Some consumers try to avoid sugar, because they believe that it has a negative impact on human health. However, life without sweeteners seems rather dull to many, since humans have a sweet tooth. While artificial alternatives to sugar such as aspartame do exist, some consumers prefer to avoid these as well, since they may be linked to health problems. Fortunately, there are a number of natural alternatives that are extracted from plants or gathered in other ways. Some of these sugar alternatives are also healthy dietary choices.
One of the most commonly used alternatives to sugar is honey, a product made by bees from the nectar of plants. When bees make honey, they convert the sugars in plant nectar into a usable form, a thick, golden to amber colored liquid which is very sweet and rich. Honey also, however, is relatively high in calories, which is sometimes a concern for people who are avoiding sugar because of its high calorie content.
For people who are concerned about calories, agave nectar is a good choice. Like many other alternatives to sugar, it is actually sweeter than sugar, and should be used in lesser amounts; around one third of a cup agave nectar will substitute for one cup of sugar. The flavor is similar to honey, and it can be used in a range of cooking processes. Consumers who are concerned about environmental depredation should seek out sustainably harvested agave, since the plant is in high demand.
Another liquid alternative to sugar is rice syrup, which is made from cooked and fermented rice. Often, brown rice is used, creating a rich, nutty sweetener with a mild, creamy flavor. Rice syrup can be used in a range of dishes, although the flavor does not always mesh well with baked goods, so cooks should taste it and experiment before using it in abundance. Maple syrup is also a usable alternative, although the strong flavor can make it unsuitable for some cooking.
There are also several dry sugar alternatives, including date sugar, a sugar made by grinding dates. Date sugar can be used for baking exactly like ordinary sugar. In some regions, birch sugar, also called xylitol, is also available. Xylitol is a compound which is present in many other plants and fruits as well. Finally, stevia, an extract of a sweet leaved plant which is extremely sweet, is available in both powder and liquid form. Approximately one teaspoon of the calorie free stevia will substitute for a cup of sugar.