Favorite Veg on the Web: Baking without Sugar

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As you know, this year I started a new series called “Favorite Veg on the Web,” where each month I feature one of my favorite food bloggers. This month, there’s two small catches. First, I’ll be featuring two food bloggers, one this Saturday and one next Saturday, as opposed to the usual one. And second, neither food blogger is vegetarian or vegan… BUT they each have a unique perspective that I thought would be great to share on Como Water. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Carolyn of the wonderful food blog, All Day I Dream About Food. On her blog, Carolyn candidly discusses the challenges and triumphs of low-carb cooking and baking. I’ll let you read about how and why she transitioned to a low carb diet here, and without further delay, pass it over to her to discuss the ins-and-outs of baking without sugar! :D (P.S. All of the photos in this post are Carolyn’s lovely baked creations!)

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Baking Without Sugar

I am so flattered that Tiff has asked me to talk to you today about baking without sugar.  I am by no means an expert, but as a diabetic, I have done my fair share and I’ve certainly learned a thing or two along the way.  I’ve used a number of different sugar substitutes and like any baker, I have my favourites and preferred methods.  But I will try to be as objective as I can!

The first thing you should know is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, behaves quite the way sugar does.  No matter how much the manufacturers attempt to make their product measure like sugar and be as sweet as sugar, I know of nothing that bakes up the same way sugar does.  This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.  It’s just something you have to get used to.  If you expect your alternative sweeteners to behave exactly like sugar, you will be sorely disappointed.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t get great results, you just have to be ready to accommodate the differences.

I break sugar substitutes into two major categories:  artificial (man-made) and naturally-occurring.  Notice I don’t say “all-natural” here.  The “all-natural” label can be incredibly misleading, since there are no formal guidelines to what products can call themselves natural.  So I am referring to products that actually occur in nature, as opposed to being chemically-derived.  But like sugar, they need to be processed out of their naturally-occurring state for us to use them as sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners:  This includes sucralose (Splenda®), aspartame and saccharine, among others.  I tend not to use these much, because I don’t like how they are made and I don’t like how they taste.  But they have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive and widely available in most grocery stores.  They are as sweet or sweeter than sugar and are often manufactured to measure cup for cup like sugar, to help bakers figure out how much to use.  I won’t speak to any health issues associated with them, except to say that they are considered by the FDA to be GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe).

Your biggest issue with these sweeteners is that they lack bulk.  What does this mean for baking?  Well, they lack much volume and even the granulated versions are so light and powdery that they don’t add much besides sweetness to your recipe.  They won’t whip little air bubbles into creamed butter, which is what gives many cakes their fine crumb.  If bulk is necessary for the recipe, you will have to find ways to make up for it with another ingredient.  These sweeteners also won’t help your recipe brown or caramelize, if you need it to, so the final product may appear paler than one made with sugar.

Naturally-Occurring:  This category includes stevia and the sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol (I am excluding other sugar alcohols like sorbital and maltitol here because they can raise blood glucose almost as much as regular sugar).  There are other naturally-occurring sweeteners, but these are the most commonly available on the market.  They tend to be more expensive than the artificial sweeteners.  Stevia is much, much sweeter than sugar (about 600 times in its concentrated form), so a little goes a long way, but it also has a distinctive, licorice-like aftertaste that some people don’t like.  Xylitol and erythritol come in both granulated and powdered versions, so they are very useful in baking, but they tend not to be as sweet as regular sugar.  Xylitol is known to cause gastrointestinal upset when eaten in large doses, and both xylitol and erythritol have a distinctive “mouth-cooling” sensation when used in concentrated quantities.  Erythritol has a crystalline structure like sugar, so it can be used for bulk in baked goods and it will whip tiny air bubbles into creamed butter.

All of these sugar substitutes, both artificial and naturally-occurring, differ from sugar in that they don’t attract and hold moisture.  This can be both good and bad.  It’s good in that the particles don’t clump together in humidity, like sugar does, so your sweetener will always remain pourable right out of the bag.  But it’s bad in that your baked goods may be drier and more crumbly, and you will need to find ways to make up for that, with extra oils, liquids, yogurts or fruit purees.

If you are used to baking with sugar, learning to bake without will largely be a matter of experimentation.  You can take any conventional recipe and swap in a different sweetener, but your results will almost certainly differ from those made with sugar.  If you are mindful of the differences between these products and sugar, however, you can still come up with some amazing and delicious treats that everyone will love.  A great way to begin is to do a little research on recipes that use these sweeteners, to see how they accommodate the differences, and use those as a guideline.  There are a lot of talented bakers out there who don’t use any sugar at all.

