natural_sweetnersLooking for alternatives to refined sugars?

Natural sweeteners like unrefined brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt syrup, rice syrup, honey and agave nectar are common these days and for good reason. Each has a unique flavor and set of uses that’ll satisfy any craving for sweetness in everything from your salad dressings to your roasted pork loin.

Today, the main sources of commercial sugar are sugar cane and sugar beets, from which a variety of sugar products are made:

Granulated white sugar is common, highly-refined all-purpose sugar. Look for organic varieties for a more natural choice.

Confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar) is granulated white sugar that’s been crushed to a fine powder that is used for icing and decorations.

Unrefined brown sugar (raw sugar) is slightly purified, crystallized evaporated cane juice. This caramel-flavored sugar comes in a variety of flavors, including demerara, dark muscovado and turbinado.

Unrefined dehydrated cane juice is generally made by extracting and then dehydrating cane juice with minimal loss of the original flavor, color or nutrients.

Turbinado sugar is a sugar cane-based, minimally refined sugar. It is medium brown in color and has large crystals. It’s often mistaken for traditional brown sugar because of its light brown color, but it’s made in a different way. Many people consider it to be healthier than both white and brown sugars, since it is generally less processed and less refined. Recipes that call for turbinado sugar tend to use it as a replacement for traditional brown sugar. It contains more moisture than regular white or brown sugars, which can be beneficial in things like cookies or muffins.

natural

Honey: – the world’s oldest-known unrefined sweetener. Honey’s flavor and color are derived from the flower nectar collected by bees. This accounts for the wide range of honey available around the world. Note that dark honey generally have a stronger flavor than lighter ones. Since bees can forage up to a mile from their hive and are indiscriminate in their nectar choices, so when a particular flower is named on the label of a honey container, it simply means that flower was the predominant one in bloom in the harvest area.

Here are a few of the most popular varieties:

Clover: mild flavored and readily available in colors ranging from white to light amber

Wildflower: generally dark with a range of flavors and aromas depending on the flowers that provided the nectar

Alfalfa: light in color with a delicate flavor

Orange Blossom:  distinctive citrus flavor and aroma and light in color

Blueberry: slightly dark with a robust, full flavor

Tupelo: fragrant, light and mild

Chestnut: dark, tangy and slightly bitter with a high mineral content

Storage tip: Keep honey in an airtight container and, if used infrequently, at temperatures below 50°F. Liquid honey will eventually crystallize but can be returned easily to a liquid state by placing the container in warm water for a few minutes.

Maple syrup is simply the boiled down tree sap of the sugar maple tree. As for maple sugar, it’s twice as sweet as white sugar and has a caramel flavor. Until the arrival of the honeybee (introduced from Italy in 1630) maple sugar was the only form of concentrated sweetener in North America. Both maple syrup and maple sugar are among the least refined sweeteners.

Storage tip: Refrigerate maple syrup to help it retain flavor, prevent slow fermentation and mold formation. When you store it right, maple syrup will keep for a year or more. If your syrup develops sugar crystals, simply warm the syrup to dissolve them.

Molasses: With its strong, fragrant dark caramel flavor, it is about 65% as sweet as sugar and is actually produced during the refining of sugar. (The syrup remains after the available sucrose has been crystallized from sugar cane juice.) Light molasses is from the first boiling of the cane, dark molasses is from the second and blackstrap, the third. Though molasses can be sulfured or unsulfured, unsulfured molasses is preferred because the fumes used in manufacturing sugar aren’t retained as sulfur in the molasses.

Date sugar is not extracted from anything. It’s just dried dates, pulverized into a powder. Date sugar is very sweet. It clumps and doesn’t melt, so it can’t be used in all the ways we use white sugar. Still you can usually substitute it in recipes that call for brown sugar. Some cooks suggest that you use only two-thirds the amount of date sugar in place of brown or white sugar called for in your recipe, otherwise, the end result may taste too sweet.

Barley Malt Syrup: Made from soaked and sprouted barley, which is dried and cooked down to make a thick syrup. Barley malt is a sweetener that’s slowly digested and gentler on blood sugar levels than other sweeteners.

Storage tip: I keep this sweetener in the refrigerator, so it does not develop mold.

