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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Our Quality Standards: No Artificial Sweeteners

We don’t sell just anything. Really. Everything in our stores has to meet our quality standards, or we won’t carry it.

In this series we’re giving you the inside scoop on our process, and some of our most fundamental standards – no artificial sweeteners, no artificial flavors or colors, no artificial preservatives, and no hydrogenated fats – and why what you find in our stores is different than anywhere else.  

While I love a little something sweet as much as the next person, I ditched the artificial sweeteners back in the 80s. One of the many no-brainer things I love about shopping at Whole Foods Market is that I know there are no artificial sweeteners in any of the products sold in our aisles.

That’s right. No pink or blue packets. No saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame or acesulfame-k. We don’t allow it! All of these are synthetic compounds produced through complex chemical processes….not so appetizing, huh?

When assessing food ingredients, our Quality Standards team always asks: Is it necessary? For artificial sweeteners, the answer is easy: HECK NO.  There are plenty of delicious options without them.

Exploring Natural Sweeteners

Remember that sweeteners are sweet, natural or not – and are best when eaten in moderation. Unsolicited nutritional advice aside, here’s a rundown on 10 of the natural sweeteners you’ll find in our stores.

Agave Nectar: This popular sweetener comes from the Mexican Agave cactus plant (also used to make tequila). Similar to honey but not quite as thick, it's about 25% sweeter than sugar and is sweeter than honey, too.

Barley malt syrup: Soaked and sprouted barley is dried and cooked down to make a thick syrup. Barley malt is digested slower than other sweeteners so it’s gentler on blood sugar levels.

Cane syrup: A traditional sweetener made from crushing and boiling sugar cane.

Date sugar: Dehydrated dates that are ground into a coarse, granular sugar. The mild flavor works well in recipes and is about 2/3 as sweet as conventional sugar.

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. Do not feed honey to children less than one year old because it can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that creates the toxin that causes botulism.

Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar: Maple syrup is the boiled down tree sap of the sugar maple tree. Granulated maple sugar is crystalized maple syrup. It’s twice as sweet as white sugar and has a caramel flavor. Both maple syrup and maple sugar are among the least refined sweeteners.

Molasses: This syrup is what remains after the available sucrose is crystallized from sugar cane juice. Light molasses is from the first boiling of the cane, dark molasses is from the second, and blackstrap is from the third. Not as sweet as sugar, it's often combined in recipes with other sugars.

Palm Sugar: Also called coconut sugar, this comes from the nectar of the coconut palm blossom but doesn’t taste like coconut at all. With a lower glycemic index, palm sugar doesn't cause as large a spike in blood sugar as other sweeteners.

Rice syrup: Made in the same way as barley malt syrup and is usually a combination of rice and barley.

Stevia: A powdered extract derived from a Paraguayan plant known as yerba dulce or “sweet leaf.” Certain forms of stevia extract (sometimes labeled as “rebiana” or “reb-a”) are used in food. Stevia is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Food manufacturers are creating unique stevia extracts to solve for its slightly bitter aftertaste. Some blend it with other sweeteners like monk fruit and erythritol (a sugar alcohol) with good results.

If you’re looking for a little something extra, some spices — such as cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom — can add a quality of sweetness without adding actual sugar.

Do you have a favorite natural sweetener? What are some of the fun ways you use it?