Having a sweet-tooth isn’t always optional, but choosing how to sweeten your food is. Regular sugar gets the job done; however, there are alternatives. Do you want a neutral sweetener that adds some nutrients and minerals to any dish? Or would you prefer a sweetener with a little extra flavor? We got you covered. Venture into our saccharine world of natural sweeteners and how to use them in some unusual ways.
For superior margaritas, try incorporating agave nectar. This syrup comes in light, amber, dark and raw variations, which are all produced from the agave plant’s sap. Light agave is neutral and sweeter than cane sugar and best used for regular baking. Amber agave has hints of caramel. It’s best for desserts, sauces and even for a sweet twang on savory dishes. Dark agave has a rich, burnt-caramel flavor, and adds a distinct undertone to any dish. Mixed with olive oil, you can use it as a marinade for poultry and meat. Finally, raw agave is produced at low temperatures to preserve its nutrients, and works as a perfect sweetener for health-nuts. Tequila-lovers and vegans, this one’s for you.
Turns out this tropical favorite has yet another use. Despite how it might sound, coconut sugar doesn’t taste much like coconuts. This light-brown sugar is made from coconut palm sap, not the coconut fruit itself. It contains minerals, antioxidants and fiber — everything that’s missing from processed sugar. Its taste has been described as neutrally sweet with caramel undertones, and you can substitute it for cane sugar in almost any baked good. You could add it to any ordinary baked good or even incorporate coconut sugar into coconut-flavored baked goods: think coconut cream pie, or coconut macaroons. Talk about committing to the bit.
Ever had a bad date? Yeah, us too, which is why we just stick with the fruit now. Dates, Middle East natives that grow in bunches, are a fleshy fruit packed with a rich sweetness and a multitude of vitamins. Filled with peanut butter or chocolate, they make a great snack. But turning them into a syrup isn’t too complicated either. Chop and soak the dates in warm water. Let them simmer, then drain the solution through a cheesecloth. To thicken, reduce the syrup over the stove. And voilà — your very own date syrup. You can mix it into just about anything. It tastes amazing on toast with some tahini, on top of yogurt or even mixed into tea for a fruity twist.
In a jam? Craving something sweet? Well, try jam. Store-bought is great in a pinch, but making it at home is also super easy. All you need is fruit, sugar and lemon juice. Oh, and a cute jar. Fruit-wise, you can stick with the classics: raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, etc. Or venture out a little. Try making jam with banana, watermelon, vanilla or lilac. For a savory twist, try bacon, garlic or cucumber. Let your creativity take control — you can’t mess it up. Once you’ve simmered all the ingredients together on low heat, pour into your jar, add a bow and you’ve got the perfect hostess gift or delicious spread for yourself.
If you thought we were going to list off how to eat honey, oh honey. You already know how to do that. But other than the popular uses for honey, let’s look at some of the lesser-known uses. If you want to incorporate honey into a spread, try honey butter. The recipe is as easy as four parts butter with one part honey whisked together, and it makes a great spread with starchy foods like biscuits or cornbread. You can even add a touch of honey into some soups for a more complex flavor. It works best for adding a different dimension of flavor for savory soups and can be a great flavor contrast in spicier soups.
Tread lightly here. Molasses isn’t for the faint of heart. Unlike other sugar-alternatives, molasses doesn’t come directly from a plant. It’s a byproduct of sugar production, the leftover sticky liquid once the sugar is crystallized. It’s packed with iron, magnesium, calcium and other nutrients, and has a warm, smoky flavor that is great in baking. Beyond the regular gingerbread recipes, molasses makes a delicious addition to carrot cake or oatmeal cookies. Blackstrap molasses, a molasses variant, is somewhat sweet, but also bitter and salty. It’s great for savory dishes like meat, veggie glazes, baked beans or even as an ingredient in homemade barbeque sauce.
Delicious and gut-health friendly? Sign us up. Yacon syrup is made from the yacon plant, a root vegetable that’s traditionally been used for medicinal purposes. Yacon syrup is also packed with nutrients, particularly fructans. Fructans are prebiotics, meaning they help feed the good bacteria in your gut. However, too many insoluble fibers like fructans at once can give you an upset stomach, so take it easy with this option. Taste-wise, yacon syrup is about half as sweet as honey with a hint of caramel. Works great in your morning coffee, as a salad dressing or even as a “healthier” substitute for caramel sauce.