Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners

The Allergen-Friendly Baking series continues and today we are discussing all things sweet. Please keep in mind that this Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners is not intended to promote the idea of any sugar being evil or even that one sugar is superior than the other–we will talk about the affect sugar has on our bodies in another post. Rather this guide is for informational purposes to help you understand what is available in terms of sugar & sweeteners in baking and how you can use them interchangeably. Have you ever wondered what exactly sugar does in a baked good or even how you can replace a liquid sweetener for granulated sugar? The this guide to sugar and sweeteners is just what you need!

Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans

Sugar & sweeteners play an important role in baking. It not only do they provide a sweeter taste to your food they also aid in texture, color and volume in your baked goods. If your recipe has a high sugar content you can count on your final product to have a more moist, softer bite to it. Did you know that sugar also plays a role in the shelf life of food? It is the reason why it has become commonplace in almost every processed and packaged food we buy. That’s right, sugar & sweeteners makes food last longer.

Liquid Sweeteners

Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans

Liquid sweeteners tend to have a slightly more nutritious profile then compared to regular sugar but they also add a different texture, flavor, and color to your baked good. If you are using a liquid sweetener in your recipe, you will need to decrease your wet ingredients slightly to adjust.

Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & BeansMaple Syrup

No longer just used for coating your pancakes, French toast, and various breakfast goodies, maple syrup is a perfectly competent substitute for regular sugar in baking. Some would argue that it’s a healthier option because if you buy maple syrup in 100% pure form, it is far less processed than sugar.

There are different grades to syrup which basically results in differences in color, consistency, and flavor. Grade A has 3 hues to it: Light, Medium and Dark Amber and Grade B. The lighter the grade, the slighter the maple flavor.

Replace white sugar in a recipe: For every 1 c. of sugar, use 3/4 c. of maple syrup. Decrease the liquid in the overall recipe by 3 Tbsp. To use sugar in place of a cup of maple syrup, use 1 1/4 c. of sugar + 1/4 c. more liquid.



Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & BeansAgave Nectar

The controversial sweetener has taken a lot of heat in the past couple of years. Like any new sweetener that claims itself as a natural good-for-you healthy food, it became popular overnight. Unfortunately as quick as it rose it also was fastly criticized once it was revealed that it contains a high amount of fructose. Some companies were actually adding corn syrup to their agave (Eek!)

Does this mean this sweetener is the enemy? No. The great thing about agave is that it’s far sweeter than sugar so you end up consuming less. Go organic and choose the lighter color–it tastes better in  baked goods. The lesson we learn here? No sweetener is ever truly “healthy” and all sugars should be consumed in moderation. 

For every 1 c. of sugar, replace with 2/3 c. of agave. You will also need to adjust the wet ingredients (which will vary depending on the recipe) by 1/4 – 1/3 c. less.


Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans

Vegans, please don’t yell at me for including this in the guide–simply scroll down 😉 Just as any sweeteners go, the less processed the better. Consuming raw honey is the best option because it retains all of the nutrients. Honey is a high-calorie food, almost equal to sugar though it does contain antioxidants and helps prevent free radicals that sugar does not. It is denser and contains mostly fructose which means it is inevitably sweeter than regular sugar. What does that mean? Less is more when substituting out regular sugar.

Keep in mind that honey will alter your baked goods so if you don’t like the flavor alone, honey is probably not the right choice for you. For every 1 c. sugar in a recipe, replace it with 3/4 c. honey and replace the liquid in the recipe by 3 Tbsp.  To use sugar in place of honey, use 1 1/4 c. of sugar + 1/4 cup more liquid.



 Granulated Sugars

Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans

Sugar has a variety of granules that actually affect the baking process. For example: the size of the granule actually determines how much air can be incorporated into the batter during the creaming of the sugar and fat. Also, the size of the granule will affect how quickly the sugar will dissolve in the batter. Keep in mind that if you have a favorite sugar that tends to be larger in granule form, you can always run it through the blender until it is more powdered.


Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans


Granulated sugar

What we commonly find in sugar packets, processed foods and soda drinks, granulated sugar (or sucrose) is also what our pantries are stocked with and what we bake with. It is a finer crystalized version of cane or beet sugar that has been highly processed, stripping any vitamins, minerals, nutrients from it. Some refineries are still using animal bone char to whiten their sugar, however you are safe if you buy white beet sugar, raw cane sugar, or those sugars specified as organic or vegan. You can always call the manufacturer in order to verify for certain.

The granules in sugars come in a few forms (from coarsest to finest): coarse, granulated, and superfine (bar or caster).




Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans


Raw Sugar

Raw sugar is the product of what is left in processing right before the molasses is removed. This is why you have that beautiful light brown color in the sugar. There are several types of raw sugar including Demerara, Muscovada, and Turbinado, all ranging in differences of texture, taste, and color.

You can always place this sugar into your blender to create smaller granules. The size of the  granules can make a difference in texture in your baked goods so some people prefer to do that.

Raw sugar is a one-to-one replacement for table sugar in a recipe.





Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans
 Brown Sugar

Surprise! Brown sugar is actually raw or partially refined sugar mixed with molasses. Compared to white sugar, brown will hold more moisture in a recipe and it works best in recipes that you want to create a beautiful moist bite

It yields a soft, moist texture As a general rule of thumb the lighter the color, the slighter the flavor. Use dark brown sugar if you want a rich molasses and caramel-like flavor in your baked goods.

 Have a recipe that calls for brown sugar and you don’t have it in your kitchen? Easy. Simply use this equation to make your own:
1 c. sugar + 1 Tbsp. molasses = 1 c. brown sugar

Brown sugar can also be substituted for white sugar on a one-to-one replacement.



Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans

Powdered Sugar

Also known as confectioners or icing sugar, powdered  sugar is granulated sugar that been ground to a fine powder. It is also combined with cornstarch to prevent it from clumping together (also known as anti-caking).  This sugar is used best when making glazes, frostings, icings, and some cookies that require a packed crunch.

To make your own powdered sugar at home, mix 1 c. granulated sugar + 1 Tbsp. cornstarch. Blend together at high speed until in powdered form.




Alternative Sweeteners

Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans

There are several different types of alternative sweeteners available on the store shelves. Naturally based, these sugars come in a variety of forms: powdered or liquid, as well as many added flavors. Each have it’s own rule to substituting out in a recipe so make sure that you read the directions on their packaging carefully to best understand how to replace for granulated sugar.

Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans

Coconut Palm Sugar

Derived from the coconut palm tree, coconut sugar has become a very popular alternative “health” sweetener. High in calories and nutrients (though that is not really saying much because you would have to eat a lot to benefit from those nutrients) coconut sugar is said to have a low glycemic index, making it safe for diabetics. Be careful though because this starts to sound a lot like agave’s popularity.

Coconut sugar has a mild caramel flavor to it and as pictured to the side it is coarser and darker in color than raw sugar. The plus side is that it is not highly processed like table sugar which means less chemicals are involved which leaves more minerals in tact.

To replace in recipes, use a one-to-one replacement.



Date sugar (not pictured) – Date sugar derives from exactly what its name depicts: chopped dates that have been dehydrated. It’s very sweet, has the tendency to clump (some manufactures actually include flour for anti-caking) but the kicker is that it doesn’t melt or absorb liquid the way that regular sugar does. This will limit its usages in recipes.

To replace white sugar, for every 1 cup of granulate sugar, use 2/3 c. date sugar.


Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners - Fork & Beans


Stevia is an all-natural herbal product that is a low carbohydrate and low sugar sweetener. It is said to be 300 times sweeter than table sugar so the good news is that you have to use less in a recipe to attain ultra sweetness. Easy on your blood sugar levels and almost calorie-free, Stevia is highly popular among diabetics and those trying to watch their weight.

Stevia comes in powdered or liquid form as well as different flavors for each so you have a few options when using it in a recipe. 

For replacement, use these equations:
For powdered: 1 tsp. Stevia = 1 c. sugar;  1/2 tsp. Stevia = 1 Tbsp. sugar   

For liquid: 1 tsp. Stevia = 1 c. sugar; 6 drops Stevia = 1 Tbsp. sugar

 Xylitol (not pictured) –  Xylitol is a sugar alcohol made into granules that is found in fruits, vegetables, some plant materials, and birch wood. An increasingly popular alternative to sugar, xylitol has fewer calories and lacks the ability to elevate blood sugar the way table sugar does. Due to its “healthier” benefits, xylitol has become a safe option for diabetics and those looking to control their weight.  It also adds volume to baked goods the way real sugar does, which is unlike most alternative sweeteners out there. This doesn’t mean that the same results will occur as when using granulated sugar.

Xylitol is a one-to-one replacement for white sugar.

Hopefully this guide provides some understanding to your baking needs. Is this the end of the conversation? Absolutely not. Did I forget your favorite sugar or do you have a question about what was said here? Leave it in the comments and let’s start a conversation about baking with sugar!




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  1. Hi Cara. Great article on sugars and sweeteners. There is one that I’ve started using recently and that is Raw Coconut Nectar. It’s also supposed to not spike your blood sugar. It’s flavor and texture are similar to molasses. Do you have any experience using this sweetener?

