As something that is both sweet and natural, to many people honey is a very versatile treat. From sweetening teas to using it as a replacement for sugar in recipes, honey has earned a permanent spot in the pantries of many.
While honey is definitely a more natural option than refined white sugar when it comes to flavoring food and drinks, there are many other sweeteners out there that are equally as versatile and tasty! As plant-based foods become more readily available in stores, there’s never been an easier time to seek out an alternative sweetener for your kitchen creations.
From agave nectar to blackstrap molasses, there are so many options to choose from, so here’s a run-down of some of the best alternative sweeteners out there. And if you’re good in the kitchen, there are some recipes to try them out with too!
1. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is a syrup made with the Mexican blue Agave plant, AKA the same one used to make tequila! It’s perfect for sweetening hot drinks, such as tea or coffee, or flavoring plain vegan yogurt. It is also tasty when drizzled over fruit, such as apples. When it comes to using it in recipes, we recommend substituting 2/3 a cup of agave for each full cup of sugar. Try it out with this recipe for Vanilla-Agave Cupcakes with Chocolate Mesquite Frosting.
2. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is an extremely popular sweetener made from the sap of maple trees. 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup is produced in Canada and depending on the grade, the color can vary from light yellow to an amber-brown. Although it has a high natural sugar content, maple syrup includes vitamins such as zinc, calcium, and potassium. Needless to say, it goes pretty well on pancakes, but it’s also a great alternative to sugar when sweetening treats and baked goods alike. These recipes for Chocolate Not-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Walnut Carrot Cake With a Maple-Cashew Frosting, and Maple Parsnip and Chestnut Wellington all use maple syrup instead of sugar.
3. Coconut Nectar
Coconut nectar is a lesser-known natural sweetener that is gaining popularity due to the fact that is slightly less processed than other natural sweeteners, and higher in nutrients. Lately, there seems to be no end to uses for coconut, and coconut nectar, which is harvested from coconut palm blossoms, is one of the latest products to be made available on the shelves. It’s great for using in recipes to create healthy sweet treats, like these raw White Chocolate Matcha Protein Bars and delicious Cherry Pie with Hemp Seeds and Walnut. It’s also great for sweetening drinks and smoothies!
4. Rice Malt Syrup
Rice malt syrup, also known as brown rice syrup, is a fructose-free natural sweetener made from brown rice. It is made by exposing cooked rice to saccharifying enzymes that break it down to become a thick syrup that is pure glucose. Although it is a relatively new product on the shelves it has a long history of being used as a sweetener in Japanese cuisine. Like the other syrups on this list, it is ideal for adding sweetness to drinks, but if you’re looking for a honey substitute for spreading on toast, brown rice syrup is perfect due to its thicker texture. It works for recipes too, such as these Chewy Homemade Granola Bars or this Pear and Almond Tart.
5. Fruit Syrup
Easy enough to make at home, fruit syrups can be made from a variety of different fruits, with the syrup coming from natural sugars. To make fruit syrup, combine 4 parts fruit, 2 parts sugar, and 1 part water in a pot. Simmer the ingredients until the fruit breaks down, then strain it to separate the fruit from the liquid. Choose your fruits carefully, and work out a combination that works for you, such as dates, figs, and apples, for example. Once you have your finished syrup, it can be used for cooking, baking and sweetening. Be careful to store it in the refrigerator, preferably in a mason jar, and remember to use it up in good time — homemade fruit syrups won’t have preservatives like store-bought syrups. Experimenting with different kinds of fruits can be fun, but if you want to make sure you get it right the first time, try following our easy recipe for Vegan Pineapple Honey.
6. Date Paste
Date paste is another sweetener you can make at home. You can make it by soaking Medjool dates in water or fruit juice for an hour, then blending them together using a food processor until you get a smooth consistency. Add a little more liquid if the mixture seems too dry at first, and you should end up with a paste that is suitable for spreading on toast and crackers, or using as an alternative to jelly in sandwiches. You can also use it in baking, like this one for our Orange-Triple Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies.
7. Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses is the byproduct of the processing of sugar cane for refined white sugar. Filled with all the nutrients of the plant, it is high in iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and being moderately low glycemic, it is another great option for diabetics. Its taste may be a little strong to use as a regular sweetener, so it is best to reserve it for baking and cooking. Due to its nutritional benefits many people consume it as a drink, but it’s richly sweet flavor truly shines in recipes. This Ultimate Teriyaki Stir-Fry and Pomegranate and Molasses Upside Down Cake.
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