Monday, January 13, 2014

Alternative Sweeteners

Ok, so January, we're supposed to be cleaning up our eating right?  Well, for my husband and I, that has meant that we are trying more and more to cut out processed foods.  I can't say exactly when we started, but over the course of the last few years we have been phasing out and reducing our intake of processed and pre-packaged foods.  Sometimes we are better at it than others.  I'm still a total soda junkie and chips are one of my favorite guilty pleasures but I have been weeding out things like processed meat and cheese and definitely prepackaged sweets.

Lately, I have been thinking that maybe I need to work on giving my sweets a little bit of a healthier makeover.  I have been working on incorporating whole wheat flour into most of my cookie recipes (chocolate chip really benefit from some whole wheat flour but these whole wheat ginger crinkles aren't bad either).  But, I still use a LOT of white sugar. 

Enter: alternative sweeteners.  What kind of sweeteners are available instead of refined white sugar? Lots.  Ones that I have used and like are as follows:

Honey: my personal favorite alternative sweetener.  It's easy to find pretty much everywhere and is one of the more reasonably priced options.  If you are lucky enough to have a local hive near you, get local, minimally processed honey.  The flavor is out of this world and you are supporting the bees which are dying out.  

I use honey 1:1 like white sugar in  my recipes even though honey is a bit sweeter than regular table sugar.  They typically turn out about the same, however will frequently have a bit of a honey flavor.  Favorite recipes using honey: skinny banana bread, no-bake energy bars, and granola.  Best part about honey-it never ever goes bad.  It has natural anti-microbial properties and thusly has practically an infinite shelf life.  If your honey crystalizes, just heat it up  and you are back in action.

Agave Syrup: Sweetener derived from the agave plant (yes, the tequila plant).  It is vegan friendly and can be used in all of the same recipes where honey would be used.  Agave comes in light, amber, and dark.  I have only had experience with the light variety and it has a flavor that is more delicate than honey.  It is also more liquid than honey so it dissolves nicely in drinks, hot or cold. 

Brown Rice Syrup: made by, "culturing cooked rice with enzymes to break down the starches." (Wikipedia)  This is the sweetener that most energy bars use.  I personally do not like the taste of brown rice syrup as much of the other choices, but it is a popular choice.  I am able to find it in my local grocery store, but you if you can't, most health food stores should carry it.

Pure Maple Syrup: I'm not talking Mrs. Butterworth's pancake syrup here, I am talking the real deal.  It's expensive, but if you have the cash to spare, this stuff is where it's at.  Rich, flavorful, takes your breakfast to a whole new level.  And not just breakfast.  I like to use it in oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, granola, no bake energy bars.  It really adds.  Maple syrup comes in different grades.  In the US it's Grades A and B.  Grade A is the lightest and Grade B is the dark mapley syrup that tastes the best on your pancakes.  Vermont has its own grading system for maple syrup which is stricter than the system used in the rest of the US.

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