Questions Answered: Sugar, Honey, Agave, Stevia – #2
by Elise Schwartz | July 9, 2010 1:26 AM
On to round two, Sweeteners I DO Recommend, why, and [probably most importantly] how to use them! :) I have come to learn that cooking and baking in an unconventional way is a bit of an art form! With that said, it also becomes easier the more you do it. Practice makes perfect! I barely think about how to substitute anymore these days. It has become second nature, so hang in there, you’ll get it, too!
Sweeteners I DO Recommend, Why, and HOW to Use ‘Em:
What is stevia and why is it creating such a buzz lately? Stevia Rebaudiana is an natural herb in the Chrysanthemum family which grows in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. The steviosides (steviol glycosides, or sugar molecules) in its leaves account for its incredible sweetness, making it unique among the nearly 300 different species of Stevia plants. The sweet steviosides have been extracted and used as sweetener in South America since 1887, the earliest time it was recorded. Today, stevia is widely used in South America, Asia, Israel, Spain and other parts of Europe. It is becoming more main stream in the U.S., but has seen resistance from the FDA as they try to protect their money flow coming from artificial sweeteners.
Twenty+ years worth of studies have been done on stevia consumption (that’s more than what most prescription drugs go thru before they hit your mouth) and stevia has been found completely non-toxic and safely consumed in massive quantities by many different nations.
Cooking With Stevia
HOW to cook and bake with stevia comes with a learning curve, so be prepared if you’re new to this! Stevia is much sweeter than sugar but has none of sugar’s unhealthy drawbacks. The refined extracts of Stevia (steviosides) are zero calories and 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. This is why you use much less volume in a recipe than you would sugar. Here is the conversion chart I use. It’s got all your stevia options on there (pure powder, blended powder or liquid). It’s a wonderful resource, share with your friends! Print it out and tape to the inside cupboard door that you often do your baking near. You’ll never have to guess at stevia again!
There are two drawbacks of cooking with stevia. One (and it’s a pet peeve of mine) is that it doesn’t caramelize like sugar or honey, so often I’ll throw in a teaspoon of honey here and there, like on a sweet chicken dish or grilled foods to get a rich color and flavor.
The second is the loss of volume, which is extremely important when baking. You’ll need to follow the conversion chart along with one other adjustment. In order to make up for the volume lost through replacing a cup of sugar with only 1 1/2 teaspoons of Pure Stevia Liquid, you need to add something to keep the right consistency. I will usually add a bit of honey or unsweetened apple fiber.
To make unsweetened apple fiber place unsweetened applesauce in a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Place the strainer in a bowl and let sit overnight in your refrigerator. In the morning you will have apple fiber in the strainer and apple juice in the bowl. [Make your own raw apple sauce by pureeing Granny Smith apple chunks until smooth and proceed from there with straining.]
Replace each cup of sugar in your recipe with 1 cup of apple fiber, as well as 1 1/2 teaspoons of Stevia Liquid. This will replace both the sweetness and the volume. An additional benefit to using this method is that you can reduce the oil content in your baking, as the apple fiber will create a more moist finished product.
I personally love the Stevita brand stevia. I have been using their brand solely for two years now and never have any problems with a bitter aftertaste! Stevita uses 95% minimum pure steviosides. Other brands you find at your grocery store aren’t as pure (some only use 85% or even 50% steviosides and the rest is filler) and that is why you get that bitter aftertaste. So make sure whatever brand you are using is certified pure, and the only ingredient in pure stevia should be stevia. Watch out for brands that are adding Dextrose (a chemically altered sugar) to the mix. I’ve also enjoyed using Stevita’s “Stevia Supreme” which is a blend of stevia and xylitol. It’s a much more user friendly stevia product, converting becomes quick and easy. And the xylitol rounds out the sweetness as stevia is a bit harsh and upfront sweetness level. But again, no after taste with that product either. Love it!
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a sugar substitute. It is a naturally occurring 5-carbon sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables. Xylitol is also produced naturally in our bodies from the foods we eat. Our bodies produce up to 15 grams of xylitol from other food sources using established energy pathways. You can purchase processed xylitol as a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar. This is made from either CORN or BIRCH TREES. Which do you think is the better option? :)
A tip of the hat to my ancestral home land, Finland, which is where xylitol extraction was first discovered and where the term comes from. Xylitol was first derived from birch trees in Finland in the late 19th century and was popularized in Europe as a safe sweetener for people with diabetes that would not impact insulin levels. Since it has a low Glycemic Index, xylitol is absorbed more slowly than sugar, so it does not contribute to high blood sugar levels or the resulting hyperglycemia caused by insufficient insulin response. It can also be extracted from the fibers of many fruits and vegetables (berries, lettuce, corn husks, oats, mushrooms) but is most commonly taken from corn here in the U.S., which is something to watch out for when purchasing xylitol. You need to make sure it is certified birch xylitol and that it is steam processed, not nickel processed.
There are other great oral/dental and sinus/nasal health benefits linked to xylitol, but that’s a complete subject on its own. Try Googling the subject or read more on Mercola.com. It’s best to find a natural toothpaste that uses xylitol rather than sugar to sweeten the taste. Same goes for mouthwash, gum, mints or candy.
