Converting to sugar free recipes can be tricky, but with so many sweeteners available, it is possible to have your cookies and be sugar free too. The real challenge comes from the fact that sugar brings more to a recipe than just sweetness. Sugar adds moisture and volume to your confections, and aids in the rising of what you are cooking. Often when you cook sugar free, the end results are disappointing. With a little creative kitchen science, you can work around the limitations of most sugar substitutes and get a great tasting low calorie treat.
Sugar Free Options
Many sugar replacements line the market shelves, each with its own benefits and limitations. If you are just looking to get away from highly processed white sugar, you may want to consider using brown sugar. Brown sugar has many nutrients and vitamins, but when it's converted to white sugar, many of those natural vitamins and nutrients are removed. But if your goal is to avoid sugar entirely, then here are some options:
Splenda is sugar free, has no calories and is safe for diabetics. The granular version can be used in converting to sugar free recipes at a one-to-one ratio, so there is no math involved. In order to compensate for the loss of volume, you may want to use a smaller pan when making cakes. Splenda suggests adding half a cup of nonfat dry milk powder, and half a teaspoon of baking soda, for every one cup of Splenda used. They also offer a blend of sweetener and sugar for baking, but if you are trying to avoid sugar entirely, you may want to just use the regular product.
Saccharin was discovered in 1879 and is produced from a naturally occurring substance found in grapes. It can be three hundred to five hundred times sweeter than sugar. With that much sweetening power, a little goes a long way. The product stands up well to heat, but adds no volume to the recipe, so it does not work well in baking.
Saccharine can sometimes have a bitter aftertaste, which makes it less than optimal for use in drinks. In the past, there have been cancer concerns with this product, but the U.S. Government's 2000 report on cancerous carcinogens and rats showed that Saccharine had no relevant effect on humans.
NutraSweet/Equal is made from aspartame, which is two hundred times sweeter than sugar. When aspartame is heated for a long time, it looses its sweetness, and so isn't a good sugar substitute. It also contains phenylalanine, and people with phenylketonuria (PKU) need to avoid it.
The leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant are the source of the sweetner called Stevia. The plant is most commonly found in two forms: fiber powder and liquid. The sugar to Stevia ratio is one-quarter teaspoon, or two to three drops of liquid, for every teaspoon of sugar being replaced. In high quantities, Stevia can have a bitter aftertaste.
Isomalt is made from beet sugar and has a one-to-one replacement ratio. Unfortunately it is only half as sweet as sugar. You may want to add a touch of another artificial sweetener to your recipe to bring it up to the level of sweetness you are looking for. Because of the one-to one ratio, Isomalt is useful when converting to a sugar free recipe. The end result of using Isomalt is that food is a bit crispier, but not as brown as it would be with sugar. Isomalt is rarely found in stores, but a quick web search will turn up a few places that sell it. Isomalt is especially useful for making candies. It sets fast and has an appealingly clear bright color.
Replacing Lost Moisture
In some cases, converting to a sugar free recipe is just a matter of swapping sugar for a small amount of another sweetener. For baked goods, you need to find a way to add the lost volume and moisture. Adding applesauce, apple butter, or plain yogurt will do the trick. If a little bit of sugar is allowed, you may want to try adding some brown sugar. Brown sugar is an invert sugar and adds a lot of moisture to recipes.
Don't Forget the Honey
Although it does have a different taste from sugar and sugar substitutes, honey is a good option in some cases. For example, if you had a chocolate mousse recipe, and you wanted to convert it to a sugar free recipe, you could try this:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 12-ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
- 5 tablespoons honey
- Put 3/4 cup of the cream, the chocolate, and the honey into a pan over low heat, and stir until the chocolate melts and the ingredients are well mixed.
- Remove from the heat and continue to stir until the mixture cools.
- Beat the rest of the cream until it reaches the soft peaks stage.
- Fold the chocolate mixture into the cream; do this in three stages.
- Divide the mousse into ramekins or martini glasses.
- Chill until set.
Converting Recipes is Easy
Going sugar free can be easy. If the recipe calls for just a little bit of sugar, or does not involve a long cooking time, then you have many choices. When making pies and other pastries where sugar is just a flavoring ingredient, you can usually just exchange the sugar for one of the many substitutes available. For baking cakes and cookies, a little experimentation may be called for, but once you have the recipe worked out, you can enjoy your sugar free sweets with fewer calories.