Whether you have sweet tooth or need to add a dash of sugar to complete the perfect dish, one would find it hard to avoid the presence of sugary substance.
But what if for health reasons, one has to limit the intake of sugar?
Fret not, as always, nature and science provides the solution, in the form of ‘sweeteners’, to satisfy those of us who like the taste of sugar.
Although many studies have tried to prove the dangers of sweeteners other than sugar and honey, none has succeeded to date and it should also be noted that these tests even used amounts that are far higher than the ‘Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)’. However, like anything else, moderate consumption is advisable.
Before we get ball rolling, let’s start by getting to know a bit of our plain ol’ ordinary sugar.
Ordinary sugar or sucrose is a natural product that comes from sugar cane or sugar beet plants. Once the juice is extracted from the plant, it is refined to give it the appearance we all come to recognise. The juice is crystallized, then cleansed, to eliminate any unwanted deposits. The more it is refined, the paler and more neutral in taste it becomes. although refined beet sugar is laways pure white and light in taste, refined cane sugar varies in colour from very dark brown to blonde nad has a distinctive flavour.
After it has been refined, the sugar is processed so it acquires its particular form, for instance : lump sugar, granulated sugar, soft brown sugar, caster (superfine) sugar or icing sugar. A liquid form of sugar (usually used in fizzy soda drinks) can also be obtained from cane sugar though diabetics should take extra caution with these liquid sugar as it is absorbed into the blood much faster than solid-form types of sugar.
Naturally, ordinary sugar is THE benchmark of sweetness, with its sweetening capacity classed as 1. The calorie count of ordinary sugar is around 4 calories per gram.
Now let’s check out the 5 sweeteners shall we?
As with Xylitol, you may have already consumed aspartame as it has been used in low-calorie carbonated soft drink and low calorie ‘sugar-free’ foodstuff throughout the world for more 26 years. Not only that, you could have added them to your coffee and tea, yes, those little packets labelled sweeteners with names like NutraSweet or Equal.
Aspartame is actually a synthetic composite sweetener and aspartame-based sweetening powder has a calorie count of 3.5 to 4 calories per gram with a sweetening power equivalent to 10 times that of ordinary sugar.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes directly from the plant of the same name. With qualities similar to Aspartame, in its purest form, Stevia has no calories and has far greater sweetening power than ordinary sugar – it is about 30 times sweeter than sugar. However, unlike other sweeteners listed in this article, it leaves an bitter aftertaste which prompts manufacturers to blend it with other ingredients to make it more palatable.
Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels when ingested and is therefore safe for use by diabetics.
You may be familiar and even ‘tasted’ this sweetener many times before, without realising it – that’s because it’s widely used in chewing gum and mouth wash as it leaves that fresh feeling in your mouth, does not ferment (in your mouth) and therefore will not cause dental cavities.
German and French scientists first discovered Xylitol at the end of the 19th century. It is a natural sweetener found mostly found in the bark of silver birch and produced commercially in powdered form. Xylitol has a sweetening capacity more or less equivalent to that of ordinary sugar and it has neutral taste with calorie count of 2.5 calories per gram, which almost half that of ordinary sugar.
Xylitol makes a good alternative for sugar especially for cooking where it provides a good balance between tability, sweetening capacity and calorie count and thanks the ‘fresh’ sensation it leaves on the palate, Xylitol is a nice ingredient in ice cream as well.
Additional Xylitol info :
Fructose, a natural sugar found in fruit or plants, was discovered in 1847 by Augustin-Pierre Dubrunfaut. It has the advantage of having a neutral taste and can often be bought either in powder or syrup form. Fructose has an exceptional capacity for sweetening, exceeding 1.2 to 2 times that of ordinary sugar, with the same calorie count, at 4 calories per gram. So basically, we are using only half the quantity of fructose to achieve similar level sweetness, with half the number of calories.
This is why frustose is a popular substitute to sugar by virtue of the fact when it is heated and cooked, it guarantees a good balance between stability, sweetening capacity and calorie count. It is also highly soluble in cold water and as such blends well with other cold ingredients.
Ah, who doesn’t know honey? Honey is 100% natural (only if you get it from reputable sources though), produced by bees from the pollen they collect from flowers. The pollen is then transformed into nectar, which the bees store in their hives. There is a multitude of different types of honey, depending on the nectar of the plant of origin like for example heather, lavender, rosemary, thyme, pine, chestnut, sunflower and many more.
Honey has been used far longer than ordinary sugar and is prized not only for its sweet taste but also for its nutritional benefits, therapeutic qualities and beauty uses.
Honey’s calorie of 3.2 calories per gram is lower than that of ordinary sugar with comparable sweetening capacity.