Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Natural Sweeteners

Before the first recipe I want to talk about natural sweetners. This is the key to making sugar-free (or shall we say refined sugar-free) desserts taste good.

There are a variety of options to try. I am no expert, I just have read a little (very little) and used a few in baking.

Sometime ago I was given a recommendation from a wise and trusted person to stop eating sugar and try Xylitol instead. This is a *natural sweetener*, which is much healthier than refined-sugar and definitely healthier than synthetic sweeteners. The good news is Xylitol tastes like sugar :)  There are a couple of brands that sell Xylitol: Xylitol UK and  XyloBrit, for example. These can be bought at health food shops such as Wholefoods Market and Planet Organic. Or you can buy it online at Xylitol Shop or The Finchley Clinic.

Good news for chocoholics - the Xylitol Shop also sell chocolate made with Xylitol. This is dairy, gluten and sugar free chocolate. If you like dark chocolate you will love this. It is a bit more expensive than normal chocolate, but worth it if you can't do without chocolate but have mutliple dietary restrictions as I do.

The most common available of the natural sweeteners and if money is an issue, honey tends to be the cheapest of the sugar alternatives. Made by the bees and flowers, nature is kind to us. There is lots of different grades of honey and it can get very complicated, but again all I would say is try and buy organic if possible. The most healthy type of honey is Manuka Honey, but it is quite expensive. If you can afford it, this is the type of honey to go for. There is a lot of info online if you want to ready up on why its so good.

Agave Syrup
This is a very taste sugar substitute. I personally like Agave Nectar Mild. Similar to honey, but made from the plant which tequila is made from. Agave is high in Fructose and there seems to be some debate out there as to how health it actually is. My view is quite simple, everything in moderation. I like to use different sweeteners for different recipes. And if you are eating it as part of a balanced diet and all that, it should be ok. This can be bought in most supermakerts and health (food) shops.

Maple Syrup
This is my favourite, because of its sweet, smoky flavour. God bless the Canadians! This, of course, is also a plant (tree) based sweetener. Produced simply by evaporating the sap of the sugar maple tree. I try to buy organic whenever possible and it is probably the healthiest of the sweeteners. Healthy does taste good! This can be bought in most supermarkets (usually the larger ones, in size of store that is) and health (food) shops, it can be expensive though.

Fructose / Fruit Sugar
This is another option for granular sugar. Its not one that I have used as I tend to stick to Xylitol.  

I have learnt recently that it is best to experiment and find what works best for you and you get to eat lots of yummy desserts along the way,

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