Cooking and baking without added sugar is not as challenging as you might think. With just a few tricks up your sleeve, you can add sweetness to most food items without having to add sugar (real, artificial, fake, or natural). The secret is fooling your tongue into thinking it’s getting something sweet when it actually isn’t. You can use these tips to completely remove sugar from your diet or just to cut down on how much sugar you add to a recipe. Here are my favorite was to add sweetness without adding sugar:
How to Add Sweetness Without Adding Sugar
- Vanilla Extract/Vanilla Beans: When baking, up the vanilla. Double or even triple it. Vanilla smells and tastes sweet when added to recipes. Make sure to get pure, real vanilla extract that is made without corn syrup. The fake stuff just doesn’t have the same flavor. If you really want to add a punch of vanilla, scrape a vanilla bean into your recipe. This is a surefire way to infuse the entire baked good with vanilla-y sweetness and it smells amazing too.
- Almond Extract: Like vanilla extract, this flavor makes your mouth taste sweet. But, use it sparingly, it’s very powerful. It pairs well with stone fruits and goes great in cookie recipes.
- Cinnamon: I routinely double the amount of cinnamon called for in recipes in order to cut out or reduce the sugar. It tricks your taste buds into thinking they are eating something sweet. Try sprinkling it on cinnamon, adding to it to baked goods, and more. For the best results, grate a fresh cinnamon stick. You can also get some sweetness from nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (but use these sparingly as they are potent).
- Dried Fruits: Throw in some raisins, dried apricots, or mangos. All that natural fruit sugar is concentrated into these little packets of goodness. Instant sweet!
- Coconuts: Replace any oils in the recipe with coconut oil. Try subbing coconut milk for regular milk in recipes. Throw in a little unsweetened shredded coconut if you think it makes sense for whatever you are cooking. Coconut is just naturally sweet and, I think, it tastes delicious. It will impart that unique coconut flavor into whatever you are making, though, so use it wisely. It pairs well for cinnamon and chocolate and fruits.
- Bananas: Like coconuts, bananas, will give your creations a distinct flavor. However, I think that’s a good thing. I love bananas. Try adding some mashed bananas to breads, pancakes, or cookies. Bananas make a great egg replacer as well. The browner the skin of the banana, the sweeter the flavor. If you have some overly ripe bananas that you won’t be able to use up, peel them and freeze them for a later time.
- Applesauce: Replace all or some of the oil in a baked treat with unsweetened applesauce. It adds sweetness and cuts down on the calories. Play around with the amount of applesauce you us because it can make the texture more dense when subbing it for oil.
- Dates: Dates are full of natural sugar. I use them sparingly because of their high sugar content, but they can be very useful. Find plump, fresh dates (I typically use Medjool) and soak them before adding. Throw them in smoothies for extra sweetness, chop them up and use like raisins. Puree them to mix into other baked goods. The will add denseness to whatever you’re baking, so they work well in naturally dense items, like brownies.
- Monk Fruit Extract: If I can’t get enough sweetness into my cooking, I use monk fruit extract as a sugar substitute. It’s calorie free and imparts a gentle sweetness into your food. It comes from an actual fruit that originated in China. Monks (hence the name) used it as a treatment for diabetes. I use it sparingly, as I prefer more natural methods. But, I do use it frequently because sometimes there is just no other way around it, you’ve got to throw in a 1/4 or 1/3 cup of monk fruit to get the job done.
- Juice Concentrates: Concentrates are not my favorite sweetener since making juice removes the fruit’s natural fiber (pulp). I typically avoid them. Without the fiber, fruit juice concentrates absorb much more quickly into the bloodstream and can cause an insulin spike. However, I still think it’s a better option than pure cane sugar. Boil apple or grape juice concentrates until they get thick and syrupy. Then, add them to your favorite dish for big punch of sweet. These concentrates are great for making jam or cobblers.
- Honey, Molasses, Maple Syrup: My family avoids using honey, molasses, and maple syrup since they cause the same reactions (insulin spike, fructose metabolism) in your body as table sugar. However, they are healthier and less processed than cane sugar; I would prefer to use them if I had no other viable options.