Thursday, March 07, 2013

Sweeter Than Sugar?

There are so many products in the food industry that try to replace white refined sugar with something more "healthy". White refined sugar has become public enemy number one to many people, but yet people still want their food to be sweet.  This has created many movements and industries with the simple goal of eliminating refined white sugar while keeping our food sweet.  I can't say that I'm against these changes,  I even tend to use more natural sugars when I bake.  I also drink many diet beverages using these synthetic sweeteners.   I'm not saying that I don't like refined white sugar, I'm just saying that I like variety, and I'm convinced that you can have too much sugar in your diet.

The thing I'm not convinced is that these substitutes  be it natural sugars or sugar replacements, can replace white sugar all together.  There are certain foods, drinks and sweets that I'm not sure would work with these replacements.  One thing I recently realized is that I'm not really sure what many of these substitutes taste like compared to white sugar.  So I've decided to sample a nice wide range of sugar replacements and see how they compare to the pure white stuff.  For this taste test I'm going to sample the sweeteners on their own, and stirred into iced tea.  I've decided to use iced tea because I think it has a fairly neutral flavour that will allow the sweeteners to shine.  So here's our selection of sweet replacements:
White Refined Sugar - This is pretty much the standard, I know I like it well enough, but I'm not sure if it'll be my favorite.

On it's own refined white sugar has very little flavour other than sweet.  That's the main advantage to using it when you're cooking, it doesn't change the flavour, it just adds sweet.  Notionally this is what you'd want from any other sweetener as well, unless you're also looking for an additional flavour as well.

In iced tea the sugar eliminates the bitterness of the tea, and adds a nice sweetness.  The problem one gets with sugar however is that you can over do it very easily.  Too much sugar can overpower, and that can lead to headaches, sore teeth, and stomach aches.  Sugar also doesn't mix into cool liquids very well, and even with a great deal of stirring, you're bound to have a sugary sludge at the bottom of your glass.
Stevia - This is the latest trendy sugar replacement, I have it in a powdered concentrated form.

If you sample Stevia powder on its own you're in for a pretty shocking flavour.  Stevia has a really bitter flavour that coats your taste buds.  It's not that pleasant at all on its own.  According to the research I've done it's one of the most powerful sweeteners and that is obvious by it's very strong flavour.

The strange thing about Stevia is once I added it to my iced tea the bitterness goes away.  I was left with a super sweet drink after only adding a very small amount.  The great thing about this stuff as a sweetener, in powder form, was how well it dissolved in the iced tea.  It took a few stirs to get rid of a couple of lumps, but once stirred I didn't get any traces of it, except for a really sweet iced tea.
Splenda - This is the classic sugar replacement, it's apparently made from sugar, but I'm not really sure why it's healthier.

I can't say that I remember ever having sampled Splenda on its own before.  I know that I've had it in baked goods and sweet treats in the past, but just tasting it is new to me.  Most surprising was how tasty it is.  I was expecting a chemical taste, but it was just sweet.  It wasn't the same kind of sweet as the white sugar, but it was very close.

In the iced tea it was the best, better than even the white sugar.  It sweetened it up really well, it didn't have much of an after taste, and it dissolved instantly (even faster than the Stevia).  I've had a few baked treats in the past with Splenda, and I've noticed a bit of a metallic flavour, but in iced tea it wasn't that bad at all.  Also, unlike the Stevia, the flavour was not overpowering, and it acted more like sugar in the amount that I used.
Honey - This is a nice quality locally made honey, I like using it on my yogurt in the mornings, and I often bake with it.

Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners to use in many desserts and baked goods.  I usually replace any sugar I'm supposed to use when I bake breads or cake and I use honey instead.  To me honey is go to ingredient when I don't want to use sugar.  Most importantly when cooking, honey dissolves a lot faster than sugar, so it's a little easier to use.

In the case of iced tea however, honey is pretty useless.  The only problems with honey is that it has a slight flavour (unlike the sweeteners or white sugar) and it only dissolves with heat.  Since the iced tea was cold, it didn't seem to dissolve at all.  So my iced tea was pretty much not affected at all, except for a few gobs of honey on the spoon and on the bottom of my glass.
Maple Syrup - If I didn't include a nice high quality maple syrup, I'd probably have to renounce my Canadian citizenship.

Right after honey, maple syrup is my second go to sweetener when baking.  It reacts pretty much the same as honey, only with a bit of a stronger flavour. The flavour can be best described as a sweet woody flavour.  Fortunately for me I love this flavour, and I think it goes well with many baked goods.  If you don't want the woody flavour however, maple syrup really isn't that great to use.

As far as in iced tea I was really surprised at how much I like it.  I didn't expect the flavours of the tea and the maple syrup to work well together, but they do.  I think it's because tea has an earthy flavour, and so does the syrup.  Even more surprising was how well the maple syrup dissolved into the iced tea.  I was expecting it to react similarly to the honey and stay as a single glob.  The maple syrup dissolved instantly, and after a couple of stirs it was fully incorporated.  The flavoures it added to the tea were great, and it blended perfectly.


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