It seems to be so many occasions to consume sugary snacks all year round. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving feasts followed by Christmas pudding and new year treats… and then loads of chocolate for valentine’s day and easter. Before you know it’s summer vacation, time for ice cream and sorbet in the sun. That doesn’t even count the local or national pancake day, waffle day etc. I know life is colorless without all these delicious things. As a baking enthusiast, I love every treats for each season and occasion. But I think many people are not aware of what is sugar really doing to our body.
Regular white sugar and syrup we have at home are made by extracting the juice out of the sugarcane, and cook till all liquid is evaporated. Even if the ingredient is completely natural, the refined sugar is super energy dense. We human are biologically driven to seek energy-dense food and our brain always reward this behavior. That is because centuries and centuries ago, humans survival was depending on the food that fuels the body efficiently, such as ripe fruits. Our brain was evolved to love sugar and it is causing us problems now.
Being a fortunate (and unfortunate) low sugar tolerance person, I was forced to learn how to enjoy sweet treats in moderation. I can always feel it in my stomach if I had food that contains a high level of sugar. Even just half pack of grapes or savory foods like crisps and ketchup. I had figured out ways to cheat a little bit by replacing sugar with something else. There are so many foods in our kitchen already contain sugar, and most of them time they work even better. I actually took this so seriously that I stopped buying white and brown sugar. I wanted to challenge myself to find other ways to sweeten my food and here are a few things I find work the best:
Fruit is the absolute best replacement for sugar in so many ways. You will also get the fiber, vitamins, and flavors that sugar doesn’t have. They are so versatile and are great treats on their own, but they are also great for cooking. Crushed bananas or pureed apple/pears are great for baking, as they also add moisture and flavor.
2. Dry fruits
Dry fruits that naturally have high sugar content like raisins and dates are great to use instead of sugar. They might not be the perfect snack to munch on but they it’s a great substitute in baking and smoothie. Dry fruits like dates and plums are high in fiber which is great for the digestive system. I love adding dried apricots, figs or blueberries when I bake bread too. Just be sure to read the package to see that there is no added sugar.
3. root vegetables.
I can almost see you frown as you read this. But I mean, lots of root vegetables contain a good amount of sugar and they all taste amazing in their own way. They are usually very colorful as well: Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beetroots, paprika, and carrots etc. To bring out the sweetness, roast them in the oven at a low temperature. You will be surprised what a healthy sweet treat it makes. I also love baking bread with roots, here and here are my recent favorite recipes.
4. Local raw honey
If you are prone to seasonal allergy, try raw local honey instead of sugar. It contains very little amount of pollen from your local environment, which will slowly make your immune system less sensitive to it. It’s also packed with nutrients but keep in mind that it should not be heated over 40 degrees. The heat will kill the antioxidant and natural antibiotics in it.
5. Coconut sugar
An excellent replacement for brown sugar as it has a hint of caramel taste. It also contains minerals and is low in Glycemic Index, which means it does not raise the blood sugar level as quick as regular sugar.
Comes in form of powder or syrup and has a longer aftertaste compare to sugar. Great substitute for people who is ongoing a Low-carbohydrate diet.
7. Agave syrup
Often used as a vegan substitute for honey, as it is sweeter than honey and has the golden and viscous consistency.
Mirin is made in the same way as rice wine such as sake. But it has much lower alcohol content and very high sugar content, which makes it a wonderful sweetener to cook with. A little splash of mirin in almost any Asian dish will add a lot refined character and enhance the flavor.
8. Naughty stuff
I don’t know if you were expecting this, but we are all human and sometimes we need those little extra calories to feel happy, right? If you look around in your kitchen, I assure you that you will find a whole bunch of food items that contains so much sugar, that could be used as a sweetener. If you want to sweeten something fruity, why not try a tablespoon of raspberry jam? Or a scoop of lemon sorbet? I once added lemon sorbet to my strawberry smoothie to chill it down and everybody loved it. And another time I used Baileys and Nutella to sweeten my chocolate cookie dough and results are so heavenly. When I bake for holidays, I always use shredded marzipan or mulled wine to sweeten buns or pie dough, to add an extra holiday charm to it. I can go on and on about this but you get the idea.
So here are my tricks to avoid using sugar in everyday homemade food. I hope it inspired you to be more aware of how much sugar we already have in our food, and how we can use it wisely to make food healthier and tastier. Thank you for reading and please let me know if I have missed anything! I would love to know if you will try any of these ideas.