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Your Guide to Sugar Alternatives and When to Use Them

Here's your complete guide to sugar alternatives, including stevia, honey and agave syrup.

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Closeup of lady pouring sugar while preparing hot coffee cupPair Srinrat/Shutterstock

Trying to avoid granulated sugar in today’s world can be tough—even if you opt for low-sugar desserts. Lucky for us, there are plenty of alternatives that still give a nice boost of natural sweetness. From maple syrup to blackstrap molasses, read on for the complete guide to sugar alternatives.

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maple syrup in glass bottle on wooden tableshowcake/Shutterstock

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a thick, sugary liquid. Although it is all natural and contains minerals like calcium and potassium, it’s very calorie-dense. It has a deeply sweet flavor and is a delicious substitute for sugar in recipes like barbecue sauce and orange chicken.

Go beyond pancakes with sweet and savory recipes for maple syrup.

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This natural, plant-based sweetener seems too good to be true. Extracted from a South African plant, stevia has zero calories and has been linked to some health benefits, like helping lower blood pressure and regulate insulin levels. Stevia is typically available in powder or liquid form and can be used as a substitute in any recipe that calls for sugar.

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refined molasses in dishneil langan/Shutterstock

Blackstrap Molasses

Blackstrap molasses is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This natural sweetener has more flavor and nutrients than regular molasses because it’s more concentrated. Use this richly-flavored sweetener in sauces, marinades or drizzled on toast.

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Brown rice syrupKOBRYN TARAS/Shutterstock

Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup is a thick, sweet sugar alternative. It’s made when fermented brown rice is cooked down to form a sticky paste. It doesn’t taste as sweet or intense as honey or maple syrup. Use it cup for cup in place of corn syrup, like when making this caramel popcorn.

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Pouring aromatic honey into jar, closeup; Shutterstock ID 764193367Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Raw Honey

Raw honey is thick in texture and loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. To best preserve the nutritional value, use raw honey for drizzling rather than cooking, as heat could damage some of the nutrients. Try it over granola, cereal, spinach salads or any of these creative toast recipes.

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Organic coconut palm sugar in measuring spoonsElena Elisseeva/Shutterstock

Coconut Sugar

From coconut water to coconut milk, it seems there’s nothing this mighty, tropical plant can’t do! Coconut sugar contains a small amount of nutrients plus fiber but has the same sweetness and calories as granulated sugar. It’s is a bit more coarse than white sugar, though it can be used exactly the same way. It even measures the same way as regular sugar.

Can’t get enough coconut? Try these desserts.

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Raw Organic Sweet Light Agave Syrup in a BowlBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Agave Syrup

Agave syrup is one of the most controversial sweeteners available today. Although it is typically thought of as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, agave isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s still calorie-dense like regular sugar, but it’s sweeter, so you can use less of it to get the same level of sweetness. Just remember to use about one-third less agave when you’re using it instead of sugar.

Laura Denby
Laura is a New York-based freelance food writer with a degree in Culinary Arts from the Institute of Culinary Education and a degree in Journalism from Penn State. Her work has appeared in Taste of Home, Chowhound, the Culture Trip and Patch.

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