Whether it's for dietary concerns or you're simply out of stock, there are several alternatives you can use to replace refined sugar in your recipes. These alternatives, however, should be carefully explored and considered before using as a replacement. Refined sugar not only sweetens recipes, but it also provides important qualities, such as texture, moisture, volume and browning. It's important to understand the different characteristics and degrees of sweetness of each type of substitute before you choose to use it as a replacement for refined sugar.
Substituting with Honey or Maple Syrup
Raw honey and maple syrup are both naturally found substances that can be used to sweeten your foods. Because honey and maple syrup come in liquid form, be careful when substituting the two into certain baked goods, such as cookies, which rely heavily on granulated sugar for their texture and structure. Honey and maple syrup often work as a wonderful substitute in pound cakes, quick breads and muffins. Because they are slightly sweeter than refined white sugar, only 2/3 cup of honey or maple syrup should be substituted for every 1 cup of sugar.
Do not give honey to babies or infants. In rare cases, traces of the bacteria that cause botulism have been found in honey. This is normally not an issue for the adult digestive system, but it can pose a problem for weaker systems like those of babies and infants.
Substituting with Agave
Agave is also a naturally found substance that is used to sweeten foods. Agave nectar is commonly used for drinks, dressings, sauces and various desserts as a replacement for sugar. Because agave nectar is a liquid, it should not be substituted for sugar in certain recipes like candies or toffee, where chemical reactions are reliant on the refined sugar in the recipe. Instead, for baked goods or other items that are sensitive to the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients, try only substituting half of the refined sugar in the recipe with agave. If you will be replacing all the sugar in the recipe, note that only 2/3 cup of agave should be used for every 1 cup of granulated sugar, as agave is sweeter than sugar. You should also consider reducing the other portion of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup.
Substituting with Aspartame
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is most commonly marketed in the U.S. under the brands Equal and NutraSweet. It is often used as a low-calorie or diabetic-friendly replacement for refined sugar. However, because aspartame can be unstable and lose some of its sweetness at certain cooking and baking temperatures, its use in baked goods and dry dessert mixes is limited. Aspartame is most successfully used as a substitute for sugar in items like pie fillings, cheesecake, beverages, sauces and dressings. Aspartame is also much lighter in weight than refined sugar; therefore, for best substituting practices, use cups and teaspoons to measure out the aspartame rather than replacing the sugar gram for gram. In general, 1 cup of Equal Spoonful, for example, is the equivalent of 1 cup of refined sugar.
If you are using aspartame in your recipe via a product like Equal, make sure you use the non-packet, spoon-for-spoon type to correctly replace the refined sugar in the recipe. The packet form of aspartame is more concentrated and should not be used spoon for spoon or cup for cup.
Substituting with Date Sugar
Date sugar is simply dehydrated dates that have been processed into a coarse powder. Date sugar is a great substitute in recipes for items like cookies and brownies, where texture and volume are normally achieved by refined sugar granules. Date sugar also tends to have a little more moisture than refined white sugar, which contributes to a softer texture, similar to the way brown sugar does. Date sugar can easily be used cup for cup when replacing refined sugar; however, date sugar does tend to be slightly less sweet than refined sugar. It is not advisable to use date sugar in recipes like frosting or candied nuts, as date sugar granules are resistant to melting and, therefore, hinder a smooth product. It should also be noted that date sugar has the subtle taste of dates, which may or may not be preferred for certain recipes.