I am taking the online course Introduction to Nutrition – Food for Health from Wageningen University and lately we’ve been talking about the role of carbohydrates in health and ways to reduce sugar consumption. I shared some of my own sugar-reduction habits on the discussion boards there and decided to also share them here for readers who want to bake with less sugar.
Initially when I started reducing my sugar consumption, I replaced refined sugar, honey and syrups with fruit juice concentrate. My favorite recipe was chocolate-orange cake made with orange juice concentrate. But while fruit juice concentrate can add phytonutrients and wonderful flavors to your cooking, it’s hardly sugarless. According to the nutritional information on the side of my orange juice concentrate can, the naturally occurring sugars in orange juice concentrate amount to about 4 grams per tablespoon, or 1.5 grams per teaspoon. That’s significantly lower than the approximately 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon of honey or table sugar. Alas, many of the published recipes I found used higher amounts of concentrate than they would have used of table sugar or honey. They would substitute fruit juice concentrate for sugar in a 2:1 ratio rather than a 1:1 ratio, almost eliminating any advantage over refined sugar.
So fruit juice concentrate can be a good replacement for sugar when used thoughtfully, but it’s important to look at proportions and figure out if you are using it in a way that reduces total sugars per serving.
After experimenting with fruit juice concentrates, I decided to see what would happen if I simply cut the amount of sugar in my recipes. I found I could cut the sugar in most published recipes by 1/4 to 1/2 and not really notice. In fact, many recipes tasted better, as the flavors weren’t overpowered by sweetness. (Use caution with cookie recipes, as the sugar there plays a more critical role in texture than in sweet breads, muffins, cakes, and so forth. Also note that if you’re reducing sugar in a recipe that uses yeast as leavening, you’ll need allow the dough to rise for a longer time.)
Another trick is to replace part of the honey or syrup in a recipe with unsweetened applesauce. Applesauce naturally has some sugar in it, but not as much as honey does. Plus, applesauce has phytonutrients and fiber. Around here, it’s also dirt cheap: I can pick apples for free from local trees, then make them into applesauce that I bottle for year-round use.
My last approach is to use non-sugar sweeteners. These can include sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol, which have fewer calories and less of an effect on blood glucose levels than sugar, or non-caloric sweeteners like stevia or sucralose. I prefer the sugar alcohols because they don’t have an aftertaste, although stevia usually tastes fine to me in fruit-based dishes. All of these sweeteners are expensive and (like sugar) none of them are essential to a healthy diet, so I tend to purchase them with coupons and use them sparingly.
I hope these ideas were helpful. Do you have any tricks for cutting down on sugar use in the kitchen? Have you ever run into any disasters when trying? Let me know in the comments!