Sugar, Artificial Sweeteners, and Natural Alternatives


Mankind has had a collective sweet tooth since time immemorial and, during that entire time, has been hunting for some sort of natural sweetener to give his food that extra something in taste.

A major trend in the matter of sweeteners is to go the “natural” route; using ingredients that have been derived from fruits or other comestibles seems to be the direction the natural food industry is following. Also to be considered is the use of “artificial” sweeteners whereby food is sweetened with a chemically treated blend.

Let us take a look at the 3 categories of sweeteners: sugar, artificial sweeteners, and of course, natural sweeteners.>

SUGAR, once an indulgence affordable only by the rich, is now available for everyone. An inexpensive and plentiful comestible, it comes as granulated white, brown, and confectionary sugar, among other forms. Besides adding sweetness, sugar can add tenderness and stability to dough and mixes and gives a golden-brown color to baked bread and such. The primary sources of commercial sugar are Sugar Cane and Sugar Beets.
Some varieties of sugar are the following:
  • GRANULATED WHITE SUGAR, an all-purpose, highly refined sugar, consists of nearly 99% pure sucrose. During the course of processing, most of its original flavor and color compounds are removed. Organic, unbleached sugars are healthier and more natural than white, refined sugar.

  • CONFECTIONARY (or POWDERED) SUGAR is granulated white sugar pulverized to a fine powder by pressure. To keep the powder from clumping, small amounts of cornstarch are added to the mix.

  • BROWN SUGAR comes in varying degrees of quality. There may be added colors or flavors added to an inferior grade brown sugar; there is generally no difference in composition between this type of brown sugar and refined white sugar. Crystallized evaporated cane sugar that has been slightly purified is used to produce unrefined brown sugars (or raw sugars). 85-98% sucrose, brown sugar adds a wonderfully rich and distinctive flavor and will make anything you are baking moister, with a suggestion of caramel taste. Specialty brown sugars include:
    • DEMERARA is a medium brown sugar which is coarsely ground. Its crunchy texture and slightly molasses taste make it perfect for decorating baked goods. The crunchiness is great for pie toppings.
    • DARK MUSCOVADO (or BARBADOS) contains a high degree of molasses and offers a moist texture to gingerbread and like baked goods.
    • TURBINADO is a honeyish-flavored, golden brown sugar which has been coarsely ground. It is quite similar to Demerara.
    • UNREFINED DEHYDRATED CANE JUICE is usually made by the extraction and dehydration and sometimes crystallization of the cane juice. There is minimal processing with little loss of the original flavor, color, or nutrients. Made of 85-95%sucrose, unrefined dehydrated can juice can be substituted for white sugar in an one-to-one ratio.
Be sure to store these types of sugars in tightly sealed thick plastic bags, or glass jars, in a cool, dry location. Handy tip: if your brown sugar hardens, put a wedge of apple in with the sugar and let it sit for a few days. The sugar will become soft again and you can dispose of the apple.

The next category of sweeteners includes NATURAL SWEETENERS that can be substituted for white sugar:
  • AGAVE comes from a cactus plant generally found in Mexico. It is a sticky juice containing 90% fructose. Not as sweet or thick as honey, agave can be used as a honey substitute, or as a sugar substitute, in any number of drinks or dishes. Try it it on cereal.

  • BARLEY MALT SYRUP is a thick and dark sweetener made from soaked and sprouted barley. Because it is slowly digested, it treats blood sugar levels more gently than do other sweeteners. Its flavor tastes like malt and is ideally suited for brewing beer.

  • BROWN RICE SYRUP is naturally processed from sprouted brown rice. It is a thick, amber-colored syrup tasting slightly of butterscotch. Brown rice syrup is not a good choice for baking; the baked goods usually turn out hard or very crisp.

  • DATE SUGAR is made from dehydrated dates that have been ground into coarse granules.It is full of iron, potassium, and vitamins, especially folic acid, a substance that is vital for your nervous system. Take care when baking with date sugar; it burns quite easily.

  • FRUIT JUICE CONCENTRATES are fruit juices, such as peach, pear, grape, and pineapple, that have been cooked down to a sweeter and more concentrated syrup. They are generally amber-colored and are frozen to maximize shelf life.