  2. It’s an interesting guide.. I actually love all of them because you make them very detailed.

    What I notice from this one is that you missed to talk about malts (rice malt, barley malt, ect) they are also a great substitute for sugar, vegan, good for people with diabetes, it’s not good for celiacs because it made from barley, but in this case the is a rice syrup, it’s a bit less healthy but gluten free..
    Malt has a less sweet taste than sugar which it’s good because it lets us “cure” from the sugar-taste.. and start to enjoy more the real taste of food!

    Thank you for all of your good job!

  3. This was actually really educational! I also noticed that the sugar sold for baking in Norway has much bigger granules than what you pictured as granulated sugar. We do however have an alternative sold as “English extra fine granulated sugar”, maybe I should start using that! Also the bonechar-fact was pretty… well kinda gross, but good looking out!

    • I love that, Marie! Thank you so much for teaching me something about sugar in different countries–so fascinating! xo

      • It’s weird right? It’s something I’ve never even thought about, I always just thought granulated sugar was granulated sugar, you know? This is actually something to take into account when translating recipes! And here I was thinking the job was done after converting cups into grams 😛

  4. A great list of sweeteners and information for us. Thanks. I would like you to include glucose when you do your new list – sugar less the fructose. I sometimes use it instead of refined cane sugar. Like to hear about rice syrup too please.

  5. William Stewart says:

    You forgot to mention THE best all-natural alternative: Just Like Sugar. Composed of only 4 ingredients (chicory root for fiber, calcium, vitamin C, and orange peel powder)… this product has been used to make cookies, breads, candies, chocolates, chewing gum, and multi-flavor drinks. There is even a version as a direct replacement for high-fructose corn syrup. Check them out at:

  6. Such a great break down, super informative! Also, I love you sign off :)

  7. Sweet! (hahaha, I couldn’t resist) Don’t forget that xylitol is also good for teeth! 😀
    Thanks for compiling the information and sharing it with us. I used to use agave until I started reading all the conflicting info on it. Been using honey instead. Hey, where’s the molasses and brown rice syrup? I know, so demanding 😉

    • Take it easy, bossy! 😉 Actually you brought up GREAT ones that i forgot. Thank you-will add them in sometime soon. You are the best!

  8. Amazing! Thank you for this (super) comprehensive guide. I’m sure I’ll be using it loads :) xoxo

    • I saw that tweeted this to someone and i wanted know how grateful i am for and how glad i am to hear that this guide helps! Xo

  9. You’ve done it again Cara!! Thanks so much for this. I’m trying to be healthier so this will make it easier to bake something “naughty” just like your post on egg replacements has made vegan baking easier:)
    You rock Cara!

  10. Since stevia is so much sweeter than sugar and you need so much less, how do you adjust for the “wet” part of a recipe? I would love to bake with it, but I’m having trouble adjusting recipes accordingly. Thanks for the help and for the great article!

    • Great question Deb! I wanted to acknowledge this and let you know I’m working on adding that in. To be continued… Thank you!

  11. Interesting article. Mind out for the Xylitol though as it can cause diarrhoea at relatively small amounts.
    I will save you the story of “how I know”.

  12. this is the most comprehensive and easiest to understand sugar guide EVER! i feel like everytime i bake, i google “can i replace _ with _?” and i never find a comforting answer. now i have a go to guide. thank you for this!!

  13. Yes! This is exactly what I needed! One of my new year’s resolutions was to learn how to bake without refined sugar. Thank you!

    • Hooray–I’m so happy to hear that you can use this as a guide to help with your resolution 😉 Good luck and keep me updated on how it goes throughout the year! xo

  14. Great guide and I will be passing it along. My only question is why did you list coconut sugar and stevia and xylitol as artificial? My understanding is things like aspartame are artifical due to being created in a lab. Stevia and xylitol may be processed, but come from natural things.

    • Thank you so much for pointing that out! I was planning to include artificial sugars but then decided I didn’t want to after all but forgot to erase the artificial part :) xo

  15. Another awesome post! I have had some blood sugar issues recently and have switched to coconut sugar in my oatmeal (instead of maple syrup). I love it, and it’s so surprising that it doesn’t taste like coconut at all (not that I mind coconut as a flavor, except in water, can’t stand that coconut water everyone is drinking).

    • I can’t either, Cattie! I remember trying it for the first time after doing hot yoga because I heard it is so hydrating. I nearly spit it out. It was gross. But then I cut into a young coconut once and drank the water and it was amazing! I’m not sure what they are putting in those coconut water cans but whatever it is it’s not cute. ha.
      I’m so glad that this guide is helpful! xo

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