Xylitol has no known toxicity in humans. If it’s your first time using xylitol, keep in mind that like most sugar alcohols, it has a laxative effect because sugar alcohols are not fully broken down during digestion. Normal symptoms following your first consumption include bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence, but your body will adapt and learn how to process this more complex form of sweetener. Moderation is key to avoid these symptoms! As a rule of thumb, I recommend no more than 1/4-1/3 cup of sugar alcohol in one day for an adult. And, children under 2 years should not be given xylitol or any sugar alcohols because their digestive system cannot break them down yet.
Cooking With Xylitol
You’ll be happy to know that xylitol’s ratio to sugar is about an equal 1:1 (that ratio may vary slightly from tasty recipe to tasty recipe). Xylitol is roughly as sweet as sucrose (sugar) with about two-thirds the food energy (1 teaspoon contains 9.5 calories vs 15 calories in a tsp of sugar). There are two points to keep in mind when cooking or baking: 1) xylitol absorbs moisture like you wouldn’t believe, so you may need to adjust cookie/cake recipes accordingly, 2) xylitol won’t help you like sugar does when trying to get something to raise using yeast because it doesn’t feed the yeast.
You’ll notice in most of my recipes I use (Stevita brand) stevia and not xylitol. That is due directly to the cost of xylitol (it’s about $7.00 for a 1lb bag = 2cups = 3-5 recipes depending). On our student budget, stevia is much more frugal as you can buy it in bulk and a little goes a very long way (about $20 for a 1lb blend container = 2cups = 96 tsp = around 35-40 recipes depending). But if you can afford xylitol, definitely use it as it’s so much easier to use ratio wise and has numerous added health benefits! Also, xylitol has virtually no aftertaste, which you often have the problem with when using a less potent brand of stevia. Overall, xylitol is the most user friendly sweetener choice for cooking and baking on the Advanced Plan.
Personally, I like to use honey when baking just to keep a similar texture to cakes, cookies and pies that use cane sugar. You may have noticed in many of my desserts sugar is taken out and replaced mostly with stevia but I still throw in a small portion of honey. I do that for two reasons: 1) to round out the flavor as stevia can come off harsh, 2) to keep a light texture to the baked goods. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture. This ability helps cakes/baked goods turn out more moist than when using sugar or when using stevia/xylitol alone.
I recommend using artisanal raw honey (from a small, local farm). Choosing local implies that great care was taken to make the product with minimal, if any, use of chemicals, making it organic. However, be careful because organic does not always mean artisanal and vice versa. Local honey also means that pollen from local plants and flowers was used to make the honey — this helps you avoid any allergic reactions in case you didn’t know you were allergic to a foreign flower. Raw honey is honey that has not been heated or filtered, as is typical of the mass produced honey you find in grocery stores which damages the nutritional and healing properties of the honey. Mass produced clover honeys have been shown to contain heavy metals and chemicals passed on by the processing process.
The main benefits of raw honey are its natural taste and lower glycemic index compared to sugar. You will digest the honey slower and won’t experience that typical sugar high and crash. Honey also contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals, making it a more nutritious choice compared to sugar, which has no nutritional benefits. But yes, honey is still sugar, so don’t gorge yourself on honey just because it isn’t white sugar. It can still compromise your immune system, and if you are fighting an illness or on the Advanced Plan, I do not recommend it.
Cooking With Honey
Honey is sweeter than sugar, so you’ll want to use less of it when substituting. The honey to sugar conversion I recommend is 3/4 cup honey to 1 cup sugar. Especially when baking, you need to remember that honey is about 17% water (while sugar is 0% water), so for each cup of sugar you replace with honey, you’ll need to remove about 8 teaspoons of liquid from the recipe. Also, baking with honey doesn’t allow for as long a shelf life as sugar, so store food in the fridge for up to 3 days. As honey draws in moisture from the air, your baked goods will turn mushy fast which will make them rot more quickly.
Other baking tips: Lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F when baking with honey to prevent over-browning. For baked goods, it also helps to add and extra 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey.
In some cases, it’s easiest to just use fruit as the sweetener in a recipes. A common example is using apple sauce in place of sugar. You can also puree berries or other fruits and use in cakes/brownies. If you have a juicer at home, make fresh fruit juice and use in place of sugar. Other common examples are using berries in smoothies and shakes or grinding up dried fruits for use in pie crusts. I also like to make frosting using bananas or avocados instead of powdered sugar.
If you are on the Advanced Plan, consuming fruit is not recommended for a period of time, so you need to be careful, but fruit is a better choice than sugar as it will take a little longer for the body to break it down. On the Advanced Plan, I recommend using Stevia or Xylitol over honey or fruit to allow the inflammation to fully decrease and let your body HEAL.
- [Image]: http://theteachick.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/stevialeaf.jpg
- the conversion chart I use: http://www.cookingwithstevia.com/stevia_conversion_chart.html
- [Image]: http://www.tundratrading.com/images/products/birch.jpg
- [Image]: http://thepurebar.com/veronicasblog/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/honey.jpg
- [Image]: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Qlt6p9Yi38E/TDUDGs-EKQI/AAAAAAAADAY/KUhNvsF3AcY/s1600/bakingwithfruit.JPG
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