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We all love a sugar buzz, but too much sucrose wreaks havoc on our health. Enter the alternatives: From agave to stevia, natural sweeteners are the hottest thing in markets. But can you bake with them? We tried. And failed. Then, we sought help from PCC Cooks teacher Ami Karnosh and Flying Apron Bakery’s Jennifer Katzinger. With their help, and practice, we found our refined-sugar-free desserts started to taste, well, tasty.

Sugar Sub Study in our Shopping Guide


Solids
Rapunzel Rapadura
Claim to fameIt looks like dirty sugar, but rapadura—unrefined, unbleached organic sugar cane that’s about as sweet as the white stuff—retains nutritional components lost in refined sweeteners. 
Taste and textureCaramel flavor, with a hint of molasses. Grainy. 

Calories per tablespoon 45
The test kitchen suggestsA one-to-one replacement for sugar, it works in any recipe. Go for it. 

Erba Dolce Stevia
Claim to fame A South American herb in the sunflower family, stevia is 200 percent sweeter than sucrose, has zero calories, and won’t affect blood sugar, so it’s safe for diabetics—and supermodels. 
Taste and texture Anise, with an acrid aftertaste. Fine granules.
Calories per tablespoon 0
The test kitchen suggests Tasty in Jell-o, stevia can overwhelm a cooked dish. Try it in dishes with other strong flavors like cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.

 

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Sugar Sub Study in our Shopping Guide 

Liquids (Pour Easily)
Colibree Agave Nectar
Claim to fameMade from the expressed juice of the blue agave plant (also the base for tequila, but agave won’t lead to bar brawls); it’s one and a half times as sweet as sugar but won’t cause the spike—and crash—of sucrose.

Taste and texture A milder version of honey. Lightly viscous.
Calories per tablespoon 60
The test kitchen suggests It’s good in cakes and breads, but can thin out batter, so add a quarter cup extra flour or cornstarch.

 

Tahuya River Apiaries Raw Honey
Claim to fame Honey, a staple in any tree hugger’s pantry, is a flower nectar derivative produced by bees. It has the same sweetness as agave nectar and contains healthy phytonutrients and enzymes.
Taste and texture Intensely sweet, flowery. Viscous.
Calories per tablespoon 64
The test kitchen suggestsUse in cakes, breads, and cookies. Desserts with honey or agave can become overbrown in the oven, so reduce heat by 25 degrees and bake slightly longer.

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Sugar Sub Study in our Shopping Guide

Liquids (Molasses Texture)

Eden Foods Barley Malt Syrup
Claim to fame This syrup created from barley cooked to a thick goo is half as sweet as sugar and digested more slowly.
Taste and texture Caramel notes, much milder and less sweet than sugar. Thick.
Calories per tablespoon 60
The test kitchen suggestsMix into pie crusts, spice cake, gingerbread. It works well in conjunction with other sweeteners.


Lundberg Brown Rice Syrup
Claim to fame
Made from brown rice cooked to a thick goo, it is about half as sweet as sugar. It’s also hypoallergenic.
Taste and texture Earthy, ricelike. Gummy and viscous.
Calories per tablespoon 75
The test kitchen suggests This sticky syrup works best in foods that benefit from glueyness: Toffee, granola, and nut bars.

This article appeared in the March 2009 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.