It’s been one tiring week with the overload of basketball this week and last week. We played our grand final last night and unfortunately lost but cannot wait for the next season and I can only hope we do even better!
I thought I’d start a fact sheet for anyone interested in baking vegetarian/vegan or just baking healthier in general. As my pantry does not contain any white refined sugar, you will often see many various kinds of sugar substitutes stocked up in my pantry which I use for cooking and baking.
Why should you not use white refined sugar:
If you read the articles I have linked below, the articles explain how refined sugar should be cut out where possible and replaced with other natural sweeteners due to the side effects it has once consumed in excess and over time. Some of the side effects refined sugar has on your health is the fact it can cause high blood pressure, the way it can indirectly lead to diabetes, can cause liver problems, obesity problems and much much more. We all know that if you consume too much of one thing, it will always have a negative effect on your body. Mr Muscles has always reiterated to me that too much sugar consumption turns into fat and gets stored in the body if you do not exercise or maintain a healthy lifestyle. So if you can reduce the amount of refined sugar to a minimum (you don’t need to cut it out completely) and where possible replace these refined sugars with natural sweeteners, it is a good way to maintain a healthier diet on a whole.
Natural Sweeteners that I frequently use are:
I often use either organic raw light agave nectar or dark agave nectar in my baking in replacement of refined sugars and honey if creating vegan desserts. Agave Nectar is a sweetener that is commonly produced in Mexico. The nectar (syrup) is extracted from the Blue Agaves. Agaves are large spikey plants that often resemble cactus/aloe vera plants. Agave Nectar often can be compared with honey for its taste factor and is often substituted for honey in recipes to make them vegan. The sweetener in liquid form has a thinner consistency than other sweeteners such as honey so it is easier to use for cooking and baking. The lighter agave nectar has a more neutral and mild taste compared to the darker agave nectar which has more of a strong caramel flavour and can be used as topping for various desserts.
I find Agave Nectar works well in cakes, cookies, frozen desserts, puddings and many more varied desserts. As it is considered quite sweet and should only be consumed in moderation, I tend to use a small amount of agave in my baking where necessary when making vegan desserts.
Benefits of Agave Nectar:
- Low GI <30
- Diabetic Friendly
- It’s sweetness primarily comes from a complex form of fructose called inulin (fructose is the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables)
- Low impact on blood sugar
- Can lower cholesterol
- Increase the absorption of nutrients for your body
You can read more about the history and benefits of agave nectar at http://www.allaboutagave.com/.
Note: 1 cup of white/brown sugar is equivalent to approximately 2/3 cup of agave nectar. If you are substituting agave for honey or pure maple syrup, then the ratio is 1:1.
I like to use coconut sugar in my cakes, muffins and cookies. It lends a nice caramel-like flavour to my desserts especially when I make coconut flavoured desserts as it then enhances the coconut flavours even further. Coconut Sugar is derived from the boiled, dehydrated sap of coconut trees. I tend to buy coconut sugar in the granulated form which is a lot more coarser than normal sugar but there are other coconut sugars that are in a solid form.
Benefits of Coconut Sugar:
- Diabetic friendly
- Very low GI (35)
- Rich in minerals and has shown traces of Vitamin C which can have positive effects on your body
- Low calorie
- Low impact on blood sugar
You can read more about coconut sugar at: http://www.sugarcoconut.com/
Note: You can use coconut sugar as a substitute for white sugar with a ratio of 1:1.
I often use dates in my desserts ranging from raw desserts to baked desserts. Dates can often replace the white sugar in various recipes. I have used dates to make a raw brownie bite and baked banana muffins. Dates originate from the Middle East and are grown on palm trees.
Dates can be blended in the blender once the pits have been removed to make a paste to use in desserts. Often people will derive sugar from the dates into a granulated form as well. As the dates are considered high in calorie despite the numerous health benefits associated with using dates, dates should be used in moderation just like any other sweetener when cooking and baking.
