If you don’t want the time, don’t do the crime. Sugar substitutes are the loopholes of this argument. They are used in a number of places including our daily needs for dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, packed foods and beverages. Evidently, they are used to cut calories and they also act to control type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
It is important to remember the fact that what we call regular sugar is extracted from the sugarcane plant. It is granulated and refined to give us the commonly used white sugar. Demerara sugar also comes from the same plant, but it is much less refined and hence, contains a lot more vitamins and minerals. However, both the sugars are considered added sugars – a sugar that is no longer in its natural form.
Science has come a long way and so have sugar substitutes. There are a lot more options available today than there were fifty years ago. You can take your pick as per your preferences and needs. To put it briefly, sugar substitutes are divided into two categories – natural and artificial sweeteners. Let’s understand what each category entails and how it serves your purpose.
You probably know a few of these like jaggery, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date sugar, molasses, maple syrup and stevia. These are extracted from natural sources and are easily substituted for white sugar in a cup of coffee or for those midnight baking adventures or your morning pancakes. Let’s take a look at them and assess their place in your pantries.
- If you want to turn to alternative sweeteners with weight loss as an objective, Stevie would be ideal for you. With next to no calories, it is still 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It tends to be a bit expensive and leaves a bitter aftertaste. So if you want to live dangerously, you must still make sure that you come out of it clean, otherwise there’s no thrill to the danger. We mean that you should observe carefully whether it suits you and how you react to it. A good result would be your green signal to continue using this in your diet.
- Sweeteners like honey, jaggery, agave nectar, maple syrup, corn syrup, barley malt syrup, molasses etc are mostly extracted from plants. While still lower in calorie content than table sugar, the real difference comes from the presence of vitamins and minerals present in them which white sugar lacks.
- When it comes to using them in food, a few like corn syrup, maple syrup etc. do carry a certain flavor. This adds a certain flavour to foods which actually works very well.
- Honey has been around for ages and it is an attractive and easy substitute for sugar. While it has some nutritional value at the same sweetness of sugar, it is just ‘less bad’ than regular sugar and not exactly a life altering substitute.
- While a natural sugar like jaggery does not break down under heat, it may affect other ingredients. Jaggery when added to boiling milk, has been observed to curdle it. However, when added to a hot cup of milk that has already been boiled, it stays just fine. Other than this detail, it is very easily used in a lot of baking recipes and everyday foods.
Whenever you decide to use natural sweeteners like this, objectively determine what you are looking to achieve and the needs of your diet and then narrow down to a sweetener. Natural sweeteners can be quite interesting in the way that they all offer a unique flavour. It’s literally like diversifying your friend group – something you don’t get to do after college when you add these to your diet. On that note, maybe this is what is there in your grandma’s pancakes that make them so good. You’ll probably be right if this is what you guess.
These sweeteners do not occur naturally and are synthesized in a lab. They are usually sought by those who are looking to lose some weight. So one thing we would like to mention is that artificial sweeteners do not help in weight loss. They just prevent weight gain, which you would otherwise be getting from regular sugar. Now that we have established this distinction, let’s take a look at some of the more used artificial sweeteners and their uses.
- Advantame: This is a high intensity sweetener and is considered 20,000 times sweeter than sugar. That is a fact and not something we made up. It is popular in processed foods and for cooking as well, provided you know your way around it.
- Acesulfame-K: A sweetener purely for your tongue, this passes through the body unchanged. It is most popularly used in candies, bottled beverages, baked goods etc. It can also be used in cooking as it does not break down.
- Aspartame: It is used in most drinks and processed foods but can’t be used for cooking as it tends to break down.
- Neotame: Let’s say it is some 7,000 times sweeter than sugar. Popularly used in baking and processed foods, it is a high intensity sugar substitute and not for the faint hearted.
- Saccharine: 200-700 times sweeter than sugar, it is used to sweeten drinks, candies and medicines. If ever you feel a slightly metallic aftertaste of something sweet tasting, know that you have had saccharine.
- Sucralose: A popular substitute for sugar in baked goods, sucralose gained popularity around the same time as ‘juicy couture’ in the early 2000s, except this has sustained.
- Sorbitol: Technically, sorbitol is a naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables. It is one sugar that is not as sweet as regular sugar. It has found its place as a thickener and stabilizer and as an artificial sweetener.
Much like natural sweeteners, artificial ones must also be assessed objectively according to your needs and goals.
Selecting a substitute depends on factors like cost, intended use, availability and just plain preference. Either way, you must assess the sweetener before buying it as the usage of these is sensitive to your cooking needs and health. That said, if done mindfully, using sugar substitutes can be pretty life altering and something one doesn’t really come back from