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Try Natural Sweeteners

By Alana Sugar, December 14, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alana Sugar


Holidays are perfect for baking. Festive cakes, pies, and cookies always represent the season. When you enjoy cooking as much as I do, using the healthiest, best tasting, and most natural ingredients possible becomes top priority. For this reason, I use natural sweeteners for baking. What's the difference? Plenty! Natural sweeteners have their own unique flavor and nutrients; and when enjoyed in moderation, can go a long way towards satisfying a hearty sweet tooth.

Chocolate Sugar CookiesSugar consumption has reached epidemic proportions in the United States! Most of the sugars consumed are highly processed and mostly devoid of real nutritional value. Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, granulated fructose and refined white sugar are most commonly consumed. Many commercially available sweet foods and beverages contain artificial sweeteners that are made by complex chemical processes. You won't find artificial sweeteners at Whole Foods Market, but at conventional grocery stores, you'll find them in everything from hot cocoa mix to yogurt…and lots of other stuff in-between. These purely synthetic compounds do not exist in nature, and as such, our human bodies may be ill-equipped to handle them.Natural sweeteners, in contrast, are perfect alternatives.

As consumer demand for whole and natural foods continues to grow, more quality natural sweeteners become available. You'll find plenty to choose from, and depending on what you are baking or using it for, each has its own flavor and compatibility with certain foods, beverages and baked goods.

Remember, of course, that sweeteners are sweet, natural or not, and should be used in moderation. Here are some natural sweeteners to get you started:

Sugar Cookies

Unrefined dehydrated organic cane syrup (Sucanat or Rapadura): Made only by dehydrating pure sugar cane syrup, you use it as you do brown sugar, cup for cup. It's perfect for gingerbread, chocolate chip cookies, spice cake, pumpkin pie, date nut loaf, fruit cake, fruit crisp, brownies and chocolate cake. Try it in Chai tea, too!

Unrefined brown sugar, also called raw sugar: Unlike Sucanat and Rapadura, this sugar is slightly refined and steam cleaned. It is labeled as evaporated cane juice and is found in many forms including Demarara, dark Muskovado, and Turbinado sugar. Use it in place of conventional white sugar or brown sugar. These Maple Sugar Walnuts are holiday-perfect.


Palm Sugar: This is my new favorite sweetener! Also known as coconut sugar, it's a great fat-free sugar alternative that is new to many markets. It's made from the nectar of the coconut palm blossom, but it doesn't taste like coconut at all. It is delicious and according to the package has a low glycemic index (35) so it doesn't cause a large spike in blood sugar like other sweeteners can. Use as a replacement for brown sugar, cup for cup. Try this mixed with mustard and basted over chicken, salmon, or a holiday ham.

Pure Maple Syrup: Pancakes and waffles are a given, but this age-old favorite is great on cereals - hot or cold - in cookies, cakes, muffins, breads and granola. Use ¾ cup maple syrup for each cup of sugar, and reduce liquid by three tablespoons. Try this Maple Applesauce Cake.

Molasses: Known for its iron content, molasses is earthy and strong-flavored. It's a "must" for good ginger bread and gingersnap cookies. Not as sweet as regular sugar, it's often combined in recipes with other sugars. Great for spice cake and whole grain bread! When substituting molasses for sugar, use 1¼ cups and reduce the liquid in the recipe by five tablespoons. Here's a recipe for molasses-sweetened Indian Pudding.

Agave Nectar

Honey: This time-honored syrup comes from flower nectar collected by bees. Honey ranges in flavor and color with the darker varieties being stronger in flavor. Many types of honey are available raw and unheated, preserving the natural health benefits and enzymes. I use raw honey in beverages or stirred into yogurt or hot cocoa. You don't need to use raw honey when you are cooking with it though. There are many great recipes for honey in cakes, pies, cookies, frostings, marinades, salad dressings and plenty more. When cooking with honey, use ¾ cup for every cup of sugar called for, but be sure to reduce the liquid by ¼ cup. I love this Greek Yogurt with Honey Thyme Walnut Crumble.

Agave Nectar: This popular sweetener comes from the Mexican Agave cactus plant (also used to make tequila). It is similar to honey but not quite as thick. It's about 25% sweeter than sugar and is sweeter than honey, too. When using agave, start small and work your way up. Agave sweetens this Sprouted French Toast with Cashews and Peaches

Want to know more? Check out our Guide to Natural Sweeteners

Got a favorite natural sweetener and a great way to use it? I would love to hear.




