Pour Some Stevia On Me? Your Guide To Common Sugar Substitutes

May 6, 2024

guide to sugar substitutes, how to use alternative sugars in baking, sugar free baking substitutes

From home kitchens to professional bakeries, alternative sweeteners are changing the way we cook and bake. Whether you’re trying to tweak a classic recipe or just curious about using something like stevia or monk fruit in your next dessert, it’s clear that these ingredients have become kitchen staples for many. But with so many options available, it can be tricky to understand how each one works and how it affects your cooking.

In this article, we’ll dive into popular sugar substitutes, exploring how they differ from each other and how they can change the texture, sweetness and overall results of your dishes.

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Overview of common sugar substitutes

Sugar substitutes are ingredients used to sweeten food and beverages as alternatives to regular table sugar (sucrose).

These substitutes can range from naturally derived extracts to synthetic products, each offering a unique profile in terms of taste, sweetness and usefulness in cooking and baking. People turn to these alternatives for various reasons, from managing their calorie intake or controlling blood sugar levels to experimenting with new textures and flavors in culinary projects.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most commonly used sugar substitutes in the culinary world:

  1. Stevia: Derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, this sweetener is known for its potent sweetness, which can be up to 300X sweeter than sugar. It’s popular in beverages and as a tabletop sweetener.
  2. Monk fruit sweetener: This extract comes from fruit originally grown in Southeast Asia and is known for its intense sweetness, often 150-200X sweeter than sugar. It’s praised for its fruity undertones and is commonly used in desserts and drinks.
  3. Erythritol: A sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in fruits and fermented foods. It’s about 70% as sweet as sugar but nearly calorie-free, making it a favorite for baking and cooking.
  4. Xylitol: Another sugar alcohol, similar to erythritol, but with a sweetness comparable to sugar. It’s often found in chewing gum but is also used in baking.
  5. Allulose: Known as a “rare sugar,” allulose is found in small quantities in certain fruits. It has about 70% of the sweetness of sugar but minimal calories—and it behaves similarly to sugar in cooking, making it excellent for baking.
  6. Sucralose: Sucralose is derived from sugar through a chemical process that replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with chlorine atoms. This alteration makes sucralose about 600X sweeter than sugar, but it remains calorie-free. Due to its stability under heat and its ability to retain its sweetness after cooking and baking, sucralose is a popular choice in a wide range of food products, including soft drinks, baked goods and as a tabletop sweetener.

How sugar substitutes affect recipes

Sugar substitutes can significantly alter the outcome of recipes, especially in baking, where sugar’s role extends beyond just sweetness to include texture, volume and color. Understanding these effects can help you adjust recipes for optimal results when using sugar alternatives.

Texture and volume

Sugar contributes to the structure of baked goods through the creaming process, when sugar crystals trap air. Substitutes like stevia and monk fruit don’t provide the same structure because they are used in much smaller quantities and do not have the same physical properties as granulated sugar.

This can result in baked goods that are denser and less airy. Using bulking agents like fruit purées, yogurt or additional baking powder can help mitigate some of these effects by introducing more air and structure into the batter.

Sweetness levels

Each sugar substitute varies in sweetness intensity.

For example, stevia and monk fruit are much sweeter than granulated sugar, which means you’ll use less to achieve the same sweetness. This discrepancy can affect not only the taste, but also the texture and volume, as less of the substitute is used compared to sugar. It’s important to use conversion charts specific to each substitute to balance sweetness without losing the desired texture.

Moisture content

Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and holds water, which helps to moisten and soften baked goods. Sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol also have hygroscopic properties, but they behave differently under heat and might not provide the same moisture retention as sugar.

Substitutes like erythritol can sometimes result in a drier, crumblier texture. Adjusting liquid components in recipes or adding ingredients that contribute moisture, like applesauce, can help achieve a better balance.

Browning and caramelization

Sugar caramelizes when heated, contributing to the flavor and color of foods like cookies and cakes. Many sugar substitutes do not caramelize in the same way.

