Sweeteners

There are many sweeteners in this world, but not all sweeteners were created equal.

As I explained in the New Basics page, the sweeteners I tend to use have a low GI.

They all have their pros and cons, and the below is a quick guide to xylitol and erythritol, the two main substitutes I use, how and what to use them for, and how to substitute them and when.

Both of these sweeteners can sometimes be found in large supermarkets in the baking or in the bio/health section. If not you can definitely find them in larger quantities and often cheaper online.

If a recipe calls for a powdered version of either of these but you only have granular, simply use a (completely dry) food processor cup/grinder to pulse it for a few seconds to create powder.

Like all sugar substitutes, you should usually let the baked goods cool before tucking in, to let the sweeteners finish cooking/setting.

Bear in mind that both xylitol and erythritol, as with other sugar alcohol (polyols) substitutes to sugar, some people can experience mild side effects in the form of a rumbling stomach, some stomach bloating and laxative effects. This generally occurs only when consuming large quantities, usually because the recipe contains a large quantity of sweetener and you’ve consumed a large portion!

I would urge you to not let this dissuade you from trying them out, as there are also huge benefits to be gained from NOT consuming conventional sugar- but this is not the place for that discussion now!

Xylitol

Xyilitol is a natural occurring sugar alcohol in many plants and fruits, usually extracted from the birch tree.

It has the quite a low GI, but not as low as erythritol (see below).

It’s as sweet as sugar, so very conveniently converts 1:1 in recipes.

Sometimes you can find it in granular form blended with other sweeteners (ie. stevia or erythritol), which will marginally affect its sweetness and how it behaves depending on the proportions of the mix, but it’s a matter of experimenting with it.

Taste-wise, I find it tastes almost exactly like sugar if tried on its own (like using it to rim a cocktail glass as in the hibiscus iced tea), and has none of the weird aftertaste some people experience with other sweeteners.

In terms of cooking and baking with it I find xylitol behaves, to all practical extents, just like “normal” white sugar. It melts over heat (think caramel) and dissolves in liquid (think syrups).

It doesn’t, however, tend to crisp, which makes it great for ice cream, fudges, caramels etc, but not for crunchy biscuits.

In a nutshell:

  • Sweetness vs sugar = 1:1
  • No cooling aftertaste
  • Can cause mild stomach symptoms if used in large quantities
  • Not good when you want a crunchy finished product such as biscuits
  • Good for cold, smooth, gooey and liquid products, such as syrups, caramel, sauces, ice cream, fudge…

My sweetener of choice

WARNING: Note that xylitol is VERY poisonous for dogs. If you decide to use xylitol make sure you keep it well away from anywhere where your dog might be able to get to!

Erythritol

Erythritol is also a natural occurring sugar alcohol, and is usually obtained through using a yeast to ferment glucose.

It has the lowest GI, so for many people the sweetener of choice.

It’s less sweet than sugar, so if you’re looking for the same level of sweetness you will need to add about 1/3 more. Especially with baking, adding more (of anything) sometimes messes with the recipe, so that’s one thing to keep an eye out for.

Taste-wise, some people, me for starters, finds it gives a rather odd and fairly unpleasant aftertaste. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a bit like the freshness and cooling effect of mint, without the minty taste. It specially comes out when used with chocolate or cocoa, but I can pick it up anywhere!

It depends on the person, however- my partner gets none of this cooling/unpleasant feeling; for me the taste is so unpleasant I won’t use erythritol unless there’s nothing else around!

Compared to xylitol, I find erythritol behaves slightly differently from our usual conception of how “normal” sugar behaves and I find it quite tricky to manage. It does not dissolve well and solidifies as crystals when it cools which results in an unpleasant granular texture in certain uses (ie. caramels, syrups…)

However, erythritol does crunch well, so if you want your finished good to be crunchy, let the baked good cool for a few hours!

In a nutshell:

  • Sweetness vs sugar = 75% (so add 1/3 if you want to substitute 1:1)
  • Cooling aftertaste to some people, especially with chocolate
  • Can cause mild stomach symptoms if used in large quantities
  • Not good when you need to melt or dissolve the sweetener (syrups, caramel, sauces) or cool the finish product (caramel, toffee, ice cream…)
  • Good if you’re after a crunchy finish, such as crisp cookies and biscuits
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