Natural Sweeteners

Gimme Some Sugar…and Naturally Sweet Substitutes

Satisfy a sweet tooth without relying on the artificial stuff. Natural sweeteners have their own unique flavors.

Sweet Substitutions

When swapping natural sweeteners for refined sugars, keep this guide close at hand.

Confectioners’ Sugar for Sugar 1 ¾ cups for 1 cup
Brown Sugar for Sugar 1 cup firmly packed for 1 cup
Turbinado Sugar for Sugar 1 cup for 1 cup
Maple Syrup for Sugar ¾ cup for 1 cup
Note: Reduce for 3 tablespoons
Honey for Sugar ¾ cup for 1 cup
Note: Reduce by ¼ cup
Barley Malt for Sugar ¾ cup for 1 cup
Note: Reduce by ¼ cup
Molasses for Sugar 1 ¼ cup for 1 cup
Note: Reduce by 5 tablespoons for each cup used

Sugar

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

  • Granulated white sugar. Common, highly refined all-purpose sugar. Look for organic, unbleached varieties for a tastier, more natural option
  • Superfine (a.k.a. castor sugar). Finely-ground granulated white sugar that dissolves very quickly. Use in meringues, cold drinks and baked goods
  • Confectioners' sugar (a.k.a. powdered sugar). Granulated white sugar that's been crushed to a fine powder. Perfect for icings, glazes and decorations
  • Unrefined brown sugar (a.k.a. raw sugar). Slightly purified, crystallized evaporated cane juice with a distinctive, caramel flavor. A variety of flavors including demerara, dark muscovado and turbinado. Use in baked goods
  • Unrefined dehydrated cane juice. Made by extracting and then dehydrating cane juice with minimal loss of original flavor, color or nutrients. Perfect for gingerbread, chocolate chip cookies, spice cake, pumpkin pie, date nut loaf, fruit cake, fruit crisp, brownies and chocolate cake

Honey

This time-honored syrup comes from flower nectar collected by bees.

  • Taste: Honey ranges in flavor and color with the darker varieties being stronger in flavor.
  • Uses: Try it in cakes, pies, cookies, frostings, marinades, salad dressings and plenty more.
  • Varieties:
    • Clover. Mild flavored and readily available in colors ranging from water 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
  • Notes:
    • 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.
    • Honey should not be fed to children less than one year old because it can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is simply the boiled down tree sap of the sugar maple tree.

  • Flavor: As for maple sugar, it's twice as sweet as white sugar and has a delicious, caramel flavor. Both maple syrup and maple sugar are among the least refined sweeteners.
  • Uses: Great in cookies, cakes, muffins, breads and granola.
  • Varieties:
    • Grade A Light. Delicate maple flavor. Nice over plain yogurt or for sweetening a cup of tea
    • Grade A Medium. Pronounced, easily discernable maple flavor. Top choice for pancakes and waffles
    • Grade A Dark. A robust maple flavor. Still great as a table syrup but also a good choice for cooking and baking
    • Grade B. Very strong maple flavor with hints of caramel. The best choice for cooking and baking

Molasses

Molasses is produced during the refining of sugar – the syrup remains after the available sucrose has been crystallized from sugar cane juice.

  • Flavor: With a strong, fragrant dark caramel flavor, it’s about 65% as sweet as sugar and often combined in recipes with other sugars.
  • Uses: A "must" for ginger bread and gingersnap cookies but great for muffins, quick breads, spice cake and whole grain bread too.
  • Notes: 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, we prefer unsulfured molasses, meaning that the fumes used in manufacturing sugar aren't retained as sulfur in the molasses.

Barley Malt and Rice 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.

Rice syrup is made in almost the same way, and is usually a combination of rice and barley. Some of the best Chai teas are sweetened with rice syrup, with deep and earthy results.


Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is obtained from the core of the Mexican Agave cactus, which is also used to make tequila.

  • Flavor: It’s about 25% sweeter than sugar and that darker agave nectar has a more robust flavor with a pleasant hint of molasses, too.
  • Uses: Agave nectar is a multipurpose sweetener that resembles honey — its color ranges from pale to dark amber — but it's slightly less viscous and dissolves easier in liquids.
  • Notes: When using agave nectar, start small and work your way up.