Noelle says ...
While I love that this is here, I don't think agave has a place here. While it isn't a refined sugar, it is highly processed and contains an exorbitant amount of pure fructose. I like to stick with honey and molasses and pure maple syrup that have some nutritional properties as well. Agave is just a high heat processed form of fructose.
12/14/2009 11:38:29 AM CST
Food Makes Fun Fuel says ...
I love sweetening things with maple syrup. It definitely brings its own flavor. It goes great in whole wheat cookies with dried apples and wheat germ
12/14/2009 11:55:21 AM CST
elyse eisenberg says ...
honey is a great natural sweetener, for fruit, salad dressing, even coffee and it never goes bad: http://creativedelites.com/2009/12/14/how-to-macerate-berries-and-think-summer/
12/14/2009 1:58:07 PM CST
Remkus says ...
I'm wondering why there's no mention of Stevia; nature's best and healthiest sweetener (?)
12/22/2009 12:24:04 PM CST
Janet says ...
because stevia tastes like artificial sweetener? it tastes awful.
12/23/2009 11:13:09 AM CST
Joe Wilson says ...
No mention of Xylitol, natural sweetner with no after taste.
01/03/2010 4:29:13 PM CST
lauren says ...
Just be careful of using splenda as a sweetener for all of your baking needs. It can be very dangerous if consumed regularly. Stevia is a good alternative to splenda - its made directly from the stevia rebaudiana plant and is 300x sweeter. Here's some more info on it: http://hubpages.com/hub/Stevia-Side-Effects
03/11/2010 1:14:38 PM CST
Emily says ...
Does this mean that Whole Foods carries Agave Nectar?
05/04/2010 5:40:21 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
Yes, most of our stores should carry Agave Nectar.
05/05/2010 10:37:29 AM CDT
Hayley says ...
Does Whole Foods carry palm sugar?
08/05/2010 7:38:00 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Hayley Our product mix varies by store so you should check to be sure with your local store, but I get palm sugar from my local Whole Foods Market.
08/06/2010 7:22:25 AM CDT
Manon Hernaez says ...
How come you don't carry coconut sugar which very low in fructose content and rich in minerals?
09/26/2010 9:46:41 AM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Manon I believe that some of our stores do carry coconut sugar, but product offerings vary from store to store. Your best bet is to check with your local store and ask them to order it for you.
09/27/2010 2:07:20 PM CDT
Laurence says ...
Hello: I am trying to find the product Dr Oz recommended recently on his show - so far I have only seen the liquid - I want the crystals Thank You
10/22/2010 2:17:52 PM CDT
Lindsey K says ...
Thsi is my first time visiting this site. I came on here to find out what agave nectar is becuase I was searching for low fat or gluten free brownie recipes online. I have never used agave nectar before nor honey in brownie recipes? I almost always have some kind of honey on hand. Can anyone tell me if you've had good luck using honey instead of agave nectar or sugar in homemade brownies?
10/22/2010 8:42:05 PM CDT
judith fowkes says ...
Saw a diabetic pumpkin pie recipe. It calls for fructose in the granulated form. Any suggestions for a sweetner substituation?
11/22/2010 5:23:06 AM CST
charlotte says ...
Granulated Honey? Any info on that? What is the equivalent of granulated honey to a cup of white sugar? I need to use honey instead of sugars/cane or other wise.... honey only and I need to be able to substitue white sugar or packed brown sugar for granulated honey? Any tips? I'll also be substituting flour for almond flour as well....thank you.
12/19/2010 9:21:19 PM CST
Christopher says ...
@ Lauren. Bull! Sucralose-based sweeteners are NOT anymore dangerous than stevia and you are irresponsible for saying so!
08/08/2011 1:22:41 PM CDT
Dave says ...
I Use Medjool dates in all my raw deserts and green smoothies.
02/22/2012 3:46:26 PM CST
rebeca says ...
love the article
09/03/2012 9:33:44 AM CDT
Renee says ...
You mention coconut palm sugar in the article, but when I search the Whole Foods website it does not appear that you carry this item. Do you know if you carry it?
11/03/2012 10:36:16 PM CDT
Tricia says ...
Neither Stevia, Xylitol or (America's version of) Agave Nectar are natural at all. Do the research! Sadly, all three are either refined, processed or have additives.
01/14/2013 7:55:36 AM CST
Tricia says ...
Let me clarify... POWDERED Stevia is not natural (look at the ingredients). SOME brands of liquid Stevia are purely made from the stevia plants and are acceptable.
01/14/2013 8:02:36 AM CST
hayatte says ...
Hi, I'm looking for coconut sugar ,and moringa Please send me a message if do you have Sincerly,Hayatte
02/26/2013 11:28:25 PM CST
daisy moritz says ...
Does Whole Foods carry coconut palm sugar?
04/13/2013 10:46:08 AM CDT