Honey turns up everywhere, and not just on toast. It often appears as the sweetener in packaged snack foods – which is absolutely another great case for reading labels when you’re being conscious of what you’re eating. There is more to that drop of golden sweetness than meets the eye.

The commercial honey industry is akin to a factory farming operation for bees. Bees are kept and transported in hives unlike the nests they would build in nature – what PETA likens to ‘incarceration in filing cabinets’ – and populations are genetically modified over generations to produce to a beekeeper’s needs. Queens are killed before their time (if you remember from elementary school biology, Queens can live up to seven years and lay over a million eggs in a lifetime. Terminating them early causes a disruption to the bees’ natural order. Without bees, our food security could be at a tremendous risk). Adding one more stressful or damaging factor to bees’ functioning seems unwise, especially if we can help it.

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So if you’re looking to replace honey in your diet,  consider using some alternatives that are just as versatile and delicious.

Here are four sweeteners that make great honey alternatives:

Coconut Sugar and Coconut Nectar

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Coconut palms produce coconut – obviously – in addition to sap, just like a maple tree. Because a tree can yield both coconuts and sugar without compromising its functioning (and in many cases, produce 5-7 times as much edible fruit and sugar than trees used for just one product), coconut sugar is a highly sustainable crop. Additionally, because sap transports nutrients around inside the tree, the crystallized sugar retains many of these, including zinc, iron, potassium and calcium. Coconut sugar’s flavor is quite subtle, you can swap it into any of these Raw Vegan Dessert recipes that call for another source of sugar.

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Brown Rice Syrup

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Brown rice syrup is made from exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the rice’s natural sugars into smaller, more easily digested sugars. When fully broken down, the sugars form a thick syrup that closely resembles dark amber honey. Sourcing brown rice syrup from a farm that produces biodynamically and organically can be a great alternative to honey. Use brown rice syrup in coffee or tea, baking or in place of syrup on pancakes and waffles. Also try out this yummy Chewy Granola Bar recipe that calls for brown rice syrup.

Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar

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Maple sap is the ‘blood’ of the tree, and the source of both syrup and sugar. Sap is boiled and reduced to a thick liquid to make syrup, and further dried out to create the crystals we recognize as sugar. Trees produce sap year-round and can be tapped in spring and fall without damaging their long-term functioning, so maple products are a great sustainable option. Look for certified vegan or kosher brands to ensure yours hasn’t been reduced using an animal fat. Nutritionally speaking, compared with honey, maple products are lower in sugar and calories and higher in vital minerals like potassium and magnesium. Looking for a delicious way to put maple syrup to the test? Whip up a batch of these Vegan Pumpkin Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup.

Yacon Root Syrup

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Yacon – which is also called sweet-root or Peruvian ground apple – is a vegetable native to South America. It’s drought-resistant and can grow year-round, making it easier for farmers to produce without compromising their land. The syrup is produced by drying, powdering and boiling the root until it produces a thick liquid: the taste is similar to molasses. It contains potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron, as well as 20 amino acids… not bad for a little liquid sweetener from a humble root! Try yacon root syrup in this Superpower Spirulina Raw Pie.

As you can see, honey isn’t the only sweetener that provides benefits. With any sweetener, be mindful of your servings and limit the amounts you eat each day. For more every-day fun, add one of these sustainable sweeteners to your coffee or tea ritual (and add to your list of healthy coffee essentials).

What’s your healthy sweetener of choice?

Lead Image Source: QUOI Media Group/Flickr