For instance, erythritol and allulose can brown somewhat but do not produce the same depth of flavor as sugar. This lack of caramelization can result in paler baked goods with less flavor complexity. Brushing the top of pastries with milk, butter or egg wash before baking can help achieve a more golden color. Allulose, in contrast, does caramelize and can be a useful substitute in applications where browning is desired.

Popular sugar substitutes for baking

Each sugar substitute brings its own unique characteristics to the table, influencing not just the sweetness but also the texture, volume and moisture of your culinary creations. Let’s explore how to best use these alternatives in your kitchen.


Stevia is highly potent, and because it’s so much sweeter than sugar, it’s used in much smaller amounts. This can affect the bulk and structure in recipes, particularly in baking.

  • Culinary uses: Stevia is excellent when used in beverages like tea and coffee, and it works well in dressings and sauces where the bulk of sugar isn’t required.
  • Baking tips: For baking, look for stevia blends specifically designed for this purpose, often mixed with bulking agents such as maltodextrin or erythritol to help replicate the volume that sugar would normally provide. Remember that it may impart a slight licorice-like aftertaste, which can be masked with strong flavors like chocolate or citrus.

Monk Fruit Sweetener

Monk fruit sweetener is another high-intensity sweetener, known for its clean, sweet flavor with minimal aftertaste. It is stable under high temperatures, making it versatile for cooking and baking.

  • Culinary uses: Great for sweetening drinks, smoothies and desserts. It can also be used in sauces and salad dressings.
  • Baking tips: Monk fruit sweetener can replace sugar 1:1 in most recipes, but because it is so sweet, it’s often blended with other ingredients like erythritol to reduce sweetness intensity and add bulk.


Erythritol is slightly less sweet than sugar and imparts a cooling sensation in the mouth, which can be noticeable in some recipes. One popular brand that features erythritol as a primary ingredient is Swerve, which is favored for its sugar-like qualities and ease of use in a variety of culinary applications.

  • Culinary uses: Suitable for frostings, cold beverages and chocolate recipes where the cooling sensation can be an asset.
  • Baking tips: Erythritol works well in baked goods like cookies and cakes. It helps to provide bulk and texture similar to sugar, and it can be combined with other sweeteners to balance the sweetness.


Xylitol matches the sweetness and texture of sugar, making it a versatile substitute in a variety of culinary applications.

  • Culinary uses: Xylitol is frequently used as a sugar alternative in chewing gums, candies and even some toothpastes. It also performs well in baked goods and desserts, where it helps to create a texture and sweetness similar to that of sugar.
  • Baking tips: Xylitol can be substituted for sugar at a 1:1 ratio, making it straightforward to use in recipes. It is particularly useful for creating moist cakes and chewy cookies. Due to its ability to absorb moisture from the air, storage conditions should be considered to maintain the freshness and texture of the baked goods.


Allulose is one of the newest sugar substitutes on the market, mimicking the taste and texture of sugar very closely with fewer calories.

  • Culinary uses: Because it behaves like sugar, allulose is excellent in baking, for caramelization and making syrups.
  • Baking tips: Allulose can replace sugar at a 1:1 ratio for most baking recipes. It browns more quickly than sugar, so it may require adjusting baking times and temperatures to prevent over-browning.


Sucralose (Splenda is a common brand) is a no-calorie sweetener derived from sugar, modified by adding chlorine atoms, which makes it much sweeter than sugar—approximately 600X sweeter. Due to its high sweetness, it is used in very small amounts, which can affect the volume and texture in recipes.

  • Culinary uses: Sucralose is stable under heat, making it suitable for a wide range of cooking and baking applications. It’s especially good in desserts and beverages where maintaining a sweet flavor without added calories is desired.
  • Baking tips: For best results in baking, it is recommended to use sucralose in products specifically formulated for baking that include fillers to add bulk similar to that of sugar. Common fillers include maltodextrin and dextrose, which help sucralose to measure cup-for-cup like sugar. Since sucralose does not caramelize or provide the same moisture as sugar, you may need to adjust other ingredients in your recipes.

