Baking Alternatives – Sugar Substitutes

March 23rd, 2010 by Angie Thayer

As some of you may know from reading my biography I am a registered dietitian. Sounds kind of counterintuitive…a registered dietitian at a cake decorating company? Well, now my nutrition skills can be put to good use by talking to you about better baking ideas.

Approximately 23.6 million or 7.8% of the United States population are living with diabetes. Years ago people with diabetes were told they should eliminate sweets from their diet. With new research we have discovered that it is about managing the amount of total carbohydrates one eats, meaning even diabetics can enjoy a sweet treat!

Items with a large amount of total carbohydrates (e.g., cakes, pies, cookies and other baked goods) can be incorporated into your overall diet plan by cutting back on other carb-containing foods at the same meal. For example, if you’d like to have cookies with your lunch, substitute them for another carb-containing food. Just remember, the portion size of the cookies will most likely be smaller than the item they are replacing.

Sugar Bowl If baking is a passion for you, which it probably is because you are reading a Wilton blog, then I have some suggestions for decreasing the amount of total carbohydrates (in this case sugar) in baked goods. However, sugar provides sweetness, tenderness, bulk and color in baking making it a challenge to substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar.

With most recipes, you can reduce the sugar by at least one-third without changing the taste and texture. Try a test batch before making the entire recipe. Artificial sweeteners are a common alternative for sugar in baking and provide almost no calories. Not all artificial sweeteners can be used for baking and prolonged cooking. The following sugar substitutes can be used in baking:

  • Stevia: This is the most recent addition to the non-nutritive sweeteners category. It is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. When using non-nutritive sweeteners that contain stevia as its main ingredient, follow the baking conversions for that brand as they differ from one another. Guidelines can range from using 1/4 to almost 1/2 of the stevia product for the total amount of sugar used in the recipe. One brand suggests replacing only half of the total amount of sugar with the stevia containing product when baking.
  • Acesulfame Potassium: Because it is heat stable it can be used in baking and cooking. It is 200 times sweeter than table sugar and often used with sugar in baking to achieve the desired texture. Substitute 6 packets (1 gram) for each 1/4 cup of sugar.
  • Sucralose: This is a one-to-one sugar substitute meaning it is measured out just like sugar, one cup for one cup, 1 tablespoon for 1 tablespoon, etc. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Sucralose can be used in recipes that require prolonged heating without losing any of its sweetness. However, baked goods made with this sweetener may bake quicker than those made with sugar. Check cakes 7-10 minutes and cookies, brownies and quick breads 4-5 minutes before the recipes expected bake time.

Saccharin and Aspartame, two other artificial sweeteners, are not recommended for baking because they are heat sensitive. Other ingredients besides sugar substitutes can be used in place of some of the sugar called for in recipes. These include honey, fruit juice concentrates and refined fructose. As a reminder, these substitutions are just guidelines and it is best to test recipes beforehand.

What results have you had with using sugar alternatives when baking? I’d love to hear your stories (even if they were a flop…it could brighten someone’s day to know they aren’t alone)!

Angie Thayer Angie is a registered dietitian and has been the Food and Regulatory Specialist for Wilton Brands for the past 4 years. She wears many hats in this role – regulatory, PR, customer service and inventory to name a few. While wearing her PR hat, you may have seen her on local Chicago news stations where she is the guest chef. In Angie’s words, “I never have the same day twice and I wouldn’t change a thing. I love the people and the atmosphere at Wilton – who couldn’t when it’s always about celebrating.” In her spare time, Angie enjoys traveling to Europe, Mexico and around the US with her husband.

37 Replies

  1. Candy says:

    How can you cut the sugar is frosting? Is there a low sugar alternative?

  2. terry says:

    i’m looking for a buttercreame frosting that is lower in sugar. is this possible since there really isn’t a good alternative for the powdered sugar?

  3. Amanda White says:

    What about using Agave? I am nervous to use something like that in my baking and want to know if it would be ok to use and how could I figure out how much to use.

