{Here is the plan: I'd like to try something new around here, every now and then, just to change things up. We'll call it "pantry goods", and I will occasionally dedicate a post to a certain section of a whole foods focused pantry. If you have any positive comments, questions or things you'd like to see around here, please contribute to the comment section!}

I am familiar with the way I cook and eat, but am aware it's not mainstream. For the next few weeks, we're talking "pantry goods", and this post I'm sharing some notes on sweeteners. Forgive me if I am repeating information you already know, but I'm hoping to level the playing field here. It makes me squimish to write as an authority on this, as I have no formal nutrition degree, but I want to share how these natural sweeteners work in my kitchen, and why I find them better choices than plain white sugar. None of these sweeteners are "diet foods" or "low calorie" but I find them to be less processed than the alternative. There are certainly more than what's listed below, but these are what I find in constant rotation around here.


Organic Natural Cane Sugar: This is the closest relative to "plain white sugar", and is defined as pure evaporated cane juice. It retains any natural occuring nutrients and minerals. Plain white sugar is bleached or refined, and clarified by bone char (why some vegans/vegetarians won't eat it). It is easy to find at any conventional market these days.

Muscavado: I use muscavado in place of brown sugar as an equal exchange. Some resources say you should reduce the moisture content a bit, but I find this to be unnecessary. Its texture is moist, much like refined brown sugar, and you can purchase it in light or dark varieties.The flavor is complex and caramel like, making a great substitute in baking. It retains it's natural minerals, as the molasses has never been drawn out of it in the first place. Standard brown sugar is refined, and then the molasses is added back in to make it brown. You can find muscavado at specialty markets, or buy it here.

Turbinado: You know this most popularly as "Sugar in the Raw", they have it in little packets at Starbucks and restaurants, it is a coarse natural cane sugar. It's made by crushing raw sugar cane and pressing out the juice that has all the vitamins and minerals in it. This juice is then dehydrated in a centrifuge to produce larger crystals. It makes an excellent topping to loaf cakes or cookies because it stays crunchy and adds a nice texture. I also like it in granola or a crumble topping because of this. Turbinado is easy to find at a conventional market.

Sucanat: The consistency of sucanat is pretty unique, it resembles sand and it quite dry in texture. It doesn't work in places you need a smooth sweetness, like whipping cream, as it's texture is too dry. It is produced in a similar way to turbinado, except the juice is heated to a syrup, then hand paddled to dry it out. Because it has all of it's natural molasses, it has a good amount of iron, B6, calcium, and potassium. I've read that it is great for homemade bbq sauce, but I use it mostly for baking. My cookies err on the side of "textured" anyway, typically with oats, chocolate chunks and dried fruit, so it fits in perfectly. You can find it at natural food markets or here.

Date or Maple Sugar: Dehydrated versions of their respective ingredients, these sweeteners are considered "whole foods" as there is nothing added or taken away. The maple, for example, is heated and then stirred to dry, sort of like turbinado. They don't dissolve into liquids without heat, but they can be substituted 1:1 for plain or brown sugars. The tastes resemble date/maple with their deep flavor, so use accordingly. You can find them at natural food markets or here. Ashley's cocoa with maple sugar looks delicious.


Honey: Believe it or not, honey does have a season. In the summer and fall, you are going to get the freshest honey when buying it at a local farmers market. Not to say it goes bad, just an interesting note. Bees are essential for our food system, so if you are able to buy it from a local beekeeper, do it. There is usually someone with honey at a farmers market. Honey's unique composition makes it an immunity builder, helps with allergies, anti-microbial, an antioxidant and a remedy for a number of health ailments. It dissolves easily into liquids with a bit of heat and can be used in baked goods. There is a resource through The Honey Locator to find places near you.

Agave Nectar: There are differing opinions on whether agave is as "unrefined" as it is marketed to be. Because it has a high concentration of fructose, some research doesn't find it so great, and with enough googling, you can look into it yourself, I'm not one for conflict. It is extracted from the agave plant, and comes in light, dark and raw varieties. It is said to be lower on the glycemic idex than regular sugar, so it doesn't spike your blood sugar as quickly. It is slightly sweeter than a dry sugar, and doesn't have a strong flavor making it pretty versatile. Because it dissolves easily into a liquid, I often use it in oatmeal, cocktails, dressings, marinades and what not. Agave is easy to find and they have a great price at Costco/Sam's Club if you use it frequently.

