There is a lot of buzz about sweeteners today, whether they be "natural" or the more processed versions. I decided it was time for me to get more in touch with the growing variety of sweeteners found on grocers shelves and think about what I currently use and what I should consider adding to stash.
My first place to look for a sweetener beyond the regular table sugar made from sugar cane was to open my cupboard. There I found three jars that qualified. The first was honey which I love to spread on corn bread. Then I realized I have a favorite cookie where honey is one of the sweeteners. In fact, I took one of my favorite Land O'Lakes' recipes called Honey Orange Cookies to a recent family gathering and several people asked for the recipe. What you need to know about honey is that it is sweeter than regular table sugar. That means you can use less to get a sweet flavor. In fact, you will only need ¾ cup of honey to replace 1 cup of sugar.
The second ingredient I keep on hand is molasses. This comes from the juice of the sugar cane and sugar beets which is boiled down to syrup. Once the syrup has cooled, sugar crystals are removed. There are several varieties of molasses, depending upon the number of "boilings" it has been through. Light molasses is the result of the first boiling and is the lightest in color. Then comes dark molasses which has been through two boilings and is darker in color. Finally comes blackstrap which has been through three boilings and is very dark, thick and a little bitter in flavor. Molasses tends to have a stronger flavor compared to white sugar since it is more concentrated, especially the version called “blackstrap” so you want to replace only a small portion of sugar with molasses. Molasses has versatility as it can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. I use it when I make my signature baked beans or my ever favorite Gingersnaps cookies. It is also used in recipes such as a barbecue sauce, and in gingerbread.
Then I found my third sweet option which was maple syrup. The pure version, comes from the sap of maple trees. It should not be confused with maple-flavored syrups which line grocers' shelves. One easy way to avoid the confusion is to read the label. The only ingredient on true maple syrup is maple syrup! The kinds of recipes you can make with maple syrup include candies, salad dressings, and glazes or frostings. I have a favorite salad dressing I like to serve guests in the fall. It is called Autumn Salad With Maple Balsamic Dressing. The flavor from pure maple syrup is a wonderful complement to the cheddar cheese in this salad.
Turbinado sugar, also called sugar in the raw, is another version that comes from the juice of sugar cane. The juice is boiled and then allowed to cool and crystalize. After that, the crystals are washed to remove any molasses. This one can be a direct substitution for either white sugar or brown sugar. The large crystals also make it ideal for sprinkling on top of cookies, muffins or scones before baking. You’ll love the extra sweetness and the bit of crunch from the crystals. Try Molasses Cranberry Crinkles to experience Turbinado sugar.
One of the sweeteners I am just getting familiar with is agave nectar which comes from the juice of the agave plant. It is similar in sweetness to honey but the consistency is somewhat thinner. To replace 1 cup of sugar, use 2/3 cup agave nectar to account for the slightly thinner consistency. Agave nectar is a great substitution for simple syrup which is often called for in beverages. So, the next time you make your own lemonade or iced tea and want to sweeten it, add a little agave nectar.
You can see you have many options to satisfy a sweet tooth. Try experimenting a sweetener you haven't tried before. You just may discover a new flavor to add to your cooking and baking.