    • Angie Thayer says:

      Agave syrup is perfectly fine to use in a recipe. If you substitute it for granulated sugar in a recipe, use 2/3-3/4 the original amount of sweetener since agave is sweeter than sugar. Also, be sure to decrease the original liquid in the recipe by about 25% and up to one third (e.g., if a recipe calls for one cup of sugar and one cup milk, add only 2/3-3/4 cup agave and only 3/4 cup milk). As a side note, agave will burn more easily than sugar, so decrease the oven temperature approximately 25 degrees.

  4. Pia says:

    Hi, I make a really good chocolate icing. I use and chocolate with Splenda – usually Hersey’s dark sugar free chocolate. I use Wilton’s ganache recipe just like I would with ordinary chocolate. Let it set and go cold and then I beat it with the mixer until fluffy. I can then pipe it like ordinary frosting. Family and friends love it.

    • Alessandra says:

      Do you still use SPLENDA??
      Do you know that it contains ARSENIC !!!
      Stevia or Agave nectar is the safest choice.

      • Angie says:

        The Position of the American Dietetic Association: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners, indicates that sucralose is safe for consumers. The Food and Drug Administration has also concluded from a review of more than 110 studies in human beings and animals that sucralose does not pose carcinogenic, reproductive, or neurologic risk to human beings. The FDA determined that the acceptable daily intake for sucralose is 5 mg/kg of body weight per day. Consumers with the highest intake levels of this sweetener only consumed 1.6 mg/kg of body weight per day; much lower than acceptable limits.

      • Chris Orewiler says:

        Stevia is from the same family as aspartame so people who are sensitive to aspartame could be sensitive to Stevia.

      • Angie says:

        Upps where did you find that?

    • Christina Whipple says:

      Hi. I would be interested in the recipe and/or links that you used to make your sugar=free chocolate frosting. My nephew (more like a wonderful son=in-law) went on Overeaters Anonymous 5 years ago to lose weight so he could have a long, healthy life with his 3 darling kids and wife. He lost 170 lbs and has kept it off! He recently celebrated his 5 year “no sugar” anniversary.

      Since I recently started decorating cakes with Wilton (HAVING A BLAST!!!), I’d like to be able to offer something with zero sugar if at all possible.

      Thanks!

      Christina

    • M.E. says:

      Three people I personally know who all have PhDs in some specialty of chemistry all said the same thing about sucralose or Splenda: This is chemically closer to chlorine than sugar, don’t eat it. Two were my Grandfather and uncle, who both work for the government and one just retired as VP from one of the major pharmaceutical companies. As for the FDA determination… we know that government entities can be bribed or bought out by companies. It happens all the time. We have to be informed as consumers and not rely on our government to make choices for us.

  5. Hannah says:

    For low sugar frostings, I use stable whip cream sweetened with sugar free coffe syrup, meraguine made with splenda or splenda blend, cream cheese frosting made with splenda, or sugar free ganache like Pia mentions. I have yet to come up with a good buttercream though.

    I have also used Agave – much like honey – replace 1:1 or 1:2 for sugar, and adjust for the moisture.

    Having made many sugar free cakes, I have discovered that the stronger the other flavors are, the better the cake – chocolate, lemon, ginger/spice, or berry cakes work better than angel food or vanilla or white; mostly because sugar adds depth to the flavor that the substitutes seem to lack, so you need something else to create depth of flavor.

  6. Carla says:

    please give the recipe exactly to use. with the measures to make better recipes

  7. Maureen Israel says:

    If you go on http://www.splenda.ca, they have a recipe for powdered sugar using splenda and cornstarch. I have a 6-year type 1 diabetic and I’m going to be trying this recipe to make my favorite buttercream frosting this weekend for my youngest son’s 5th birthday party. Hope it works!

  8. Julie E. says:

    I make a chocolate frosting using semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 can coconut milk. I skim the creme off the top and melt that with the chips and discard the water in the can. Once it is all melted I refridgerate it for 1 hour. Pull it out and stir it up and you have silky smooth frosting.

