Make the Switch to Alternative Sweeteners

Particularly in baked goods (but in many other foods as well), natural sweeteners can replace refined white sugar.

Tips for Substituting With Natural Sweeteners

  • When using any liquid concentrated sweetener in place of granulated white sugar, reduce liquid content in the recipe by ¼ cup. When replacing a liquid sweetener with a dry one, increase the liquid content in the recipe by ¼ cup (or reduce the flour by 3-5 tablespoons).
  • Some malted sweeteners (brown rice syrup or barley malt) should be boiled 2-3 minutes before using, in order to prevent them from liquefying the consistency of the mixture.
  • Heat thick syrups by setting before using them.
  • Dried or granulated natural sweeteners tend to absorb liquid. Add a tablespoon of water or oil to the recipe if it seems dry.

You can find these sweeteners at your local natural foods store.

Granulated natural sweeteners

Date sugar

Date sugar consists of ground dehydrated dates. It contains the same nutrient value as dried dates. The taste and appearance is similar to sugar, but it's less sweet. Date sugar works especially well in baked goods. Substitute cup for cup for white sugar.

Dried cane juice

Dried cane juice is juice that has been extracted from the sugar cane and dehydrated. This product is much less refined than white sugar, plus some of the minerals in the cane juice are still present. It resembles brown sugar in appearance and taste, though it is less sweet. Sucanat and Rapadura are trade names for organically grown, dehydrated cane juice. Substitute dried cane juice in equal proportions for white or brown sugar.

Thick liquid or syrup-like natural sweeteners

Barley malt

Barley malt is a complex carbohydrate sweetener made from barley that has been soaked, sprouted and cooked until the starches in the grain are broken down and converted into maltose. Barley malt is dark and thick like molasses and has a malt-like taste. Replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 to 1½ cup barley malt. 

Brown rice syrup

Brown rice syrup is made from rice that has been soaked, sprouted and cooked with a cereal enzyme that breaks the starches into malrose. Rice syrup has a light, delicate flavor and looks similar to honey but is less sweet. Substitute rice syrup 1 for 1 for honey, maple syrup or barley malt. Substitute 1 to 1½ cups rice syrup per 1 cup of sugar.

Concentrated fruit sweetener

This is a commercially prepared syrup made from peach, pineapple, pear and other fruit juices that have been cooked down to a syrup. The sweetener imparts a very fruity flavor to dishes. Use it in place of honey or maple syrup in equal measure. Substitute 1 for 1 with white sugar.


Use raw, unpasteurized honey in all baked goods. Honey has a very distinctive taste that takes getting used to for some people, but once you start cooking with it, it grows on you. Use 1 for 1 with white sugar. Reduce liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup, but if there is no liquid to reduce, add 3-4 tablespoons of flour for each ½ cup of honey used.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is made from the boiled sap of sugar maple trees. Forty gallons of sap (from nine trees) makes one gallon of syrup. Maple syrup is available in three grades: A, B or C. The temperature used and length of time cooked determine the grade. Grade A is best for pancakes and waffles, grade B has better flavor for baking, is less expensive and has a higher mineral content. Replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup maple syrup.

Pureed bananas

Pureed bananas can be substituted for 1 cup of sugar in a recipe. Place 1 cup of mashed over-ripe banana in the blender with a few tablespoons of water and blend until smooth. Freezing bananas first and then thawing before using makes an even sweeter puree.

Pureed dates

These can be substituted for 1 cup sugar in a recipe. Pit 1 cup dates and cut into small pieces. Place in blender with ½ to 1 cup hot water and puree to a thick paste.


Sorghum is the concentrated juice of crushed and boiled sorghum stems. The sorghum plant is a relative of the grain millet. Sorghum is a thick, light brown syrup with a slight molasses taste. Substitute 1 cup of sorghum for 1 cup of white sugar.

Revised and reprinted with permission from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair, CHN, director of curriculum for Bastyr University's Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Culinary Arts

To help prevent or control diabetes and blood sugar levels, make an appointment with the health experts in Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Care at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, or Bastyr University Clinic, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.