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I'm curious about what I can use for a sugar substitute while baking. I'm not interested in artificial sweetners, really. For instance, I've found that apple juice works well in some muffins. Are there any substitutes that work particularly well with other baked goods? Any general rules for selecting a substitute?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

It's going to depend greatly on what you're baking. Sugar serves several different purposes beyond just providing sweetness. Besides sweetness:

  • tenderness by interrupting and minimizing gluten formation. Sugar promotes spread in cookies

  • Retain moisture and extend keeping quality (in baking sugar is actually considered a "liquid" ingredient due to its hygroscopic qualities - the ability to pull moisture from it's surrounding atmosphere).

  • Promotes browning and caramelizing

  • Assists in aeration and leavening (as in creaming butter and sugar to aerate the dough)

  • stabilizes egg whites

  • Provides food for yeast growth and fermentation

In some instances you might be able to use a syrup (honey, corn syrup, molasses, etc.) but not in all cases. For instance the granular nature of sugar is necessary for aeration of cookies and cakes because the jagged edges create air pockets as they pass through the fat.

Syrups primarily serve the purposes of sweetening, browning, and moistening. Honey could be used in muffins that are being made using the muffin method (aka two-bowl method) because this method would use a liquid fat (melted butter/oil) but not in the creaming method (producing a more cakelike structure from the creaming process). When using syrups you have to account for the addtional moisture that they provide. From: "How Baking Works" (Paula Figoni) "The National Honey Board recommneds the substitution for using honey in place of granulated sugar. This accounts for both the amount of water in honey and for its intense sweetness: use 1 pound honey in place of 1 pound granulated sugar; reduce water (or other liquid) in the formula (recipe) by 2.5-3 ounces."

Overall, when making substitutions of ingredients that are critical to the structural and eating qualities you probably will not be able to replicate the same results with the substitution. In the end, it will often be a case of "what is the next best thing" and realizing there will be quality differences in the finished product.

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Great, that's something to chew on. I think I see some experimentation in my baking future. Thanks for the info. – Jonathon Watney Jul 17 '10 at 6:56
Let me know how your experiments turn out! – Darin Sehnert Jul 17 '10 at 11:44

Stevia is a natural sweetener that doesn't contain sugar.

It's been getting a lot of attention in the low carb camp lately.

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yes, Stevia is extremely sweet but it will not work the same as sugar in baking. – Darin Sehnert Jul 22 '10 at 5:59

Splenda sells bags that work 1:1 as a sugar substitute (though sometimes i seem to need more). Doesn't taste quite the same but I think it's better than eating sugar.

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Yes the do but even the Splenda folks indicate that Splenda is best used where it's only needed as a sweetening element such as custards, gelatin, etc. I assisted the foodservice division a couple years ago during some training they were doing for field sales managers and the main message was that it will not assist in browning, rising, or caramelizing. For instance you could use it in custard but if you're wanting to do creme brulee, you couldn't use it for caramelizing. As substitutions go I'm more comfortable eating the real thing and cutting back on portion size but to each their own. – Darin Sehnert Jul 17 '10 at 11:51

I know you are not vegan, but Isa Chandra Moskowitz has terrific baked goods recipes that often use maple syrup, with fantastic results.

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My basic wheat bread recipe calls for either sugar or honey; the differences are subtle. However, the extra moisture of the honey is overwhelmed by the variation in how much flour it needs from batch to batch; more precise recipes may require a bit of tweaking.

If it's glucose that you need to avoid, fructose works really well in most cases, particularly because it can be obtained as the same white granules. It's sweeter than sucrose, so you usually want to cut the amount by about a quarter. That has the side effect of reducing some of the calories from your baked goods, but can affect texture or browning in certain recipes. The differences are more pronounced in candies and ice creams, but baking should be just fine.

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If you intend to use it primarily fro sweetening, moisturization or browning, you can use date syrup. Around here it's called Silan. It's somewhat similar to honey in texture, but has a darker colour, and lacks the sharp after-taste of honey, and is made of dates. I'm not sure how it caramelizes, and I suspect it wil do you no good for aeration or stabilizing egg-whites. I don't really bake (bad at chemistry) but I do use date syrup for sweetening recipes when cooking. It's actually very sweet, and I find it easier to work with than sugar.

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Agave Nectar is a great alternative to sugar. It may be used to replace any wet sweetener such as honey or corn syrup, but consider that it is sweeter than honey so reduce the amount used by about half depending on your tastes.

As a replacement for sugar, reduce the amount of agave by 1/4 to 1/2 depending on your tastes. (I do not like super sweet goods and often reduce by 1/2) and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by a quarter cup.

The taste is wonderful and the product is light and nutritious.

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