextrin so they will measure exactly like sugar and it will make baking with them much easier.
    • It is important to purchase enough to make the recipe at least twice because it might take more than one try to get the recipe correct when using the sugar substitute.
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    Taste the sugar substitute. Before cooking with your sugar substitute of choice, taste it, eat a cracker, and then taste regular sugar. You should take note of the differences and begin to modify your recipe based on this. When tasting the sweeteners that are much sweeter than sugar, only taste a pinch; too much and you will be tasting it all day. You may find that you need less than you thought after tasting the sweeteners. Even the sweeteners that are already pre-mixed with sugar or maltodextrin may be too sweet to substitute 1 for 1.
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    Do a trial run. You should evaluate your finished dish for taste, color and texture. If you are unsure of how the final item should taste, then make one with sugar to taste beside the one with the sugar substitute. After the taste test, improve if necessary and make it again. This is a case where practice can greatly improve the final results.


  • Some research has shown links between artificial sweeteners and cancer. The FDA recommends all artificial sweeteners be used in moderation. If you are concerned, the National Cancer Institute has information about this on their website.
  • Although natural sugar substitutes may have a lower affect on blood sugar, they still affect it. If you have diabetes, work with a nutritionist or doctor to determine the best alternative. Also, most natural sugar substitutes contribute just as many calories as sugar.

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Categories: Food Preparation