Maple Syrup: REAL maple syrup is from the sap of a sugar maple tree. You can purchase it in Grade A or B, the former being a more gentle flavor and the later having a deeper maple-ness to it. I usually go with B, and both are a good source of manganese and zinc. The good stuff can be fairly pricy and since it lasts so long and I use it often, I buy a big jug to save money. I use it as a sweetener for granola and Heidi's peanut butter cookies are spot on.

Brown Rice Syrup: This sweetener is made from fermented brown rice, and then heated to make a thick syrup. It is a complex sugar, which means it is broken down and absorbed more slowly into the blood stream. I use it in granola bars and rice krispy treats, but have read it’s a great sweetener for coffee due to its mild flavor and how well it distributes in liquid with heat. I use it as a sweetener for frozen yogurt in our cookbook and love the gentle flavor it contribute there. You can find is at natural food markets or here.

** Though they all contribute sweetness to a recipe, the dry vs. liquid sweeteners cannot be substituted exactly. As a very general rule, if you want to use a liquid sweetener instead of a dry, you need to scale back the moisture in the recipe back by 1/3 or add 4 Tbsp. of a flour to compensate. If you want to use a dry instead of a liquid sweetener, cup for cup, add 1/3 cup more liquid to the recipe.
Again, all of these notes are based on opinion with some help from Wholesome Sweeteners and SparkPeople.

Adapted from La Tartine Gourmande by Beatrice Peltre

Bea's cookbook, as expected, is quite gorgeous. There are a good amount of dessert recipes along with stunning and creative dishes featuring fresh vegetables. Though not marketed as such, she cooks gluten free, so the recipes call for a few unique flours and such, but they are worth the trip if you don't stock them normally. Sweet stories, thoughtful recipes, the book is a beauty.
I only made a few changes based on the fact that I didn't have vanilla bean or cinnamon sticks on hand, but either way, this is a super easy and tasty dessert.

4 Tbsp. dried cranberries or golden raisins, chopped
4 Tbsp. unsalted pistachios, chopped
4 Tbsp. slivered almonds, chopped
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup apple juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or one vanilla bean
zest of one lemon
4 apples such as pink lady, winesap, liberty
3 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp. turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350'.
Combine the dried fruit, pistachios and almonds in a small bowl. Stir in the cinnamon and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the apple juice, vanilla extract or seeds of the vanilla bean and lemon zest. Bring it to a simmer for 5 minutes for everything to infuse. Turn off the heat and let it cool.
Core the apples and cut about 1/4 of the top off, reserving the tops (I used a melon baller to scoop out a bit of a pocket in the apple core, this is optional).
Put the apples in an ovenproof dish. Divide the nut stuffing between the apples and cover them with their tops.
Pour the infused juice and oil over the apples and sprinkle with the sugar.
Bake for one hour or until the flesh is tender, regularly drizzling with the cooking juice. Remove from the oven and serve warm with the juices and plain yogurt, whipping cream or ice cream on the side.

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Reader Comments (72)

what a great idea! I'm totally down for this. Was totally wondering what Sucanat was and I was surprised to find out that it's not just a funny word to say!

also- those apples look FIERCELY delicious. I can't wait to make them once I get off this stupid juice cleanse.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertracy

Great guide to sweeteners Sara! I've been sugar-free for a few months now so haven't been using anything above. Brown rice syrup or raw honey would be my choice of sweeteners though.

The apples look fantastic!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaria @ Scandifoodie

I love guides like this! Even if you aren't sharing any truly new information, I think it is a nice way for us to understand you and your philosophy better. The apples look great and I look forward to future guides!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNico

Those. Are. Freaking. Me. Out. They're. So. Pretty.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBev Weidner

Thank you so much for this guide! I don't want to go sugar-free (I'm all about moderation, plus I have a four-year-old in the house :-) ) but I've been thinking that I'd like to make an effort to use *better* sweeteners. This is a great reference. I think replacing brown sugar with muscovado will be my next step.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Wow, I love this post! What a great idea, this was so helpful. I'd love to hear about how you stock grains/beans and spices.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSam

This is very informative, Sara! I don't often think about the different kinds of sweeteners I use (usually honey, different kinds of sugars and sometimes maple syrup). I also know that the way we cook and eat isn't necessarily mainstream, so I love that you're sharing your know-how in a really approachable (and beautiful) way. Cheers to that!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKasey

This is really useful information...I try to reduce the amount of sugar in recipes whenever possible and you have noted some realistic alternatives.

