Which Natural Sweeteners are the Best?
Posted on February 05 2013 | (2) Comments
Category: Fan Questions, Answered! Tags:
Fan Question: Which sweeteners can I use in your dessert recipes? Can I replace agave nectar if it's called for?
In my book, Raw For Dessert, I use a variety of sweeteners to replace white sugar. People often ask me which sweeteners are best to use and if they are interchangeable. Here are my thoughts!
The best sweetener is fresh fruit--it's filled with fiber and vitamins. Sometimes for dessert I'll just have a tangerine or some fresh strawberries--can't get much healthier than that!
When I need something sweeter than fresh fruit, I'll use dried fruit, such as dates, figs, or raisins. For example, the only sweetener in my Flourless Chocolate Cake is dates.
But sometimes you need a more concentrated sweetener. I sometimes use agave nectar, a natural sweetener made from the agave plant. Recently, there's been some controversy about agave. Here are some concerns I've heard about it:
1. It may not be as raw or naturally processed as we previously thought (depending on the brand)
2. It is high in fructose, and consuming large amounts of fructose may lead to weight gain and other health problems.
While I don't view agave as a health food, I'm also not on board with the whole "agave is the devil" thinking. Here is my opinion about sweeteners--ALL concentrated sweeteners (honey, agave, maple syrup, etc) are not healthful when consumed in large amounts. Whether they are mostly sucrose, fructose, or glucose, they are still refined sugars and are not good for you. Concentrated sweeteners should be only used in very small amounts and/or for special occasions. Is consuming 1/2 cup of agave a good idea? No! But neither is consuming 1/2 cup of maple syrup!
On the other hand, when you're talking about the differences between a couple of teaspoons of agave vs. a couple of teaspoons of honey or maple syrup, I'd venture to say those differences in terms of the effect on your health are going to be pretty negligible.
Taste-wise I do like agave nectar in some desserts because it has a neutral flavor that doesn't compete with other flavors in the dessert. However, if you prefer to use a different sweetener in any of my dessert recipes, go right ahead! They are all interchangeable.
Here are some other sweeteners that I like:
Raw honey--If you aren't opposed to bee products, raw honey is delicious and also contains some vitamins and enzymes when it's raw. You can use it to replace agave in any recipe. (It's also got quite a bit of fructose, but as I've said, when you're talking about small amounts of a sweetener I don't think this is something to get paranoid about)
Maple syrup--not raw, but pretty natural and really yummy!
Coconut nectar--This is a relatively new sweetener on the market. It's low-glycemic (won't spike your blood sugar the way white sugar does), relatively low fructose, natural, eco-friendly, and raw. It also contains some vitamins and minerals. It does have an intense caramelly flavor, which I like, but which doesn't always work in desserts where you want a really neutral flavor. But from a health perspective, it's probably the best choice when you need a concentrated liquid sweetener
The bottom line is all of the above sweeteners are interchangeable in raw desserts. Don't look at the recipe as the final word, and feel free to use the sweetener of your choice.