  • HONEY is the oldest-known unrefined sweetener. It is a thick, sweet substance collected from flower nectar by bees. Historically, through time, it has been consumed in activities from the sacred to the profane; its uses include that of a general sweetener, condiment, and as an ingredient in sweet and succulent dishes. Honey has been frequently used as a component of religious ceremonies and rituals, and has played an important role, when fermented, in the production of alcoholic beverages.=

    Honey’s flavor and color will vary, depending depending upon exactly which flower nectar has been collected by the bees. Since the source of the nectar can carry, so will the sugar content of the honey. Honey is made up of equal parts of sucrose and fructose. The darker the honey, the more intense the taste. The highest quality honey is not processed, not filtered, nor refined; never give raw honey to children younger than 2 years old because of the risk of infant botulism.

  • MAPLE SYRUP and MAPLE SUGAR are natural, barely refined sweeteners. Maple trees are tapped for their sap which is boiled down into maple syrup. The syrup is aromatic and is approximately 62% sucrose. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Maple syrup is divided into Grade A and Grade B; the former is tapped early in the season and is high quality; the latter is harvested at the end of the season and is darker and intensely flavored. MAPLE SUGAR is dehydrated maple syrup that is packages light brown granules. Its sweetness is so concentrated, it is twice as sweet as white sugar. Maple sugar candy is so sweet only a small amount can be eaten at a time.

  • MOLASSES is a thick, dark syrup that is a byproduct from the process of refining sugar; the syrup is left behind after the accessible sucrose has been crystallized from cane juice. The first boiling produces light molasses; the second, dark molasses; and the third, and final, Blackstrap molasses. Blackstrap is the least sweet version but has higher numbers of minerals, such as potassium and calcium. Molasses is generally reserved for baking.
The third and final category belongs to the ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS. Most people are, at least, somewhat familiar with the properties of each. The FDA has approved 5 artificial sweeteners for use. Some authorities say artificial sweeteners are harmful to our heath, while others feel there is no danger.1
  • ACESULFAME K has a controversial reputation. It is usually marketed as Sweet One® or Sunnette®. 200 times sweeter than sugar, but with no calories, it can be found in Jell-O®, nondairy creamers, and Coca-Cola Zero®. It is also found in some baked goods, frozen desserts, candies, beverages, cough drops, and breath mints. Unfortunately, Acesulfame K is considered to be a potential carcinogen.

  • ASPARTAME has been on the market since the 1980s. It is ubiquitous. Popular brands are Equal® and NutraSweet®, available throughout the nation. Aspartame is found in sodas, chewing gum, dairy products, and several medicines. It can also be found in many beverages and dessert items: Diet Coke®, Caffeine Free Diet Coke®, Diet Pepsi®, Diet Snapple®, Sugar Free Kool Aid®, Breyers Light Ice Cream®, and General Foods Sugar-Free International Coffees®. Side effects of Aspartame consumption include headaches, seizures, and mood swings.

  • NEOTAME, depending upon in what manner it is used in food, can be 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar. It is a general-purpose sweetener, with zero calories, and is used in many food products other than poultry or meat. Neotame can be found in baked goods, soft drinks, chewing gum, icing, frozen desserts, jellies, jams, gelatins, puddings, processed fruit and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups. Structurally, it is very much like Aspartame.

  • SACCHARIN is the sweetener in Sweet ‘n Low® (tablets, powder, and drops), Tab®, and Diet Coke® from fountains (as opposed to a canned or bottled soda). It is even an ingredient in cough medicine and tooth paste. In the 1970s it was thought to cause cancer, but now is considered to generally be safe. Own its own, it has an unpleasant aftertaste that is both bitter and metallic.

  • SUCRALOSE is also known as Splenda®, the most popular sweetener sold in the United States. Containing no calories, it can be found in the latest versions of Diet Coke® and Pepsi One®. Its taste is not as metallic as that of Aspartame. In rare instances, a migraine headache may appear after consuming Sucralose. This artificial sweetener is used in Coke C2®, Diet Coke® with Splenda®, Pepsi EDGE®, Pepsi One®, and Diet 7Up®.

    600 times sweeter than sugar, Sucralose has no calories. It is made from table sugar, but the body does not digest it, leaving the calories (or lack thereof) a moot point. Sucralose has been approved to be used as a tabletop sweetener, as well as in beverages, chewing gum, frozen desserts, fruit juices, and gelatins.
___
1A simple search of the topic, such as here will result in thousands of opinions on the subject.

©2007 Terry Kaufman for Niftykitchen.com
No reprints or any commercial usage without written permission, except for linking to this page, which is encouraged