Summer brings family and friends together for backyard barbeques, outdoor picnics, and graduation parties. That’s why it’s the best time of the year for bakers to show off their skills.
Pies, tarts, and cakes filled with just-picked berries, or crumbles featuring fresh local fruits, will always be a hit – as will the freshly-baked brownies or cookies which perfectly complement ice cream and watermelon.
Not everyone gets to enjoy those sugary treats. For people with diabetes, the desserts served at parties are usually just an unpleasant reminder that they regularly have to pass on yummy homemade goodies like fruit pies and hot-from-the-oven brownies. That’s not only a shame, it’s an avoidable problem. A number of sugar substitutes can be used to make delicious desserts, as well as the muffins, white breads, biscuits, and other foods that some people with diabetes may have to eliminate from their everyday diet.
Replacing sugar with another ingredient is more complicated than it might seem. A recipe may call for a cup of sugar, but a cup of the substitute product will often be way too much. Some sugar alternatives don’t stay stable at high temperatures, while others leave a bad aftertaste. And sugar contributes more than sweetness to baked goods; it also adds volume, texture and caramelization, so when sugar is taken out of a recipe other ingredients may have to be added or adjusted to compensate.
That makes it crucial to choose the right sugar substitute. Here are the four you should consider for your summer baking.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol which many manufacturers use in sugar-free products like cookies and candy, largely because of its low glycemic index. It isn’t completely calorie- or carb-free, but it has substantially fewer calories and carbs than sugar. And Xylitol has two important qualities you won’t find in most sugar substitutes: its taste is very close to that of the real thing, and it can be substituted for sugar at a one-for-one ratio.
Xylitol isn’t the right choice for all recipes. It doesn’t get along well with yeast so you can’t use it to bake loaves in your bread machine, and since it doesn’t caramelize to create a telltale “baked goods color” it’s best used in recipes featuring other ingredients which contribute color (cocoa powder, for example). Don’t pig out, though, because Xylitol has a laxative effect when consumed in large quantities.
Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar, has no calories, remains stable at baking temperatures, and has quickly become one of the world’s most popular sugar substitutes (and perhaps the most notorious, thanks to Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Lydia Rodarte-Quayle). There are several brands of stevia on the market, but Truvia is the best choice for baking because it also contains erythritol, a sugar alcohol which adds texture and bulk to a recipe.
If you’re using regular Truvia in a recipe, replace each ¼ cup of sugar with either six packets or one tablespoon plus two teaspoons of Truvia. That should work fine if you’re baking a pie or crumble that primarily uses sugar for its sweetness. However, other baked goods like cakes or cookies won’t have the bulk or color of a product made with sugar. For that reason, the manufacturer strongly suggests using ¼ cup of sugar and substituting Truvia for the rest. That will also cover the slightly bitter taste of stevia.
If you’re willing to include a small amount of sugar, Truvia offers two other products to make it easy: baking blend (a mix of Trivia and white sugar) and brown sugar blend. For each cup of sugar in the recipe use just half-a-cup of a Truvia blend, and with a little practice your baked goods should look and taste almost exactly like ones made with sugar.
Luo Han Guo (Monk Fruit)
No, you don’t have to search far and wide for this zero-calorie, low-carbsugar substitute. It’s marketed under several brand names, including Nectresse and Monk Fruit in the Raw. The former is a bit sweeter because it also contains erythritol instead of the dextrose that’s added to Monk Fruit in the Raw, but neither product has a bitter aftertaste. When substituting Luo Han Guo for sugar in a recipe you should use approximately one-half the specified amount, unless you use Monk Fruit in the Raw’s “baker’s bag,” which allows you to substitute on a one-for-one basis.
As an added plus, preliminary research shows that monk fruit extract may lower both lipids and blood sugars while also acting as an antioxidant. The taste of baked goods made with monk fruit is just about the best you can get with a sugar substitute, but bulk and moistness will likely be an issue.
Perfecting a recipe when substituting fruit for sugar may require some trial-and-error to get the ratios right. However, the effort is worth making if you’re baking cookies, muffins or other items which don’t have to “bulk up” during the baking process. The fruit can be used in many forms: pureed frozen, canned or fresh fruit, the fruit pulp that remains after you use a juicer, even dried fruit if you’re baking goodies like brownies or cookies.
For starters, substitute the fruit for sugar in a one-for-one ratio and see how the finished product comes out, then alter the amount of fruit as necessary. With drier forms of fruit like pulp, you may need to add some extra butter or fat to the recipe.
Be a Chef, Not a Cook
Most recipes are created for cooks who simply follow the instructions they’re given. Chefs, on the other hand, understand the purpose of each ingredient and how it will interact with the others. Chefs can alter recipes and make substitutions on the fly, knowing what to expect as a result.
Since sugar performs a number of important functions in a recipe, using most sugar substitutes requires you to be more of a chef than a cook – or, at the very least, to have the patience to experiment. Before long, you’ll be turning out delicious sugar-free baked goods that everyone can eat, and everyone will love.