    I have also cut the sugar content in the Wilton buttercream recipe to 1-2 cups and put in more shortening. This will make a soft whippy, light icing that is creamy and far less sugary in flavor. Then I will make a standard recipe for the decorations. The surface of the icing on the cake will not crust as well due to the lack in sugar but I have to say it’s a small price to pay for those in your family who are diabetic.

  9. Susanna G says:

    What about Altern ? Has anyone substituted it for the Power Sugar?(for the Butter cream frosting?)
    My husband is a Type 2 Dibetic and has a real high sugar and carb sensitivity.
    And does anyone know where it can be bought in a Big Bag ?
    Thank you

    • Denice M says:

      Wal-Mart used to carry Altern in large bags, but I haven’t seen it lately. You might check your local WM. Altern is a generic for Splenda.

      • Angie says:

        According to an article I recently read, Wal-Mart has removed Altern from their shelves. As Denice mentioned it is a generic brand of Splenda, meaning it uses sucralose as its sugar substitute.

  10. Ipshita says:

    Hi….my husban has ben diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about 4 months ago. I looked up and found very nice recipes especially the splenda pound cake recipe…it turns out very well. There are various other recipes which use fruit juice and things like applesauce to sweeten but i go ith splenda. It’s highly recommended.

  11. janet brennan says:

    i am a nutritionist and stevia is good but splenda harms the pancreas and is not recommended xylitol is best.agave is good too . carrots is a secreat sweetner in baking as well as punkin and applesause.

  12. Jon says:

    the problem i have is my spouse doesn’t like Splenda, says it has an aftertaste. So i have used Equal in pies with no problem. But of course it doesn’t work well for frosting. Just doesn’t have the consistency and volume needed to cream with butter or crisco.

    I cut back on the sugar in cookies and substitute Equal but can’t seem to remove sugar altogether ( again can’t cream Equal with butter)

  13. Cathy Jo Corso-Plank says:

    There are so many natural alternatives to sugar that work well in baking – xylitol, erythritol, blue agave nectar, stevia – that also have a low glycemic index. SPLENDA is as bad as aspartame when it comes to causing neurological problems that mimic MS! Not to mention the damage it does to the pancreas. If one is diabetic, chances are they will be digesting way too much splenda already. These others are the natural, HEALTHY alternatives to ‘have your cake and eat it, too’!

  14. Shimsha says:

    Do u have any substitues for Meringue powder and Gelatin that is used in Icing and fondant respectively? I come from a family who does not eat eggs or any thing derived from eggs/animals. Pls help

    • Angie Thayer says:

      A buttercream type icing can be made without gelatin or meringue powder, but it will be less stable. Unfortunately, there is no substitute in fondant, as it requires the elasticity from gelatin.

  15. Celia says:

    Agar agar is a seaweed alternative that can be bought at health food shops or vegetarian gelatin. Either of these can be used instead of animal gelatin. The packet tells you the quantity to use.

  16. [...] April 1, 2010 at 9:42 pm (Diet, Entertaining, Food, Health, Weight Managment, cooking) (agave, baking, cake, desserts, Diabetes, diabetics, Diet, Food, splenda, stevia, sugar substitutes, sweets) Baking Alternatives – Sugar Substitutes « It’s a Piece of Cake – Ideas from Wilton. [...]

  17. Georgia says:

    reduced sugar

  18. Ron Hammond says:

    I have looked until I am blue in the face for a substitute for brown sugar. Do they make a sugar free brown “sugar”?

    • Angie Thayer says:

      Unlike cooking, baking is like science where all of the ingredients have a specific function and require a certain amount to make a desirable end product. Brown sugar is important for flavor, moistness and browning of the baked good. I have not seen a sugar free brown sugar because the results, most likely, are not pleasing. But, there is Splenda® Brown Sugar Blend which has 1/2 the Calories and Carbohydrate as that in regular brown sugar. If you end up using this product, let me know how your baked good turns out.