Rice Syrup: Made in almost the same way as barley syrup and it is usually a combination of rice and barley. Some of the best Chai teas are sweetened with rice syrup.

Agave: Nectar is a multi-purpose sweetener obtained from the core of the Mexican Agave cactus, the same plant whose sap is a source of tequila. Agave nectar may resemble honey — its color ranges from pale to dark amber — but it’s slightly less viscous and dissolves more easily in liquids. Keep in mind that agave nectar is about 25% sweeter than sugar and that darker agave nectar has a more robust flavor with a hint of molasses.

So which one is the best?

The truth is that no sugar, regardless of where it comes from, will ever be optimal for regular consumption. From the above natural sweeteners, blackstrap molasses and pure maple syrup are the most nutritious. But whatever sweetener you choose, make sure that you get the least processed, pure version of it! In other words, if you are going to consume a sweetener, it is best if it comes from the fruit, herb or vegetable kingdom and be as raw/living as possible (not overheated and not overly processed) for optimum health.

Want to substitute natural sweeteners for refined sugar in recipes, keep this guide handy.

Sweetener

Substitution Ratio

Reduce Liquid?

Confectioners’ sugar

1 3/4 cups for each 1 cup sugar

No

Brown sugar

1 cup firmly packed for each 1 cup sugar

No

Turbinado sugar

1 cup for each 1 cup sugar

No

Maple syrup

3/4 cup for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 3 tablespoons

Honey

3/4 cup for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 1/4 cup

Barley malt or rice syrup

3/4 cup for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 1/4 cup

Molasses

1 1/4 cups for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 5 tablespoons for each cup used

wafflesOld-Fashioned Waffles (Barley Malt Syrup)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups almond milk or 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons barley malt syrup (room temperature)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions

Preheat a waffle iron.

In a large bowl, use a fork or whisk to vigorously mix the milk, vinegar, oil and barley malt syrup.

Add remaining dry ingredients and mix together until the  batter is smooth.

Coat the waffle irons with non-stick cooking spray and cook waffles according to waffle iron instructions.

carrotmuff

Carrot Spice Muffins (Agave Nectar)

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or a mixture of 3/4 cups whole wheat and 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flours)
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax-seed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (about 3)
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with non-stick spray or use muffin liners.

Mix together all dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the liquid ingredients. Add the liquid to the dry and mix just long enough to combine. Add the carrots and raisins and stir to combine.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups–it will be very thick.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

ham

Ham with Maple Syrup and Orange Marmalade Glaze

Ingredients:

  • 1 (7-pound) pre-cooked spiral-sliced ham
  • 1 cup grade B maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 oranges, sliced
  • 4-6 cinnamon sticks

Directions

Preheat oven to 325°F. Using a sharp paring knife, make shallow crosshatch cuts all over the outside of the ham. Arrange ham in a large roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine syrup, marmalade, juice, ground cinnamon, pepper and cloves in a small bowl to make a glaze. After the ham has baked for 30 minutes, remove it from oven and increase the oven temperature to 425°F.

Arrange oranges and cinnamon sticks around ham in the roasting pan, then brush ham and oranges liberally all over with the glaze, pouring remaining glaze over the ham. Return to the oven and bake, basting about every 10 minutes, until ham is hot throughout and caramelized on the outside, about 45 minute more.

Transfer ham to a platter and set aside to let rest for 15 minutes. Arrange oranges and cinnamon sticks around the ham and serve.

honey-dressing-sl-1886379-x

Broccoli with Honey-Lemon Dressing

Serve this salad dressing over fresh garden greens, steamed green beans, asparagus or broccoli.

Makes about 3/4 cup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 head of broccoli, steamed

Directions

Whisk together chopped fresh parsley and next 7 ingredients in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If chilled, let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Whisk before serving. Pour over cooked broccoli before serving.

gingerbread

Gingerbread Squares (Molasses)

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat (1% or 2%) milk
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • Cooking spray for the pan

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9×13 inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper, letting paper extend about 1 inch over the short ends of the pan. Spray the paper and flour the pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat oil and brown sugar together until light. Beat in molasses. Beat in eggs one at a time. In 3 additions, stir in flour mixture, alternating with additions of milk, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in 2 tablespoons of crystallized ginger.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan and level the top. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Lift gingerbread out with the edges of the paper and cut into 12 squares.

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