The baked apples look insanely good!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna @ the shady pine

I'm really looking forward to this series! I'm on a mission to lose weight this year and your blog has been a huge inspiration for eating much more healthy than I usually do. I knew a little about the different sugars, but you explained it so well and I learned a ton! Really can't wait to read more in this series!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

I'm familiar with all of the liquid sweeteners and heard of several of the dry ones, but I've not used all of them. Sucanat and date sugar is new to me, and the qualities you outlined here make me very curious about them. This is a great intro for the different types of sweeteners on the market.

oh what a fabulous idea! thanks for the helpful info as well!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSimply Life

This is really great information! I am always trying to find ways to substitute out that nasty white sugar. I use honey and turbinado sugar quite a bit and have tried agave a few times. I've been curious about brown rice syrup, but have yet to use it. I have messed up a few baked goods by subbing honey for regular sugar so your note about measurements as it pertains to liquid versus dry sweeteners was eye opening. Thanks so much for the post and I can't wait for the next edition of 'pantry goods'.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Watson

thanks for the list of alternatives..gotta try them all. great recipe thanks!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

I am about to start a no-sugar stint on strict orders from my naturopath! I'm terrified!! I'm only allowed stevia and I just don't like that stuff. Have you ever had any successes using stevia as a sweetener or in baking? I'm definitely going to be making these apples though (minus the sugar), can't wait!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKitchen Vignettes

Love this series! Pretty sure I learned at least 10 new things.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa // thefauxmartha

@Kitchen Vignettes: you'll do great once you kick the craving! Haven't cooked much with stevia, sorry. These apples however are just fine without the turbinado, I honestly don't think it needed it but wanted to try the recipe as close to as written as possible. This may be your ticket!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara

I've tried to stay away from plain white sugar since two years back and find it so much fun experimenting with alternatives instead. Thanks for the interesting and useful information!

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnn-Louise

What a great guide and thanks for providing all this information. I am definitely going to try some of these different sweeteners.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjackie @ marin mama cooks

I love your idea of a pantry goods post series!

I only use natural sweeteners, and just recently bought a small bag of date sugar... not sure how I'll use it quite yet, but I'm excited to experiment.

The baked apples look delicious - definitely a comforting cold-weather dessert (or breakfast!).

These apples sound lovely! Also, thanks for the sweetener round up! I like using honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and turbinado!

Love this Sarah, and I am all for your pantry education :) I wish that we could target people who really need to learn this stuff, as opposed to all us foodies. I was in the grocery store (an average one) and I asked the ladies at the front registers whether or not they carried organic farm raised meats and milk? The girl looked at me as if I had three heads. She then looked to her coworker and asked her, who also had no clue what that was. Blew my mind a little. Wouldn't you think that someone who works in a market would know about organic foods?

I love that you are putting all your knowledge out there. I wish we could find a way to educate a little further. I did some teaching work with some kids in Harlem about nutrition and it was so fantastic to be a part of that. All we can do is put the information out there and hope ones will learn from it :) x N

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Franzen

Love this new idea and the apples look yummy

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Not only does this look fabulous, but I just learned so much about various sweeteners, something I haven't spent much time researching. Great post, darling!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian @ A Thought For Food

This is wonderful. I'm gonna love these pantry posts!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Mae

Great information Sara. I love the idea of a pantry series. You always have ways of inspiring me in my approach to cooking/eating for our family. We have Agave Nectar, but will have to try Brown Rice Syrup for coffee. Hmmm. I wonder where Hugh's nutella falls under "sweeteners." :)

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen O

Honestly I think this is a fabulous idea. I've always seen all those sugar names thrown around, but never knew exactly what they were or what to replace them for.

