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Sweeteners: Sugar and its Alternatives

Sugar – sucrose – is a carbohydrate that is present naturally in fruits and vegetables. All plants use a natural process called photosynthesis to turn sunlight into the nourishment they need for growth.

Of all known plants, sugar is most highly concentrated in sugar beets and sugar cane. Sugar is simply separated from the beet or cane plant, and the result is 99.95% pure sugar.

When it comes to cooking and baking sugar is indispensable to cooking. It often performs more than one role in a given recipe.  Sugar’s main functions include adding color, texture, flavor and balancing flavor in foods.  Sugar is very important and performs other functions like preserving, and lowering the boiling point in recipes.

Types:

White Sugar: There are many different types of granulated sugar. Some of these are used only by the food industry and professional bakers and are not available in the supermarket. The types of granulated sugars differ in crystal size. Each crystal size provides unique functional characteristics that make the sugar appropriate for a specific food’s special need.

“Table” or white sugar, extra fine, or fine sugar: “Table” or white sugar is the sugar we all have in our kitchens, and most commonly used in food preparation. White sugar is the sugar called for in most cookbook recipes. The food industry stipulates “regular” sugar to be “extra fine” or “fine” because small crystals are ideal for bulk handling and not susceptible to caking.

Fruit Sugar: Fruit sugar is slightly finer than “regular” sugar and is used in dry mixes such as gelatin and pudding desserts, and powdered drinks. Fruit sugar has a more uniform small crystal size than “regular” sugar. The uniformity of crystal size prevents separation or settling of larger crystals to the bottom of the box, an important quality in dry mixes.

Artificial Sweetners:

 Aspartame: Heat destroys components of this artificial sweetener and is not suitable for cooking and canning with heat

Saccharin: Used in commercial cooking and canning, but carries a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning label as a possible health hazard.  Not recommended for home cooking and preserving.

 Sucralase: Sucralase is heat-stable and a great substitute for sucrose in cooking and preserving.

 

The below chart recreated from The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol W. Costenbader (2002) is a great source to help when substituting sugar in cooking and canning:

Chart of Sugar Substitutes

ITEM TO USE AS A SUBSTITUTE VARIATION PRODUCED CALORIES
Brown Sugar Packed; equal parts for equal parts Changes color of food & impacts a distinct flavor 17 per teaspoon
Light Corn Syrup Replace 25% of sugar called for with this this syrup Increases richness of color; in jelly helps coat fruits 19 per teaspoon
Fructose (granulated) Use 1/3 less for same sweetening power Much sweeter than table sugar (sucrose) 18 per teaspoon
Honey (mild flavor) Replace up to ½ of sugar called for with honey Has double the sweetening power of sucrose 21 per teaspoon

(Costenbader, 2002, pg. 15)

Measuring Tips:

For the greatest accuracy when measuring granulated, superfine, powdered, or turbinado sugar, we recommend treating it as you do flour: lightly spoon the sugar into a dry measuring cup, and level off the excess with the flat side of a knife.

Brown sugar’s moist texture requires that it be measured differently from other sugars. Because it can trap air, you need to firmly pack it into measuring cups or spoons when doling it out; the sugar should hold the shape of the cup or spoon when it’s turned out.

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