Cooking Tips | 19 February 2016So Long Sugar! Baking with Natural Sweeteners Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Refined sugar – we all know it’s bad for us, and many of us wouldn’t dream of adding it to things like a cup of tea or coffee. But when it comes to baking, there seems to be little choice but to use it. After all, cakes needs a little sweetness – it’s all part of the treat. If you’re trying to cut refined sugar out of your life – and it can be hard to do so – here are a range of natural, less refined sweeteners you can use in your bakes instead. Palmyra jaggery This sweetener is a natural sugar harvested from the blossom of the Palmyra tree, found across India and Southeast Asia. Look for it in the shops under the brand name SugaVida. Dark brown in colour and with a caramel-like taste, a tablespoon of Palmyra jaggery contains more than your recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12, B6 and B1. It has the lowest GI score of any natural sugar, and if that weren’t enough, SugaVida is also organic, ethically traded and sustainably produced by the communities that farm it. Coconut sugar From light, sandy brown to a rich caramel in colour, coconut sugar is similar to Palmyra jaggery in that it comes from the sap found in the flower buds of the coconut tree, rather than the flesh of the coconut itself. Look for organic, unrefined, unfiltered, unbleached varieties that contain no additives or preservatives. Use less coconut sugar by combining it with other natural sweeteners, such as fruit purée and honey. Raw honey The oldest sweetener there is, raw honey was historically used as a medicine as well as a food. Try to find a raw honey made locally rather than a commercial one, as the latter tends to be heat treated – a process that destroys precious nutrients. The flavour comes from whatever the bees have been collecting pollen from – be it orange blossom or aromatic jungle flowers. Raw honey ranges from light, clear varieties to strongly scented floral ones. Dried fruit Dates, sultanas, raisins, apricots, blueberries and figs are just some of the dried fruits you can use to naturally sweeten your bakes. These ingredients work best in bars, cookies and tray bakes. Not only are they sweet, minimising the need for sugars, but they’re also a good source of dietary fibre. Dates – in particular the Medjool variety – can be blended and used as a wet ingredient in darker cakes. Fresh fruits and vegetables Did you know that vegetable-based bakes such as carrot cake were at their most popular during the Second World War? Sugar and butter were heavily rationed during the war, and the only way to make moist, sweet cakes was to use vegetables and fruits. Apple purée delivers a delicious natural sweetness, particularly when combined with small amounts of the other natural sugars listed above. Even humble veggies such as parsnip, pumpkin and beetroot – when roasted to bring out their natural sweetness – can be used to make delicious bakes. Leave out the sugar altogether For some recipes, particularly those with other strong flavours, you can leave out nearly all the sugar altogether. Instead, choose something like maple syrup, coconut nectar or a drizzle of honey and and simply glaze the top of the cake. It’s this layer that hits your taste buds first and registers as a sweet taste. Bingo! It’s important to note that many of these ingredients are simply sugar in another form, so should be used sparingly. However, because they’re naturally processed these sweet alternatives contain greater quantities of nutrients and vitamins, as well as having a lower glycaemic index than white granulated or caster sugar. All of which is good news for you, and good news for your bakes. For a range of recipes free from refined sugar, pick up a copy of Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman. Be sure to follow her on Twitter @HensCleanCakes and Instagram@HensCleanCakes for the latest inspirational bakes. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.