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Stevia rebaudiana as a natural sugar substitute

Natural sugar substitutes are derived from plants and used in their unaltered form. They are meant to replace - and in many cases are a steep amplification of - the sweetness of sucrose.

 

In the past few decades, it has slowly become clear that the use of sugar has a lot of long-term negative side effects, including the most common one, which is sugar addiction. Scientists stumbled onto aspartame as an artificial sweetener halfway through the 20th century, but in recent years this substance has been under fire due to the dangers it allegedly holds. 

The new trend is to look for healthy alternatives in natural sugar replacements. There are a lot of natural alternatives to sugar, so it might be best to concentrate on the most important ones here.


  • Stevia

The daddy of all the natural sugar substitutes. It is derived from the stevia plant and is about 40 times sweeter than table sugar in its raw form, depending on the quality of the leaves. Stevia sweetens food and beverages in different forms, and is stable in high temparatures, which makes cooking with stevia a piece of cake! No pun intended.


A fruit that stems from Siraitia grosvenorii, a climbing plant cultivated in the border area of China and Thailand. Unlike stevia, the plant avoids sunlight in order to produce its sweet fruits, as it prefers a damper climate. The propagation of this fruit is still small-scaled though, compared to stevia rebaudiana. It can be bought as a liquid extract or in powdered form.


Also known as "wood sugar" because it was first found in the bark of birch trees in Finland. It is a so-called "polyol" or sugar alcohol, which can also be found in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables. Sugar alcohols are often used to add sweetness to artificial sweeteners and contain only about half the calories of normal sugar, but may cause some unwanted side effects in people with a sensitive digestive system. Xylitol is sold primarily as a granulated sweetener.


Another sugar alcohol that is found naturally in small doses in fruits like pears and apples.  Coca Cola has released a new product called Truvia based on erythritol and rebaudioside A. Stevia fans should be wary though and wait for the first results, because the main ingredient is still a sugar alcohol and may cause some intestinal distress if consumed in large amounts. Let's hope that it won't give stevia a bad name by mistake... If you want to try this sweetener, NOW Foods Erythritol has a good reputation.

Extracted from corn or wheat, maltitol can be found as an ingredient in many brands of sugar free candy. It contains less carbs and calories than sugar, but it's also less sweet. This means that you'll have to use more of it in order to reach the same amount of sweetness. Also, maltitol is one of those sugar alcohols that has a high number of complaints from people who are sensitive to intestinal discomfort. Stay away from this sweetener as much as you can.

Sorbitol's main advantage is that it can absorb water. Therefore, it is often regarded as an excellent ingredient for use in sugar free chocolate recipes and in combination with other food types that tend to dry out easily. As with maltitol though, this polyol is less sweet than sugar, so you're going to need large amounts of it in order to make it taste right. And a greater volume equals a higher calorie count!




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