While we love baked goods as much as (or more than) the next person, there are definitely some positive reasons to cut down on your sugar intake, whether for weight loss, energy levels, or even to avoid some GMOs. The great news is that there are many substitute sweeteners besides sugar that you can add to your diet that will satisfy your sweet tooth! You may be a little cautious using new sweeteners in your baked goods, and we completely understand. We’ve said many times that baking is a lot like science, in that it relies on ratios and exact measurements to produce the best quality results. This is no different when you’re substituting sugar and artificial sweeteners, so you need to be careful and follow some simple guidelines. But with a little time and testing, you can be eating delicious sugar-free baked goods (or at least reduce the refined sugar in your recipes) in no time! Follow our handy guide to learn all about the best sugar substitutes for baking and how to use them properly!
We often start out our substitution articles asking this, and it’s no different with sugar--the most important part of finding a great a sugar substitute is understanding what effect sugar has on the overall recipe. As we mentioned, baking is a lot of science, and getting the right end result requires that all of the ingredients are serving the right purpose together. So if you don’t quite understand why your recipe includes a sweetener in the first place, you’ll probably have trouble finding the right sugar substitute or making the right substitution.
Sugar serves many different purposes in a recipe. In some recipes, sugar simply adds sweetness, but in most recipes for baked goods, sugar also serves at least one additional purpose. These purposes include providing volume, browning, crisping, adding moisture, and building structure, among many others. So before you decide on a sweetening substitute, make sure you know what the sugar was doing in the recipe as a whole--you may need to further alter your recipe to ensure that the recipe turns out as close to the original as possible.
This sugar substitute is not a favorite of natural food nuts, as negative health claims and side effects have been reported, but it does have the benefit of 0 calories. We do not recommend this product for most baked goods, as it can lose sweetness when it is heated over a longer period of time, but it can work for cold recipes or in sauces. Feel free to replace the sugar in your recipe cup-for-cup when making your substitution.
Saccharin is more commonly known as Sweet N Low, and it also has the benefit of 0 calories per teaspoon. It is more heat stable than aspartame, which is a plus, but we found that if you replace all the granulated sugar in a recipe with saccharin, the results are not ideal. If you only replace up to one third of the sugar with saccharin, you will have much better overall results.
Sucralose or Splenda
Splenda (sucralose) only has 2 calories per teaspoon, which works in your favor compared to real sugar. It works well as a substitute when things simply need to be sweeter but falls short as a sugar substitute in baking. Most artificial sweeteners have trouble with browning, as well as creating the ideal textures in baked goods, and Splenda is no different. There is a Splenda-Sugar blend for baking that better mimics the properties of sugar - like browning and lift. It has 20 calories per teaspoon, a little more than sugar by itself, but you only need half as much: you can replace 1 cup of sugar with ½ cup of the blend, with significantly better results than Splenda alone!
Okay, we will admit that some of those sounded a little . . . chemical. Truthfully, not all chemical or artificial ingredients are bad for you, but at Bob’s Red Mill, we are big supporters of natural foods and know that many of you are too! Fortunately, there are a ton of natural sweeteners that are just as good as refined sugar, and in many ways better! The tricky part here is that most natural sweeteners are not specifically made for the purpose of baking, so they may require a little extra finagling to work into a recipe with the same results as sugar. However, we are confident that if you follow this guide and use some trial and error when you substitute, your baked goods will be perfect in no time!
Honey is probably the first natural sweetener that you think of. It is extremely common, especially in baked goods! Raw honey will produce a moister, denser end result than sugar, and it is actually a bit sweeter than sugar. You lose most of the healthy nutrients in honey if you cook it, so it will not necessarily be a health boost. But it is a little better for you than sugar, and it tastes delicious! Plus, supporting your local bee populations is very positive! Keep in mind that raw honey is faster at browning than sugar, so you should reduce your oven temperature a little (around 25 degrees should be good) to be safe.
Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar
Maple syrup and maple sugar are two other natural sweeteners that are very popular. Maple syrup is typically easier to find in the store than maple sugar, but you can usually find them both at a health foods store. You probably already know what maple syrup is, and maple sugar is actually just a condensed version of the syrup. You can make your own by boiling maple syrup and letting it crystallize at home, or you can purchase it, but it can be a little pricey! Due to the granular shape, you can use maple sugar to cream butter and sugar, whereas liquid sweeteners will not really work well for this purpose. Just remember that the flavor of maple will be in either of these products. Grade A maple syrup has a slightly lighter flavor, and Grade B is preferred for baking due to its richer flavor.
You have probably heard of molasses but may not know exactly what it is. Molasses is a byproduct of refining white sugar, so it is similar but not quite as sweet. You can actually get two other sweeteners out of the refinery process, cane syrup and blackstrap molasses, which both have their own unique properties as well! Molasses has traces of vitamin B, calcium, and iron, so it has some nutritional value that sugar does not. When you cook with molasses, you should only use it to substitute about half of the sugar in a recipes. You will likely need about ⅓ cup of molasses in place of 1 cup of sugar.
Sucanat is basically a less-processed version of regular old sugar. It is beat into granules after boiling cane juice, so you may find that you need to grind it a little finer before using. However, it retains a little molasses flavor and some of the natural nutrients, making it a little better for you than typical white sugar. Sucanat also substitutes well for brown sugar because of that molasses flavor!
Date sugar is basically ground up dates--you could even think of it as date flour if you wanted, but it has more similar properties to sugar. It is sweet and mild in flavor, but packs a solid punch of antioxidants and fiber. This sugar will not completely dissolve like regular sugar, but it is a perfect base for dense recipes that normally use brown sugar or those with chunky ingredients. Think banana bread, granola bars, and brownies with fruits and nuts! The great thing about dates is that they are typically sourced sustainably, so this one is a win-win for the world and for your sweet tooth!
No matter why you are trying to cut back on regular sugar, there are tons of substitute ingredients out there--we didn’t even scratch the surface with these sweeteners. The best (and sometimes worst) thing about having so many options is that they each have their own unique properties. You may find that subbing in different sweeteners changes the end result of your recipe, but we know that with a few adjustments, your friends and family will be gobbling down those baked goods without even noticing a difference! Try out a few of the sweeteners we talked about today and let us know your favorites in the comments below.