  19. Ron Hammond says:

    Evaporated milk is full of carbs, and all my pumpkin pie recipes call for evaporated milk. I am not new to baking but now I have diabetics who are clamoring for my pies and my specialty “Carrot Cake”. I just don’t want to make one that tastes funny, and I don’t want to spoil my reputation in the baking field. I bake for the American Veterans Club, I too am a Veteran, but my point is that a great number of them are diabetic, just not me, So…..this is all new to me!

    • Angie Thayer says:

      Having diabetes can be very overwhelming at first. But, with time, classes and reading it will become second nature. When I work with diabetic patients I tell them it isn’t a diabetic diet but a healthy eating plan that everyone should follow, not just diabetics. With that said, healthy eating doesn’t restrict you from any type of food. Rather it is looking at foods in regards to portion sizes. A lot of times when a dessert/treat/sweet is lower in carbohydrates it usually means it has more fat or salt. When you take out one thing for flavor you have to add something else to get the flavor back. And, a lot of times when people see something is reduced sugar or sugar free they end up eating more of it which results in eating the same amount of Calories as if they ate the full fat or full sugar item. Therefore, if you are happy with your full fat, full sugar recipe keep making it that way. The key is to eat a smaller portion.

    • M.E. says:

      Practice, practice, practice! I am a pastry chef and got hired on at a shop doing the specialty desserts: vegan, diabetic-friendly, flourless, and I’m exploring allergy-free. There are good recipes out there to start with, but they take tinkering. And it depends on what you personally are willing to work with. After lots of research, I will only use fruits, sweet vegetables, sucrose and agave nectar as sweeteners. I highly recommend reading a book about the science of baking. It very much is a science. Gisslen (author) is a great one.

  20. TP50 says:

    I don’t understand why so many products are made with Spenda if it is bad. That bothers me because I drink a lot of diet Kool-aid drinks. I wonder if there’ll be a time when another sugar substitute is used? I personally like Stevia but someone said it’s of the same makeup?

    Now I have a question about cake. :) If I use whole wheat cake flour will my cake be good ? Everyone I’ve read says their cake tastes like crud and is way too dense when they use wheat flour. I’m thinking they don’t use “cake” flour.

    • Angie Thayer says:

      We have not tested whole wheat flour or whole wheat cake flour in our cake recipes so we cannot guarantee the results. However, substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour typically produces a denser and heavier cake. If you are willing to forgo a completely whole wheat cake many recommendations suggest substituting half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. You could also contact King Arthur Flour (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/) as they would most likely have some recommendations since flour is their specialty.

  21. Brigid says:

    Is it alright to use honey? My mother is diabetic, and I want to make her cookies she can enjoy. I’m also using rice flour, does that make a difference at all?

    • Angie Thayer says:

      We haven’t tested a lot of recipes using honey as a sugar replacer therefore, according to allrecipes.com: “Honey is 25 to 50% sweeter than sugar, and has a distinctive flavor. The flavors and colors of honey can vary depending upon the bees’ diet–buckwheat honey, for example, is darker and stronger than clover honey. Baked goods made with honey are moist and dense, and tend to brown faster than those made with granulated sugar.

      Use Âľ cup plus 1 tablespoon honey in place of 1 cup sugar, and reduce the other liquid ingredients by 2 tablespoons. Unless the recipe includes sour cream or buttermilk, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acidity.”

      If you are looking at using rice flour due to its carbohydrate content it will not provide a significant lowering compared to all purpose or wheat flour. If you have a personal preference to use it just remember that rice flour will most likely need to be mixed with another flour when it comes to baking. When making substitutions to recipes I highly recommend testing the recipe prior to the big event. Good luck!

  22. Lisa Bell says:

    I am looking for a sugar substitute that will go into a gluey frosting like royal icing for Gingerbread houses. Will rice flour work? Any help you can offer would be appreciated. The house I wish to make is for animals.

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