There are better for you options than refined white sugar, and today I’m sharing how to stock your real food pantry with the ultimate guide to unrefined natural sweeteners! I’ll detail out why I love these options, how they work in baking, along with recipes to go with them to get you started.
The good news – we can reduce our refined sugar intake, eat balanced meals and choose better for you natural sweeteners.
Even better news – they are DELISH my friends!
If you’ve seen any of my dessert recipes, you know I love natural sweeteners! I even taught myself how to make homemade chocolate that is naturally sweetened with maple syrup and lower in sugar. I believe in moderation and enjoying your foods. I also believe we can make those treats in moderation even better for us! Better oils, whole flours and natural sweetness.
Why choose unrefined natural sweeteners?
Choosing an unrefined natural sweetener, instead of refined white sugar, is a more nutritious way to sweeten you food. A naturally derived sugar is still a sugar in the body (it will increase blood sugar), but it’s a better option.
When you choose to use a natural sweetener, instead of processed refined white sugar, you’ll get the vitamins, mineral and (sometimes) fiber that it devoid in refined white sugar. If we are choosing to eat something sweet, why not get as much goodness out of it in the process?
What is an unrefined natural sweetener?
Natural sweeteners contain calories and nutrients. They are metabolized and change as they process through the body. They are made in nature instead of a lab. White table sugar is highly processed, whereas natural sweeteners (which are outlined below), are derived from nature and unprocessed/changed.
Guide to baking with unrefined natural sweeteners
Here are my 5 favorite natural sweeteners I love to use in my kitchen. I’m also sharing how to use them in baking recipes + favorite recipes that use each of them as the sweetener of choice. This your go-to guide to baking with unrefined natural sweeteners!
Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree. I’d describe the flavor of dates as caramel like. They are rich in fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium, B vitamins, copper, and magnesium. Fresh or dried dates work wonderfully raw in snack balls and treats, or as a sweetener in smoothies and salad dressings.
Dates can be blended into a date paste from fresh dates. Dates are also dehydrated and turned into a date sugar which bakes similar to white sugar, but today we’re focusing on using the whole date.
Replacing dates in recipes
If you’re looking at a recipe that uses white sugar and you want to replace it with dates, just know the outcome wouldn’t be the same. Detoxinista has a great how-to make date paste recipe along with how to replace sugar in recipes. I’d highly recommend giving that one a look!
My favorite way to use dates is in snack balls and bars. Dates are very sweet (I call them natures candy) and will make your treats taste like a legit treat!
Favorite date sweetened recipes on the blog:
- Raw healthy brownies
- Dark chocolate trail mix bark
- Carrot cake energy balls
- Nutty cacao coconut energy balls
Date sweetened recipes from around the web:
If you look up natural sweeteners, banana doesn’t show up on the list – but it’s one of my favorite natural sweeteners to use! Ripe brown bananas contain natural sugar, and if you’ve ever made my no added sugar banana smash cake, you know it will still taste sweet enough!
Bananas are a healthy source of fiber, potassium and other vitamins and minerals.
Replacing bananas in recipes
Baking with bananas will add more liquid to your recipe, so you may need to reduce the other liquid if you are using it to replace a dry sweetener. The texture will change and the outcome will be a softer product.
Favorite banana sweetened recipes on the blog:
- Healthy banana nut mini muffins
- Naturally sweet chocolate avocado pudding
- Peanut butter banana raisin breakfast cookies
- Peanut butter banana spinach smoothie
Banana sweetened recipes from around the web:
- Apple peanut butter blender muffins from Happy Healthy Mama
- Banana cookies from Elephantastic Vegan
- Dark chocolate, almond and sea salt banana baked oatmeal from Ambitious Kitchen
Real maple syrup comes from maple trees. It is not Mrs Butterworth’s syrup! Although that was my favorite growing up, I appreciate the flavor of real maple syrup fully now.
Maple syrup contains some vitamins and minerals. It has a distinct maple flavor, with notes of caramel, vanilla and prune. Some grades of maple syrup are more mild (grade A), some more deep and strong in flavor (grade B).
Replacing maple syrup in recipes
When you use maple syrup as a replacement sweetener in a recipe it will add more liquid, which means you will need to reduce other liquid in the recipe a touch. Experiment and know that the texture may change if you are using a recipe that doesn’t initially use maple syrup.
Favorite maple syrup sweetened recipes on the blog:
Maple syrup sweetened recipes from around the web:
- Healthy no bake maple cookies from Cooking Canuck
- Chocolate maple torte from Kitchen Gidget
- Maple muffins from Once Upon a Chef
Honey is one of the most common natural sweeteners, and for good reason. It’s made by bees and easy to come by! Honey contains minerals, B vitamins and is also may have antibacterial properties.
Replacing honey in recipes
Honey is actually sweeter than sugar, so when you replace sugar in a recipe, you need less honey. If you replace 1 cup of white sugar in a recipe, use around 2/3 cup of honey. You’ll also need to reduce the other liquid ingredients a tad because honey is a liquid sweetener. The same goes here as with other liquid natural sweeteners – the texture will likely change if you replace a white sugar sweetener recipe with honey, so go in with an experimentation mindset!
Favorite honey sweetened recipes on the blog:
Honey sweetened recipes from around the web:
- Banana cake from Cookie and Kate
- Honey oatmeal cookies from Dessert for Two
- Honey sweetened chocolate from A Modern Homestead
Of the natural sweeteners listed, I use molasses least often out of these. Still, I want to include this as a great option to have on hand for a warm, sweet and smoky flavor. Light molasses has the mildest flavor, where as blackstrap molasses is more bitter and less sweet. Molasses is most often made by boiling down sugar into a deep syrup.
Blackstrap molasses is the most nutrient rich of the types of molasses. It contains some iron, manganese, copper, calcium and potassium.
Replacing molasses in recipes
Molasses is less sweet than white sugar, so when using it as a replacement in recipes you’ll need to slightly increase the amount (try 1 1/3 cup molasses for every 1 cup of white sugar). It is also a liquid sweetener so reduce the other liquids down slightly.
Your end product will have a very different flavor profile when using molasses instead of sugar. It isn’t recommended to replace all the sugar with molasses, but as I like to say, experiment and see what works!
Favorite molasses sweetened recipes on the blog:
Molasses sweetened recipes from around the web:
- Pumpkin gingerbread smoothie from Eating Bird Food
- Molasses breakfast cookies from Don’t Waste the Crumbs
- Whole wheat molasses bread from Cookie and Kate
Building a real food pantry? Check out these posts!
What is your favorite natural sweetener? Favorite naturally sweetened recipe?