There is a lot of information on the market about sweeteners- whether they are good, bad, or horrible. I’m of the mindset that a little sweetener here and there won’t hurt my way of healthy eating and at the end of the day, most sweetener is sweetener. But really, it’s up to you and your diet. I try to stick with the less-refined sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, but some items are just better with a bit of cane sugar or muscovado sweetener. Here’s what you won’t find on this page: sugar substitutes. I’ve never had them in my diet and I’m much more comfortable with using an occasional sweetener listed below instead of a sugar substitute.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is exactly as the name implies: a type of sweetener made from brown rice. I primarily use brown rice syrup for making the occasional granola bar or brown rice crisp treats. The brown rice syrup is the perfect binding agent for these types of treats. I also use brown rice syrup in place of honey or corn syrup, especially if I’m looking for a more neutral taste.
One note, because of concerns with arsenic in rice and other variables, I don’t use a lot of brown rice syrup and I’m very picky about the brands I use (see link below). You can also read a fairly thorough FAQ about this topic here and decide what is best for you and your family.
For some time, I knocked cane sugar off my ‘to-use’ list. Now, I use it occasionally for special treats, mostly cookies. We keep a small bag on hand for those occasional treats but other than that, I’m primarily using other sweeteners.
I opt for organic cane sugar, which is a less-refined brother to the white table sugar you might be more familiar with. Cane sugar has a bit of a dirty look to it but that’s because it is less refined. Store cane sugar in an airtight, dry container in a cool place. Cane sugar will last years if stored well.
Coconut sugar or coconut palm sugar isn’t a regular item in my pantry but I wanted to highlight it because of the popularity on the market. This sugar is made from the syrup of coconut palms and is less refined than white sugar. The moisture is removed from the sap, leaving crystals of coconut sugar. This sugar is popular in regions with coconuts but has found a bigger market in the United States. Coconut sugar is not the same as palm sugar (made from a different variety of palm).
Because of the limited use of sweeteners in my kitchen, I prefer to stick to muscovado and cane sugar for similar sweeteners. However, you can use coconut sugar in place of traditional white sugar and even brown sugar. Look for pure coconut sugar. Some brands cut their coconut sugar with cane sugar.
Also known as powdered sugar, this sweetener is used in many baking items that require a glaze or frosting. Confectioners sugar dissolves easily, making it the perfect baking companion. While it may seem more unnatural, confectioners sugar is actually made from sugar that’s been processed into a powder.
You can easily make your own confectioners sugar at home with a couple of the dry sweeteners listed on this page (cane sugar/coconut sugar). For longer storage of confectioners sugar, a bit of cornstarch is used to keep it from clumping. Store confectioners sugar in an airtight container and if clumps form, sift before using.
Of all the sweeteners on this page, honey and maple syrup are my two go-to sweeteners. I highly recommend finding a local honey supplier as these varieties of honey often have more and different flavors (and you can be sure you’re getting the real thing). The flavor of honey is based on the type of environment and flowers the bees live near. Each factor plays a role in the different flavors of the honey whereas store-bought, clover honey has a mild, predictable flavor.
Store honey at room temperature in an airtight container for years. Most dates on the honey are up to two years but I’ve used honey after that timeline. If the honey begins to crystalize, simply dip the bottle in a hot water bath before using. You can also purchase comb honey, which has the honey and the comb- great for spreading on bread and pairing with cheese. Just remember, honey isn’t considered vegan. I like to use maple syrup or brown rice syrup as a vegan substitute for honey.
If I could choose only one sweetener to keep in my pantry, it would be maple syrup. It’s about as unrefined as you can get when it comes to sweeteners, it has a warm and smooth taste, and it works well from anything from baked goods to salad dressings and of course, waffles. The only downside (and the reason I don’t use it more), is the cost. However, we always keep a small bottle on hand for weekend breakfast and the occasional quick bread.
Maple syrup is made by reducing the sap from certain varieties of maple trees and is graded based on color. The four types of grades are Fancy (the lightest in color), Medium Amber (grade A), Dark Amber (Grade A), and Grade B, the darkest in color. The darker the maple syrup, the stronger the flavor. Grade B is great for baked goods and places you want a strong maple flavor while the grade A’s make for excellent pancake topping. Keep maple syrup in glass jars, in the refrigerator. If looking for long-term storage, keep maple syrup in the freezer.
The process of making sugar is fascinating! The white sugar you can find in stores is the main product while molasses is the more nutrient-dense by-product. Molasses results from the boiling processes which separates out the sugar. Depending on the number of boiling processes, different molasses variations result. Light molasses is bottled after the first boiling, dark molasses is bottled after the second boiling, and blackstrap after the third boiling.
The light and dark varieties molasses have a slightly strong, sweet flavor while the blackstrap is strongest and can even seem bitter. Use the light and dark as you would any other sweetener and save the blackstrap for baking (like gingerbread at the holidays). Store molasses in an airtight container for years (I’ve yet to have molasses go bad). However, the fresher the molasses, the stronger the flavor. Sweet sorghum syrup can be used in place of molasses but the flavor profile of the over-all dish will change. Look for unsulfured molasses as the addition of sulfur is just added to increase shelf life.
There are many different varieties of sweeteners that resemble brown sugar (sucanat, turbinado, demarara) but I’ll be covering the one that I use the most: muscovado. It’s a type of cane sugar where the molasses has not been stripped away from the sugar, creating a dark and damp sweetener. Muscovado comes in light and dark, but I always buy the dark version.
I find it works well in place of most recipes that call for brown sugar (some recipes you need to account for the extra moisture) but I enjoy a pinch or two of muscovado in savory sauces and soups. Store this sweetener in an airtight container as the exposure to air will create a hard rock of sweetener. Use brown sugar or something similar in place of muscovado.
There are two main types of sorghum grown: grain sorghum and sweet sorghum. Grain sorghum is typically used as a food crop or to brew beer. Sweet sorghum is primarily grown for the syrup (even though not a lot is produced in a year). Sorghum syrup is made from juice extracted from sweet sorghum which is run through an evaporation process, creating a thick, dark-amber syrup. It has similar qualities to molasses, looks like molasses and can be used interchangeably (though it will affect the flavor of the final product) but they’re derived from different plants.
Because sorghum syrup will last for a few years, I always have a jar in my pantry, primarily for my grandmother’s rye bread recipe. However, the flavor of sorghum syrup can be fun in granola or porridges.