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Bakers may have different reasons for wanting to use less (or no) sugar in their desserts and puddings. The most common reasons to substitute sugar is to reduce the overall energy content in the product, such as those want to enjoy the sweet flavour but without the extra calories. Another important motivation can also be to make foods suitable for people with diabetes or other health conditions.
Natural sugar has many different qualities other than just sweetness – it can add texture or crunch to the outside of a cookie, it can add a richer, darker colour and flavour from caramelisation. Sugar also helps to keep frozen desserts and ice creams soft and pliable at very low temperatures. All of these factors mean that sometimes we need to consider texture as well as sweetness when using an alternative to sugar.
RECIPE: Low-carb lemon meringue
If you are unfamiliar with sugar substitutes, we’ve put together a quick guide to the different options as well as offering a few recipes to get you started! Always taste sugar alternatives before adding them to the recipe, as most are many hundreds of times sweeter than ordinary sugar and you should only add very small amounts to achieve a similar flavour profile to that of cane sugar.
RECIPE: Rooibos tea and ricotta mousse
Natural sugar that we may add to our coffee or baking is almost always sucrose – the granulated crystals from the sugar cane plant. The raw sugar cane can be processed in many different ways, resulting in different textures and flavours from a dark molasses to a light and airy powdered sugar. Read more about natural sugars, and how to best use them in your baking here.
It is important to note that sugar substitutes are not recommended in yeasted baked products (such as breads,doughnuts and yeasted cakes), as the yeast requires the energy in natural sugar to grow and cause the dough to rise.
RECIPE: LCHF Eton Mess
A few common sugar alternatives
Aspartame: best used in cold drinks, cocktails and frozen desserts. It is not suitable for baking as heat destroys the compound. A common brand is Canderel.
Sucralose: most commonly used as a sweetener in prepared yoghurts and meals, and is stable when heated.
Xylitol: is a a good all rounder as it holds up well at high temperatures, although it will not caramelise like natural sugar. It has the same sweetness as sugar, and can be equally substituted for granulated sugar. 40% percent less calories than sugar.
Erythritol: similar to xylitol, but erythritol has the advantage here sporting only zero calories.
Stevia – this is a powder or crystal from the leaves of the stevia plant, often sold in a syrup or powder. Stevia is suitable for diabetics. It is great for cooking and baking and is approximately 250 times sweeter than sugar
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