In almost all of my sugar-free baking, I used a combination of erythritol and liquid stevia extract.  I sometimes experiment with other sweetening products or other combinations, but I find that this one, which I hit upon early in my sugar-free baking career, really works for most of what I do.  For one thing, I find that in combination, neither the aftertaste of stevia, nor the cooling effect of erythritol, is apparent.  I also favour this combination because it has little to no effect on my blood glucose levels, allowing me to enjoy my baked goods whenever I want.  Most of what I make is also made without wheat flour or gluten, but that’s a whole other subject altogether!

So don’t be afraid to try baking without sugar.  Refined sugars are undoubtedly one of our society’s biggest health issues, and no matter what substitute you choose, you are doing yourself a big favour.  You may have some failures, but you will certainly also have many successes and you will get better and better as you learn.  And I will say that there is nothing quite like enjoying a big slice of cake for breakfast because guess what?  It’s good for you!

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Tiffany M. Griffin is the woman behind Como Water, Washington DC’s premiere veg-centric cuisine consulting company. Through cooking classes, demonstrations, catering, and consultations, Como Water gives people the opportunity to learn how to prepare veg-centric cuisine that boasts maximum flavor, with minimal effort. Tiffany is quickly becoming a go-to expert on the future of veg-centric cuisine, and is a regular contributor to Como Water, the blog, as well as to vegetarian and vegan sites across the Internet. For over a decade, this self-taught, entrepreneurial expert has developed a set of tried and true techniques for making simple, delicious, and sometimes decadent veg-centric dishes. Featured on the Steve Harvey Show and other leading media outlets, Tiffany was born and raised in Springfield, MA. She then earned Bachelors degrees in Psychology and Communications from Boston College and a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan. She now resides in Washington DC, where she has worked in the US Senate and at a federal agency on issues around health, food, nutrition, and international food aid/development, and of course, as the owner of Como Water. Tiffany gets culinary inspiration from the food she grew up eating, and from her travels throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa. She is dedicated to sharing her wealth of knowledge on veg-centric cuisine with others and to help others live by her mantra—love life, live long, and eat veg-centric cuisine!

Comments

  1. As much as I adore sugar, your treats, writing and information were all in all very well presented and I will keep it in mind :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    P.S My sharing has screwed up on foodbuzz and I wondering if that was the case with you and everyone or just me – I am not receiving any posts so I doubt I can share mine either and I am set in opt in – any help would be great!

    • ME TOO!! I just put in a request with Foodbuzz today! I’m so glad I’m not the only one my friend. … sorry we’re in the same club here. :(

  2. Great info on sugar substitutes… I do bake with splenda, but I will check out stevia. Thanks!

  3. Ever since finding “All Day I Dream About Food,” I have drooled over many of the recipes. I’ve even gone as far as purchasing many of the ingredients (though I’m still waiting on a few). However, I had yet to really understand the baking “science” behind why various experiments I’ve tried in the past have had results which were very different from what I expected. Example…an intended cookie recipe turned out much like muffins instead. Not bad, but not what I’d planned.

    Low carb eating works well for my body and I am a self professed “sweet addict.” So I certainly can’t wait to try many of your recipes, Carolyn! Yours is by FAR my favorite food blog :)

  4. I love Carolyn’s blog! This was really wonderful information, thank you for sharing:-) Hugs, Terra

  5. I’m not a baker but where do other natural sweeteners fit in such as honey, maple and agave? Congratulations on making the foodbuzz Top 9!

    • Hi DB…honey, agave, maple and all of those are still “sugar”, as far as the body is concerned, and raise blood sugar just as much. Not great for diabetics, so I steer clear.

  6. Hi There, Congratulations for Top 9 !!!!!!
    Wow…this recipe is looking so Appetizing. A very well made post with beautiful pictures. I can’t wait to try it on my island. Have a wonderful week ahead. Thanks & Regards, Sonia !!!

  7. Much like you have changed the way I look at vegetables, Carolyn has definitely changed the way I look at sugar and carbs. She’s a cooking genius and I love that y’all have teamed up for some Top 9 awesomeness!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this information! I am a vegan baker working on opening up a bakery that caters to dietary restrictions. While I’ve mastered vegan baking, I haven’t come close to finding a good gluten free or diabetic-friendly recipe. I’m so pleased to have found this information. I will definitely be trying out the erythitol/liquid stevia combination next. Cheers!

  9. Thank you so much for this! I’m in the process of switching to Stevia for my coffee every morning (I currently use Splenda) and I’m excited for the change.

