Sugar Blues? Gluten-free Baking Without Sugar
Baking gluten-free without sugar: substitutions and tips
As we know it in its common, refined form here in the United States (the average American eats something close to 143 pounds of sugar per year), sugar is typically derived from the cereal grain known as sugar cane, or the cultivated plant beta vulgaris, also known as the sugar beet. (Check for non-GMO status of your beet sugar.) Both options are high on the glycemic index and refined to remove any nutrients or minerals that may have been residing in the cane or beet's natural state.
Read on for the full discussion...
Raw sugar- also known as turbinado sugar- is also cane sugar, but less refined; it supposedly has more nutrients intact (but I wouldn't go so far as to consider it a health food, Darling).
Cane Sugar Alternatives:
|Agave is a natural sweetener, but it's still fructose/sugar.|
Raw organic agave is the least refined type of agave and has a mild, neutral taste. It is produced at temperatures below 118 °F (48 °C) to protect the natural enzymes, making it an appropriate sweetener for those eating raw foods. Raw agave contains iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Agave nectar works well in baking. Use 1/3 to 1/2 cup of raw organic agave nectar (not the super-refined "agave") for every 1 cup of sugar in the original recipe and lessen the liquid called for by 3 tablespoons. Agave is humectant and adds moisture and binding to gluten-free recipes- especially if you're baking egg-free. Note that using too much agave in a baked goods recipe with a lot of gluten-free starch can sometimes lead to gumminess.
Some cooks also reduce the oven temperature by 25° F when baking agave recipes, but I have not bothered to do this.
You may want to experiment with using a smaller loaf pan when you replace the sugar with less agave (volume is affected). Use an 8x4-inch loaf pan rather than a 9x5-inch loaf pan, for instance.
A dab of agave is also lovely in smoothies, soups, dressings and sauces.
Notes: Agave is a form of sugar. Because agave (like honey) is fructose, some folks avoid it, believing too much fructose may be harmful to the liver and raise triglyceride levels. As always, before try a new product, please research it according to your own specific dietary and health needs, and consult your medical expert for advise.
FODMAP sensitive folks may find agave's inulin levels too hard to digest.
It does not replace the bulk or structure of sugar in a baking recipe, so volume will be less. If used in baking to replace sugar, you may have to add an additional dry ingredient such as ground/processed coconut, dates, raisins or nut meal to obtain the right texture, especially in cakes and cookies. Or try baking the recipe in a slightly smaller pan. Try using an 8x4-inch loaf pan rather than a 9x5-inch loaf pan, for instance.
Cooked powdered stevia can be bitter. To my taste buds, it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in baked goods- so I would use it sparingly, and add extra vanilla or cinnamon.
Stevia works best in puddings, custards, smoothies and drinks both hot and cold. Not all brands are equal- there are differences in taste and potency- so experiment and find the brand of stevia you prefer.
Karina's Notes: Stevia is in the sunflower and aster family (Asteraceae for those of you into botany). If you have an allergy to those flowers, you might also react to stevia.
There are new gluten-free stevia products available now with a more granular structure for help in volume and texture. Check labels and call the manufacturer to determine if they are 100% gluten-free.
Honey is not 100% vegan (due to the honeybee factor, Darling) but may be a suitable choice for less strict vegetarians and omnivores. Check on its gluten-free status- as some beekeepers encourage honey production with bee food- that may not be gluten-free.
Honey attracts moisture and that is a definite plus in gluten-free baking. Use 1/2 to 2/3 cup for every cup of sugar called for and decrease the liquid called for by 3 tablespoons.
New news on honey is that your favorite brand may have been tampered with- food safety tests on honey (especially honey sourced from China and India) reveal it may not be pure honey at all- or worse- the honey may be contaminated with toxins and antibiotics. See this excellent article on honey safety and the brands to watch out for.
Real maple syrup is a low-FODMAP, vegan, local choice. It is sometimes clarified with the milk protein casein, so check your source if you use real maple syrup- it may not be 100% vegan.
As with honey, use 1/2 to 2/3 cup for every cup of sugar called for, and lessen the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. Maple syrup works best with simpatico flavors such as pumpkin, apple, vanilla, squash, sweet potato, and cornmeal. Maple syrup is an excellent choice for FODMAP sensitive folks.
Brown rice syrup is vegan and subtly sweet. Use as you would honey or agave. Make sure it is truly gluten-free and contains no barley (sometimes used as enzymes in processing). *Recent studies reveal a higher than expected level of arsenic in organic brown rice syrup- while more testing is performed, you may wish to consider an alternative. See an ABC news report on arsenic in brown rice products here.
I've had good luck baking with all of these syrupy sweeteners, especially in moist, dense cakes like carrot or pumpkin cake, quick breads and fruity muffins. Again, the dry ingredient volume of a recipe is impacted here, so the batter or dough may need added bulk for structure and/or you may have to adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe (lessen the liquid by 3 tablespoons). Again- less volume may mean using a smaller baking pan works best.
|Pick your poison.|
Better Think Twice Alternatives:
Splenda: Having used Splenda only once, in a pinch, while traveling, I have no experience to comment on how well it works for baking. It supposedly works as a sugar substitute, but.
Personally, I wouldn't feed it to my dog, never mind my kids. It is processed sugar, modified using a chemical based process.
Bottom line- for me- is that Splenda is never going to be a product I would willingly put into my body- or feed to my children. If you must go zero calorie, look into the natural herb sweetener stevia, and find a gluten-free source.
Edit: The Center for Science in the Public Interest has downgraded Splenda from "safe" status to "caution". Read why here.
The --tols: I cannot recommend the alcohol based artificial or "natural" sweeteners such as sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol, etc. They are highly processed sugar alcohols and may cause cramping, bloating and IBS symptoms in sensitive individuals- especially those who react to FODMAPs (that would include moi).
Watch this startling video lecture on sugar, fructose, and HFCS- its political history and far reaching effects. Thanks to reader Mike for sharing this link with me.
HFCS is seeking to re-brand itself now as "corn sugar". So if you see corn sugar on a label, don't get too excited. It's still the same junk.
The New York Times article that got me to start a sugar detox: Is Sugar Toxic?
Many health advocates and experts advise consuming no more than 2 tablespoons of sugar- total- a day.
Note- I encourage you to do your own research (using reputable sources) and inform your choices.