Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Natural Sugar - Part 4

Continuing to learn with Regina about natural sweeteners...

Natural Sugar and Spice - CAN Really be Nice! Part 4
Guest Post By Regina
First read part one and part two and part three


Honey and maple syrup- are slightly acidic, so the experts recommend adding ¼ tsp. of baking soda to help neutralize the acid. This would only apply to cookie and cake batter and would not be needed for recipes that already call for baking soda. Because these sweeteners are in a liquid form, you need to reduce the liquid in your recipe. It is a good rule of thumb to reduce the liquid that is called for in the greater amounts. (For example, reduce the milk not the egg.) You also need to reduce your oven temperature  to prevent browning. 
Sucanat- replaces white sugar cup for cup, which makes it easy for beginners. Being coarse and dark, it will make your baked goods darker. For example, if you make sugar cookies you may want to use a different sweetener to keep the lighter look and flavor. With molasses cookies, Sucanat will work great! Because it is course, Sucanat does not dissolve well in cold drinks such as iced tea and lemonade and should be cooked into a sugar syrup before you add it. You may not like it in your coffee or hot tea because of the strong molasses flavor. (Although my hubby loves the flavor and it is his first choice for his morning cup of joe!)

Stevia- is very concentrated; a tiny bit goes a long way. Since sugar adds bulk to your recipe and you are removing this bulk by using stevia, you need to add another bulk to take it's place. Yogurt, applesauce, sour cream, mashed bananas, pumpkin puree, and egg whites, are all choices you can use. Choose your added bulk to enhance the flavor of the recipe. For example, if you're making banana nut bread, than yogurt, sour cream, or more mashed bananas would be a better choice instead of pureed pumpkin.

Stevia can leave a slight aftertaste, but with time, you can get used to it. 
Not all stevia is created equally. The taste of stevia will vary with manufacturers. Also, be aware of what you are buying; some stevia will have filler added. Buy only pure stevia and don't be shocked at the price; stevia is expensive. The upside? A little stevia goes a LONG way.

After trying different brands of stevia, the Kal (pronounced “cow”) brand became the winner to me. The aftertaste is minimal, it is not bitter, and it is very concentrated. One 3.5 oz. container will last me through several canning seasons.

Xylitol- I found, was the hardest to bake with. It soaks up moisture so your cookies can turn out crumbly. Some cooks recommend adding an extra tablespoon of liquid to your batter to balance it. I know cooks have found great success with using it in baking; just be prepared for trial and error. 
All of the above can be found at health food stores (although they will cost more), bulk food stores and through mail order. If your bulk food store does not carry a certain item, they should be able to order it. Most grocery stores carry the turbinado sugar, xylitol, and stevia, but check the ingredients! The sweeteners sold at a grocery store are more apt to have the added filler. I checked a bag of xylitol and found that maltodextrin was listed along with the xylitol. The owner of my health food store recomends buying only xyltiol that is manufactored in the USA and xylitol that is extracted from the bark of birch trees. Since xylitol is expensive, some manufacturers use corn husks (the sweetener base) from China. If you do not know much about what you are buying, ask, research, or make a phone call. Be in charge of what you buy.

Using these sweeteners will take some practice and a few flops, but even the chickens can benefit from those! To help you decide which natural sweeteners could work for your family, here are some ideas.

If you need to cook or bake for a diabetic, or if you want Tommy to lose a few pounds, stevia and xylitol would be a good choice. Both will not affect blood sugar. Stevia is calorie-free and xylitol has nine calories per teaspoon. 
If you are a beekeeper, or live close to someone who sells honey, well then, that's obvious!

If you work with a lot of doughs and yeast, then stevia and xylitol are not options. Honey, sucanat, and maple syrup are.

If you are just trying to cook healthier and want to cut out white sugars, than any of the sweeteners mentioned would be okay. 
Now that you have had a crash course on different sweeteners and sugars available, roll up your sleeves and get ready to bake something that will make even Tommy happy. 

Next time I'll share a chart that was helpful in my baking experiments. 

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