Thanks so much!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Mulholland

Yum! I like that the nuts are chopped fairly coarse to retain their texture and crunch.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMallory

Mmmmm... I love how the apples have little lids!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaige

These look unbelievable, and satisfying yet healthy. The ice cream looks pretty yummy too ;) And I only use turbinado sugar for my coffee! Tastes so much better I must say.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMich

Maple syrup. A hands down winner!!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermodernworkinggirl

I LOVE baked apples!! I never tried stuffing them...that looks delicious! This is tops on my list to try this week...pure, sweet, it!

I love the new addition to the website! What a great idea :)
These apples look fabulous! :)

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDessertForTwo

Yum! There is nothing I love more than a baked apple. You should look at the recipe on my blog for gluten-free pancakes and baked apple pieces! -

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilla

I LOVED the article on sweeteners!!! The info was super interesting, and now I know alot more about white sugar, and now maybe I won't be baking so much, unless I purchase the best products around!!! Thank you! :)

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermaria

This is some good basic information! We have many of these sweeteners in our house but I haven't really thought of them grouped like this, it's interesting. I keep turbinado around, but as a substitute for buying brown sugar (driven at least in part by laziness and cheapness!) I usually just make my own with the organic evaporated cane sugar and molasses - that way I can make as little or much as I need and don't worry about it hardening. Not sure of the health impacts of this though?

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Just seeing the photo of those apples brought back so many memories. My mom used to make baked apples all the time and the young me thought that saying an apple baked in the oven qualified as dessert was crazy. Now I miss them.

I almost don't want to admit this, but I use superfine C & H sugar in my baked goods. I'm intimidated by all the choices and how they will affect my treats. This is a really helpful synopsis, so thank you Sara!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDana

Hi there, just discovered your blog and love it!
This post is really helpful and answers some questions. Love the pictures!

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRegula @ foodwise

thank you for your note on sweeteners. I usually choose raw honey as it's the easiest to find here in italy --very little maple syrup makes it here, and very little agave, too. Those apples look amazing and I will surely try them as a healthy dessert for dinner sometimes. xoxo

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterValeria

This was such a great post, super informative and interesting. I try to use turbinado and honey as much as I can, but I had no idea there were so many more options out there. I actually ran across brown rice syrup the other day and was pretty curious about it... now I know a little more. I look forward to reading more "pantry goods" post!

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

Great idea to focus on pantry goods! There always something in my pantry that sits there for too long because I don't know how to use it...recently it's been quinoa. Would love to see a post about quinoa sometime in the future!

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthe tasty tRuth

Your posts are so beautiful and smart. Laying out the basics about the goodness of natural sweetness is essential! Thank you!

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClare

I really like the idea of focusing on your pantry goods because it is so nice to see how others use their kitchen as a way to expand your own knowledge in yours.

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Great information that most people do not realize! Agree with Nicole's comment about trying to reach those that need to know this information the most. That's part of my reason for opening my health coaching business in the coming months. I love baked apples, such a healthy and delicious dessert.

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradrienne

This was very helpful! I think i'm actually going to print this off and tape it up in my pantry, thank you! Can't wait to see more pantry posts...

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaniella

What a great post! Honey, agave nectar and evaporated cane juice sugar are my faves! And I've been dying to try the lentil "meatballs". It's on my list!! :)

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYumi

Love this guide so much! Been wanting to reduce the white sugar consumption, and picked up some organic cane sugar today. Bonus points for it being on sale :) Gorgeous apples, love the wrinkly beauty.

January 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersweetsugarbean

This was a great post! Thank you so much. Can't wait to try some of these new sweeteners like brown rice syrup and date sugar.

January 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSini

I love baked apples, yours look absolutely gorgeous. I also like putting jam into the apples.

January 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLemon

[...] Kitchen’s discussion of natural sweeteners on Friday inspired me to say a little bit about gud, which is used in a lot of Indian dishes to [...]

Thank you for such an informative post. And thank you for the recipe and delicious looking baked apple photo's. I haven't had a baked apple since I was a child, but I know what I will be baking tomorrow!

January 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJill Mant~a SaucyCook

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