Got questions about baking with different sugars?
Here’s the scoop.
Most of us are familiar with refined white sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beets, but today you’ll find many other types of sugars in the baking aisle. Each one has its own unique flavor. Some contain additional nutrients, but the amounts are often so small that there may be little health advantage in choosing them over refined sugar. And because all sweeteners are made up of mostly sugar, the amount you eat is likely more important than the type. But choosing a variety of options is still solid health advice. Let’s begin to learn more about these popular sweeteners.
Substitutions for 1 cup sugar are approximations – you’ll definitely want to experiment first!
Coconut sugar is a minimally processed sweetener made by dehydrating the sap directly from palm tree flowers. This simple process is thought to retain many beneficial phytochemicals. And because it doesn’t come from an actual coconut, it tastes like brown sugar with a touch of caramel.
Substitute: 1 cup coconut sugar
Produced from the agave plant, agave syrup, also called agave nectar, tastes and acts similar to honey. Many experts have argued that agave syrup is metabolized more slowly than table sugar, but that argument has been disputed. Agave is actually more calorie dense than table sugar but it is also much sweeter – meaning you will want to use less agave than white sugar in your recipes. When it comes to color – light, amber or dark – it is thought that raw agave and darker varieties may retain more of their natural nutrition in the processing.
Substitute: 2/3 cup agave syrup, reduce other liquid ingredients in recipe by 1/4 cup
Honey is categorized by its flower source, such as clover or wildflower, and then further divided into raw, processed or organic. Raw honey is never heated, which some believe retains more beneficial nutrients and helps reduce seasonal allergies. Pasteurized honey is heated to kill any bacteria like botulism. Organic honey must be produced according to the USDA organic standards, but it can be hard to prevent travelling bees from searching out non-organic flowers in their quest for nectar. Honey is slightly higher in calories and sweetness, so you will want to substitute a smaller volume of honey for table sugar when baking.
Substitute: 3/4 cup honey, reduce other liquid ingredients by 2 tbsp. and add a pinch of baking soda
Maple syrup is sap from maple trees and is considered fairly heat resistant. Much of its natural nutrition is retained during processing, so pure maple syrup may pack small amounts of nutrition and phytochemicals. Darker, Grade B syrups are less filtered and contain more trace minerals.
True maple syrup is different than pancake syrup – check the ingredients for “pure maple syrup” to ensure you’re getting the real thing. Like other syrups, reduce the volume slightly to substitute for table sugar in any recipe.
Substitute: 3/4 cup maple syrup and reduce other liquid ingredients by 2-3 tbsp.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is produced by cooking and fermenting rice, then filtering it for a thick syrup. Although this sweetener retains some small amounts of nutrition from brown rice, it is slightly higher in calories than table sugar. Brown rice syrup will make your baked goods crispier, so you may want to avoid using it for cakes and breads.
Substitute: 1¼ cup rice syrup, reduce other liquid ingredients in recipe by 2⅔ tbsp., add 1/2 tsp. baking soda
Made from sugar cane that’s mashed and boiled to make a thick syrup, molasses gives gingerbread its distinct flavor. There are three varieties of molasses: Light, dark (or robust) and blackstrap. The darker the molasses, the longer it’s been boiled and the more nutrients it contains. If the label says “syrup,” it’s a blend of molasses and corn syrup.
Substitute: 1⅓ cups molasses. Reduce other liquid ingredients by 1/3 cup, eliminate baking powder in recipe and add 3/4 tsp. baking soda
Some fruit-based sweeteners – such as dates, overripe bananas and sugar-free jams – are becoming popular sweeteners as well. Fruit pastes and jams can bring a lot more fiber and whole food nutrition to your baked goods. However, some options may affect the texture and taste more than others. Look for options that incorporate the whole fruit, soaked and blended into water without any added ingredients or filtering, for the most benefits.
Substitute: Varies; suggest trial and error