For example, to compensate for moisture, consider increasing wet ingredients slightly or adding an ingredient that provides bulk, such as applesauce or yogurt, which can also help improve the texture and volume of your baked goods.

Cooking and baking with sugar substitutes

Using sugar substitutes in cooking and baking can open up a world of possibilities for altering recipes to fit dietary needs or personal preferences. However, it does require some adjustments and a bit of know-how to achieve the best results.

Here are some practical tips for substituting sugar in recipes, covering adjustments for sweetness, handling differences in moisture absorption and enhancing browning in baked goods.


Adjustments for sweetness

  • Start small: Sugar substitutes vary in sweetness. Some, like stevia and monk fruit, are much sweeter than sugar, while others, like erythritol and allulose, are less sweet or about equivalent to sugar. Start with small amounts and adjust according to taste.
  • Taste as you go: Always taste your mixture as you add your sugar substitute, especially when using it for the first time in a recipe. This will help you avoid over-sweetening.
  • Use conversion charts: Many sugar substitutes provide conversion charts to help you determine the right amount to use in place of sugar. These can be incredibly helpful as a starting point.

Handling differences in moisture absorption

  • Adjust liquid ingredients: Since sugar substitutes like erythritol and xylitol do not absorb moisture in the same way sugar does, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid in your recipe to prevent your dish from drying out.
  • Add moist ingredients: Ingredients like applesauce, yogurt or pumpkin purée can add moisture to baked goods that might otherwise turn out dry when using a sugar substitute.
  • Reduce oven temperature: Lowering the oven temperature slightly and increasing cooking time can help prevent drying out when substituting sugars in baking.

Enhancing browning in baked goods

  • Use milk or egg wash: Brushing the top of pastries and bread with milk or beaten eggs can help achieve a golden-brown hue since many sugar substitutes do not caramelize as sugar does.
  • Choose the right substitute: Some substitutes like allulose and Swerve brown more effectively than others. Selecting one of these can help achieve a closer result to sugar in terms of appearance.
  • Add acidic ingredients: Incorporating ingredients like lemon juice, cream of tartar or buttermilk can help promote browning when sugar substitutes are used, due to their ability to break down proteins and enhance color at lower temperatures.

What about natural sugar alternatives?

If you’re looking for healthier options for processed sugar, many turn to natural sweeteners like honey, agave syrup, maple syrup and even date sugar. These options not only provide sweetness, but also bring their own unique flavors and textures to dishes.


Honey is a versatile sweetener that can be used in a variety of recipes. Its distinct flavors and natural sweetness make it perfect for sweetening beverages like teas and coffees, as well as for baking and creating glazes.

When baking with honey, it can be substituted for sugar in a 1:1 ratio, though you may want to reduce the amount of other liquids in the recipe due to its moisture content. Honey also adds a rich, distinct flavor to dressings and marinades.

Agave syrup

Agave syrup, known for its mild flavor and high sweetness compared to sugar, is excellent for use in beverages where its solubility is particularly beneficial. It’s also a popular choice in vegan recipes as a replacement for honey.

In baking, agave syrup can substitute for sugar, usually with a ratio of about three-quarters cup agave for every one cup of sugar, adjusting the liquid ingredients accordingly to maintain the right consistency.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup, with its rich and distinctive flavor, is a favorite—not only for breakfast dishes like pancakes and waffles, but also in baking and in savory dishes.

It can replace sugar in baking recipes by using three-quarters of a cup of maple syrup for every one cup of sugar, also reducing the amount of liquid in the recipe. Maple syrup imparts a unique flavor that works well in both sweet treats and glazes for meats, enhancing the taste complexity of a dish.

Date sugar

Made from dried dates, date sugar offers a similar sweetness and a subtle caramel-like flavor. It doesn’t dissolve completely like other sugars, so it’s best used in recipes where a smooth texture is not critical, like for cookies or bars.

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