Millions of people are making a conscious effort to cut back on sugar for various reasons, but that does not mean they want to scale back on flavor. There are plenty of sugar substitutes out there. It is important to find a sugar substitute that does more than taste sweet for baking.
The substitute also needs to work well with the recipe, and it is important to understand how to convert the amount of sugar that a recipe calls for to the proper amount of the substitute. Which sugar substitutes are perfect for baking?
Allulose is a relatively new substitute for sugar. Allulose is a natural substance found in certain fruits like jackfruit and raisins. Allulose is considered to be a simple sugar. It looks, feels and tastes like white sugar, and it performs exactly like regular sugar in baking recipes. Allulose can be used as a 1:1 substitute for white sugar.
Splenda is the brand name for a popular sugar substitute made from sucralose. Sucralose is a commonly used artificial sweetener. Sucralose is the product of chemically changing the bonds of regular sugar. Splenda is sweeter than sugar, but it has a distinct aftertaste. Sometimes, the other ingredients used in baking can mask the Splenda aftertaste, but the distinct taste still comes through in some recipes.
Splenda is a direct substitute for sugar. Use the same amount of Splenda as a recipe calls for sugar. Splenda is excellent for baking because it behaves exactly like sugar.
Equal is the brand name of an artificial sweetener made of a blend of aspartame and acesulfame potassium. Equal is a 1:1 substitute for sugar, but it is not always the best choice for baking. Equal is very sweet, and it makes an excellent substitute for baked goods where sugar’s primary role is taste.
However, sugar serves other purposes. If sugar is used for adding structure or helping a baked good brown, Equal may not make a great substitute. Equal makes cakes harder and cookies softer, and it can make a baked good cook faster than one made with sugar. Bakers who have experience with Equal can make great use of it, though.
Stevia is the name of a plant with sweet leaves, and there’s a variety of companies that produce sugar substitutes derived from the plant. Some companies produce sweetener that is a dried and ground stevia leaf. Other companies produce a sugar substitute from a specific chemical compound that makes the stevia leaf so sweet.
Stevia is much sweeter than sugar. Stevia can be good for baking, but extra care and research are needed. Stevia-based sugar substitutes are plentiful, and each company has its own recipe. Many companies add ingredients, such as sugar alcohols, that change the way stevia sugars heat up and interact with other baking ingredients. In baking, sugar plays a role in the texture of the baked goods rather than just adding a sweet flavor.
While each product is different, some stevia sugars make a poor direct replacement for sugar. In some cases, you have to use half sugar and half stevia for the recipe to turn out right.
Contrary to what the name suggests, coconut sugar does not come from a coconut, and it does not taste like coconut either. It is actually the ground stalk of the flowers that grow on coconut trees called coconut blossoms. Coconut sugar resembles brown sugar. It is a very soft sugar, almost to the point of being powdery.
Since coconut sugar is so powdery, it can leave baked goods feeling dense and dry. To compensate for the texture, it is often good to add extra melted butter or fruit like applesauce or mashed banana to the mix of a baking recipe. These small adjustments add extra moisture to keep the end result of the recipe looking and tasting the way it should.
As far as taste goes, many people compare coconut sugar to brown sugar. Some even describe it as having a taste like smoky caramel. Coconut sugar has a more robust flavor than regular sugar, making it an excellent choice for baked goods that are more savory and lean into the caramel, butter and brown sugar flavors. Bakers can use the same amount of coconut sugar as a recipe calls for white sugar.
Agave nectar comes from the agave plant. The agave plant is full of sweet juice. After the plant is juiced, the juice is boiled, similar to how maple syrup is produced. The end product is sweet, liquid nectar. Agave nectar is a great option for baking because it is very sweet, so there is no artificial aftertaste or lack of sweetness. Some compare the taste of agave nectar to honey.
While agave nectar adds sweetness to a recipe, it shares very few similarities with sugar. Agave nectar is a liquid, so used on its own, it can make the result too soft or even runny. To accommodate for the extra liquid that the agave nectar will add, put an extra quarter cup of flour in the baking mixture for every cup of agave nectar that you use. For baking, agave nectar is about as sweet as sugar, so it can be used in the same measurements as a recipe calls for using sugar.