    • Hi Nikki,

      I hope you don’t mind that I am putting my 2 cents’ worth here. When I read you were planning on replacing your coffee sweetener from ALL Splenda to ALL stevia I kinda got the feeling that you would hate it…

      Unless you only add 1 little drop to your beverage, the thing about stevia is that if you mix it in coffee, for example, you will taste the bitterness because there is no where for it to hide. But used sparingly in breads, cakes or whole meals (like a coconut-lime Caribbean savory dish, for example), the bitterness blends/disburses into the ingredients and you don’t notice it. I think it is in Asian cooking where they try to have a little bit of each taste in every food (sweet, sour, bitter, salty… Hot & Sour soup comes to mind. They say the tongue prefers those balanced flavors. I guess with that in mind, maybe that is why stevia does do well in a full flavored food item as opposed to a single flavor food (all-stevia gelatin? Yuk!). But I am not trying to sway you away from stevia. I love stevia and use it everyday! It’s just that when trying to sweeten a single flavor profile such as tea or coffee (or gelatin), then you might want to mix multiple sweeteners (again, unless you require VERY little sweetener), to minimize each of their aftertastes as Carolyn states above. For example, for my big mugs of hot tea, I add a mix of 2 sweeteners: a level teaspoon of Lakanto (Luo Han Guo mixed with erythritol) and 2 – 4 drops of liquid stevia, depending on the size of the mug. (I personally use stevia liquid drops. I find drops easier to measure accurately than microscopic pinches of powdered stuff.) My husband prefers a bit of ZSweet (erythritol-stevia combo) and Lakanto (erythritol-Luo Han Guo combo) with his morning coffee plus a splash of cream.

      Just wanted to let you know about my hard lessons-learned with stevia. I used to HATE it and avoid it altogether, but since our choices are so limited in the no-sugar word, I decided to give it a second chance, and by reading informative posts like Carolyn’s, I am learning how to get the best balance -without the aftertaste. Hope this helps! Gabriela

  10. How can I find the recipe for the picture of the muffin that’s posted on Foodbuzz today. I have gone to your actual blog site, but can’t figure out what it is. I’m so happy to find your blog. My son-in-law has health issues that have made me investigate gluten free and sugar free cooking.
    Thanks much!

    • Hi Vicki…those are my lime coconut macadamia nut muffins. If you can’t find them when you search that way, email me at carketch29 (at) yahoo (dot) com and I will send you the link.

  11. I have been baking without sugar for awhile and find that Granular Stevia works really well for me. I just gave away 4 bags of Splenda. I use either Agave Nectar (i know it is really sugar in another form) OR Stevia now. SOmetimes I do bake with sugar but I use organic sugar.

    Anyway thanks for the informative article. Some good information here.

  12. Congratulations on your foodbuzz top 9, today!

  13. great post, both of you! I am so scared of artificial sweeteners, I gave them up all together when I was pregnant because I just wasn’t sure what they would to my little fetus. I haven’t really experimented with any since them. Good info, thanks :)

    • Hi Jackie…I am scared of “artificial” sweeteners too. That’s why I prefer the naturally occurring ones like stevia and erythritol.

  14. Great piece! I am diligent about avoiding sugar. I’ve found that using Xylitol is a great alternative. It doesn’t leave an aftertaste like Stevia sometimes will. If I’m cooking something that really needs a powdered sugar or brown sugar texture or taste, I simply sub half for Stevia or Xylitol.

  15. What a great run-down of the various sugar substitutes. I mainly see stevia extract in sugar-free recipes but it’s also a great tip to try it alongside another substitute.

  16. There’s a great post. A must read for all the bakers. Thanks for sharing.

  17. These goodies will be prefect for my hubby who is also diabetic. He actually stays away from any kind sugar including the artificial and is fine with it. Sometimes I do add Stevia products esp into beverages for him and its a great change I suppose.

    Wonderful informative article with amazing pics.

  18. This is a great post, Congrats ladies!

  19. I’ve been experimenting lately. I don’t love stevia though . . . I have xylosweet and I like that. I also sometimes use Splenda but try not to . . . . my question is . . . is xylosweet and erythitol (and stevia) OK for toddlers? I don’t give my son splenda but he is dying to try the things I make with the other sweeteners. Thanks!

  20. Love this post! Carolyn always does an amazing job with her baking. Good to hear some of how she does it!

  21. Being a diabetic, myself, I too try to low carb everything … great post!

  22. Just to balance things re artificial sweeteners, Splenda, in particular, here is another perspective: http://low-carb.us/splendasafety.html

  23. Great post. I’ve been looking for ways to bake using stevia rather than sugar. It’s definitely a challenge!

  24. Thanks everyone for the comments and thank you again to Carolyn for the guest post!

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