Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses: Organic and natural varieties may not have removed some of the original molasses, though most conventional varieties remove it entirely and then add some molasses back in. Making your own is easy: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of molasses to each cup of white sugar and mix. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that’s only partially refined to remove the surface molasses, yielding a flavor similar to light brown sugar. Thanks to less processing, the crystals are slightly larger, and lend a satisfying crunch to muffins or cookies when sprinkled on top before baking. Sucanat is an abbreviation for “sugar cane natural.” It’s whole cane sugar that’s less processed than other varieties, so it may contain some small amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin B6, and potassium. You can use it interchangeably with white sugar.
Honey is similar in sweetness to sugar, and the raw, unprocessed stuff contains beneficial phytonutrients. Consuming local varieties may help alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms, too. Sub it 1:1 for white sugar when baking for a sweet, floral flavor, but lower the baking temperature by 25 degrees. Adjust moisture levels by reducing a recipe’s liquids by ¼ cup for every cup of honey you swap in. (Never give honey to a baby under 12 months, due to the risk of infant botulism.) Maple syrup can be substituted for sugar in baking just like honey (it’ll boost the warm, homey flavor of baked goods). Bonus: The sticky stuff contains some immune-boosting zinc and manganese, says Elizabeth Ward, R.D., author of several nutrition books. It also boasts more than 20 healthboosting antioxidants. Agave nectar tastes like a mild honey, has the consistency of maple syrup, and comes from the agave plant (yes, the same one that makes tequila). It has a low glycemic index (read: won’t spike your blood sugar), but is higher in fructose than regular sugar. For that reason, some people avoid it. If you choose to use it, keep in mind that it’s sweeter than sugar; when baking, add only half as much agave as you would sugar (adjusting other liquid volumes accordingly) and set the oven 25 degrees lower. Molasses is what’s left over when sugarcane is refined to make white sugar. It’s a good source of calcium, iron, and potassium (especially the blackstrap variety). Molasses has an earthy, full-bodied taste that complements spiced or chocolatey baked goods—but doesn’t quite work as a stand-alone replacement for sugar.
Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener that comes from the stevia plant and is available in granules or liquid form. It’s nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar, but some people find it has a bitter aftertaste. It is approved by the FDA, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest believes there should be further testing before it’s used as regularly as sugar. Note that it’s not great for baking because it doesn’t crystallize. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Despite the name, sugar alcohols are not actually sugar or alcohol—they are sweeteners derived from fruit and vegetable fibers. Xylitol contains 10 calories per teaspoon, and is often used to sweeten gum and toothpaste. It has a very low glycemic index, making it safe for diabetics. You can use it for baking in place of sugar; there’s no aftertaste. Erythritol is a calorie-free sugar alcohol that’s also available in crystallized form under the brand name Zero. Not quite as sweet as sugar, it’s extracted from foods like melons, mushrooms, and grapes, and used to sweeten diet sodas, chewing gum, and some sugar-free baked goods. Erythritol has no glycemic index, but doesn’t dissolve as easily as sugar. Reprinted from KIWI Magazine