The Food Guru: How to bake without sugar
Getting rid of the white stuff is easier than you think, and will make whipping up your favourite treats a lot less naughty. All you need to do is get clever about your choice of sweetener.
This golden substance is made from the nectar of flowers and collected by honeybees. Comprising 80% natural sugar, 18% water and 2% minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein, it is available in runny or set varieties, with flavours varying depending on the area in which the honey was produced.
Honey also has antibacterial properties and has been used as a natural remedy for more than 5000 years.
Though honey is just as calorific as sugar, it tastes much sweeter and has a distinct flavour, meaning you are likely to use less. It’s ideal for baking as it attracts water and keep cakes moist for longer.
This sweetener comes from several species of the agave plant in Mexico and South Africa, and consists mostly of glucose and fructose.
It is about 1.5 times sweeter than refined sugar and has a much lower GI than white sugar. This means it’s digested more slowly, leaving you less likely to suffer a sugar slump shortly after eating.
Available in light, amber and dark varieties, agave is a vegan alternative to honey, and works well in chewy bakes like flapjacks.
Fruit or dried fruit
Fructose (fruit sugar) is found in fresh, frozen or dried fruits, such as apricots, bananas, dates, raisins and figs. The fruits contain fructose along with fibre, vitamin and minerals. Although the fruit is still high in sugar, it is easier for the body to digest and if you are eating the whole fruit you get a host of other goodies, too.
If you are cooking with fruit you can easily cut out, or reduce, the sugar. Seasonal fruits are super-ripe and have the biggest sweet hit. Replace caster sugar with puréed fruit to sweeten yoghurt and cakes, or blend sweeter fruits, such as strawberries, with low-fat plain yoghurt and milk to make milkshakes.
Our recipe for fruity rockcakes combine dried fruit and unrefined light muscovado sugar.
Made from the leaves of a stevia plant, steviol glycosides are very high-intensity sweeteners, 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose and are available in liquid or powder form. It has no calories, contains no sugar or carbohydrates and boasts a GI of 0, making it a highly attractive sugar replacement. However, it just doesn’t feel the same when cooking by using a few drops of this, so I would recommend using an unrefined sugar and stevia blend.
Take a look at our recipe for almond and apricot biscotti, which uses a brown sugar and stevia blend.
Made from maple tree sap, maple syrup contains fewer calories than honey and can be used sparingly. It is also more nutritious than sugar and contains zinc, manganese and calcium. Drizzle over carrots and parsnips, and sprinkle with sesame seeds, before roasting for a fab side dish or mix with chipotle paste and oil for a scrummy chicken marinade.
Here’s our healthier version of a Great British pudding favourite, sticky toffee pud!
It may sound like a synthetic chemical but xylitol looks, feels and tastes just like sugar – and it is totally natural. Xylitol is made from the bark of birch trees, has a low GI, is low in calories and doesn’t cause tooth decay.
You can use it as a substitute in many recipes as a simple swap for the sugar (just avoid ones that use yeast). Cakes sweetened with xylitol won’t colour golden brown very much, so use it in coffee and walnut or chocolate cakes for best results.
Our recipe for a simple chocolate sponge will give you the sweet hit you crave without the unnecessary blood sugar seesaw.