Benefits of Dates:
- Rich in natural fibers, minerals and vitamins
- Very high in protein
- Helps improve the digestive system
- Excellent source of iron (good for people who are low in iron)
For more information on the origins and health benefits of dates you can read the following links:
I use molasses mainly when I am cooking gingerbread recipes or ginger cookies but it can be utilised in many recipes that require a bittersweet flavour. Molasses is derived from the cane of a sugar plant and the juice is then extracted from it. From this there is a numerous amount of boiling to create the thick dark syrup. Blackstrap Molasses is considered the best type of Molasses
Benefits of Molasses:
- Nutrient dense
- Full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium
- If you purchase the unsulphered and organic kind of molasses it is free from processing
- Medicinal and healing qualities
For more information on the benefits of molasses, you can go to the following links:
Note: You may need to substitute more molasses than what is required with normal sugar
PURE MAPLE SYRUP
I use pure maple syrup as a substitute for white sugar in some of my baked goods. I like the smell of the maple when mixed into the desserts. I have often made a maple banana bread and numerous muffins and cakes sweetened with maple syrup. Also if I am making a pancake or crepe batter I like to sub in maple syrup into the batter in replacement of white sugar. Nothing better than bananas and maple syrup mmmm…. ;P
Pure maple syrup derived from the sap of a maple tree. Syrup is made by boiling the sap and reducing it down to a syrup. Pure maple syrup is unprocessed and does not contain any chemicals or preservatives.
Benefits of Pure Maple Syrup:
- Rich in vitamins and minerals especially zinc and magnesium
- The compounds in maple syrup are said to exhibit anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-bacterial properties
- Boosts the immune system
- Heart healthy
- High in antioxidants
- Free from colourings and additives
- Traces of calcium, iron and magnesium
For more information on pure maple syrup you can go to the following links:
Note: If you are substituting maple syrup for white sugar you will need to only use 1/2 a cup – 2/3 of a cup depending on how sweet you like your desserts. Also, you will need to reduce all the other liquid ingredients in your recipe by 1/4 of a cup to compensate the liquid sweetener.
RAPADURA SUGAR (Cane Juice – similar to Turbinado and Sucanat)
Rapadura sugar is considered relatively low in calories and it provides a less sweeter taste than normal refined white sugar. It contains molasses to give it its brownish golden colour and caramel like taste. Rapadura sugar is derived from sugar cane juice. The sugar is not processed or purified. The cane juice is then dried to create brown crystals.
I often use Rapadura sugar in my cakes and muffins. Rapadura sugar tends to go well with fruit desserts as well. As it provides a caramel-like flavour, you can use this to replace the flavours of caramel in non-vegan recipes.
Benefits of Rapadura Sugar:
- High in vitamins and minerals such as iron and calcium
- Easy to digest and metabolise in your body
- Not processed
Note: If substituting with Rapadura sugar, you just use the ratio of 1:1 with white refined sugar.
RAW ORGANIC HONEY
If you are not baking vegan but want to bake healthy still, you can use raw organic honey to replace white sugar in your cooking and baking. Raw Organic Honey is raw honey in its pure and natural form that has been unpasteurized and unprocessed. It appears dense and grainy in consistency and is considered sweeter than granulated sugar. I tend to use raw organic honey in many baked and steamed desserts such as cakes and muffins and also when stewing fruit as fruit and honey pair well together.
Benefits of Raw Organic Honey:
- Many healing properties for your body: soothes and heals skin wounds, promotes the growth of good bacteria and much much more
- High nutritional benefits
- Tend to use less of this sweetener than other sweeteners due to its thick and dense consistency
- Contains many antioxidants
You can read more about the health benefits of raw honey at http://www.draxe.com/the-many-health-benefits-of-raw-honey/.
Note: If using honey in replacement of white sugar, you will need to reduce the amount of honey used for the recipe. 1 cup of white sugar should be replaced with approximately 1/2 cup of honey or less dependent on your taste buds.
People often use Stevia in their desserts as it is considered a zero calorie sugar substitute and is much lower in carbohydrates as a result. However, the drawback with using Stevia is that you often get a bitter after taste depending on the concentration of Stevia you use.
Benefits of Stevia:
- Zero calories
- Low in carbohydrates
- Lowers blood pressure
- Decrease blood sugars
- Aids weight loss and weight management
- Improved digestion
- Its 300 times sweeter than sugar so you only need to use a very very small amount
For more information on Stevia, you can go to the following links which list the pros and cons of Stevia:
Note: If using liquid stevia to replace one cup of sugar, you only need to use 1 tsp of Stevia, if using packet form, then you will need to use 1/3 of a tsp – 1/2 of a tsp of Stevia to replace the white sugar in the recipe.
I hope this fact sheet was insightful and informative for all of you. I didn’t know much about all these natural sweeteners until I started baking a lot and trying to find substitutes for refined sugars and I was surprised that there are so many options and alternatives to use in your cooking and baking. Each sweetener has its own taste and texture which pairs well with different dessert recipes so it’s all about experimenting until you find the sweetener you are happy with at the end of the day.
Happy baking everyone!
Until next time…