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Natural sweetness

This is a homemade chocolate slab, with dates, pecan, coconut underneath homemade chocolate and pistachio

Most of us love something sweet at the end a meal. "Just to cap it off"..we kid ourselves. But often those sweet cravings become habits and the portions get bigger and before you know it what was a treat once a week, becomes a necessity every day. Is there such a thing as a healthy sugars? Can we still have cake and eat it?

Well I believe you can! Sugar is sugar at the end of the day, whether its synthetic or natural.

Lets give our liver and pancreas a rest and reduce the sugar loading.

In my cakes I have been experimenting with cutting back on refined sugars and using coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave and stevia, lucuma, macca and dates with amazing results. Although I extract my own honey, I do not tend to use it in cooking, because I don't want to destroy the mineral content and the integrity of the honey.

Here are some descriptions of some of the alternative sugars out there which you might want to experiment with.

Some of these alternative sugars are very strong in flavour, as a result might change the consistency and taste of the recipe. Time for experimentation to find what works for you.

Coconut sugar palm or blossom are all derived from the sap excreted at the shoot point of the coconut tree, it is not from the coconut fruit itself.

This sap is heated and reduced at low temperatures to create the paste which is dried and eventually becomes the sugar. It looks like brown unrefined sugar, but is more grainy in texture, so takes a little longer when creaming in cake making. It has a caramel like taste and golden colour and enhances the flavour of cakes which have fruit in it. If you were wanting a more delicate flavour to a cake, then I would go with agave or stevia. Not as over powering. But not unpleasant.

Coconut sugar has a GI of 30 which is well below the 55 recommended levels. So it is suitable for diabetics, keeping the balance of insulin in check.

Its similar to ordinary sugar for calorfic content, but it wins on GI and mineral levels, being better in trace elements like potassium, iron, manganese.

You can cut back by 10-20% in cooking, as it is fairly sweet.

I use it in my Apricot and Almond cake, a cake I adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe and made my own.

Maple syrup The sap is removed by inserting plugs like taps into the truck and placing a bucket underneath. This is then heated to evaporate the water content and any sugar present is filtered away. To create the syrup itself.

I remember when I went to visit my brother in Canada, having this very rich sweet syrup on pancakes, which is the national dish in Canada.

A deeper brown colour and thickness between molasses and sugar and water before it turns to toffee when heat treated. Although maple syrup literally comes from the tree trunk itself.

The GI content of maple syrup is around 37 again well below the 55. But use sparingly, because it is strong and it is very sweet. Cut back by 20% in recipes and adjust sweetness.

Agave syrup Is another plant based sweetener, derived from the sap of the Blue Agave spines a cactus plant, with origins in Mexico Its sap is again evaporated by slow heat leaving behind a clear coloured, light honey like flavoured syrup.

Agave has a GI level of 30, which helps as a slow release.

There is a lot of debate at the moment whether Agave is a good natural source of sugar. The problem is that the GI levels are low, but the fructose levels are high, which makes it worse on corn syrup. Dr Axe now dis claims the health giving properties of Agave and findings show that its fructose levels are 2:1 compared to 1:1 for corn sugar, which is extremely bad for you anyway.

In the words of Dr. Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S., “Agave syrup (nectar) is basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as a health food.”

Adjustments need for sweetness by 10-20% even more. But a milder flavour than maple.

Honey It contains a glycemic load of 14, 23 grams of sugar, 0 grams of fiber and a fair amount of sodium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium. (17) It is superior to agave in most every way, and I prefer Manuka honey because its health benefits far surpass anything else on the market.

Historically honey has been used over the centuries for its healing properties and especially during the war for its antiseptic properties. Used on open wounds to prevent infection.

There is a belief that Honey taken regularly can help with hay fever, especially local to where you live. To me this like a homeopathic dose of like for like to help build the immune system. I think further research is needed for this. But people do report finding it really beneficial in prevention for their hay fever, whether this is psycho somatic or an actual immune response, the court is still out on that. Scientific research shows that there are trace elements in honey that can be very beneficial us.

Hydrogen peroxide is a compound found in all honey and it is this element that gives it its anti bacterial quality. Depending on where the bees source the honey, some honey have a higher or lower content of HP. Honey also has the ability to reduce pain and protect open wounds.

Manuka Honey in particular has a high HP level and as such is wildly researched and used for its anti septic and antibacterial property and has been found to help in prevention of MRSA and used in dressings for ulcers. The Manuka tree is locate in New Zealand and therefore the honey cropped is only from that region. However it too has become commercialised and the amount of Manuka produced on the market out weights the amount of production. So be careful what you buy. It is very costly.

The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). MG is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities.

In manuka honey, MG comes from the conversion of another compound - dihydroxyacetone - that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers.

MG gives manuka honey its antibacterial power. The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibacterial effect.

Honey may contain botulinum endospores that cause infant botulism, a rare but serious type of food poisoning that can result in paralysis. Even pasteurized honey has a chance of containing these spores. For this reason, it is recommended that infants under 1 year do not consume honey.

Honey in cakes tends burn easily, and there is no need to use as much as in other sweetners. 2/3rd of the amount is enough. When baking with honey, reduce the heat and reduce the moisture content, as honey is hydroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture from the surrounding area. Hence when extracted in a room with strong smells, it may taken on that smell.

Dates and dried fruit

Madjool dates are cultivate in the arid regions of Iran and Iraq and was taken to the Americas by he missionaries in 1927. The are full of fibre and good source of complex minerals. Copper, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin are also present in dates and provide their own unique preventive and healing functions. Together, these cofactors help your body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats.

There is also research showing a connection with the use of dates as a prevention of cancer of the testicles and helpful for endocrine health.

Dates can be eaten on their own but I am using dates more in my baking as a sweetener which adds dept to the cakes. You can find it in "Date, black bean & cacao cake" and it works well as a a wonderful rich, healthy vegan cake. I also may use maple syrup/agave to help the sweetness.

Lucuma "Gold of the Incas" A fruit which is high in B3, zinc, iron and protein. One of the superfoods. The flesh has been dried and pondering a powder and used medicinally by the Incas over centuries. In its whole form looks similar to an avocado, with a hard green exterior covering the sweet, soft fruit. The flesh is yellow and has a texture that is slightly reminiscent to that of a dry egg yolk. Many people say the taste of lucuma reminds them of a cross between caramel and a sweet potato. While it does contain a mellow sweetness, it’s low on the glycemic scale and typically suitable for diabetics.


Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Steviarebaudiana.

Here is the link to Dr Axe who talks extensively about Stevia

This has a been a long blog. The images can be found on the free internet downloads, the articles are from Dr Axe and WebMed and some of my own personal research.

With making cakes it is impossible to get away from sugar of some form. A cake is not a cake without sweetness. So in exploring and experimenting with these different sweeteners and trying to keep the product cost effective, I tend to use in the main, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave, stevia and some unrefined caster sugar. Keep you sugar loading down and enjoy the cake when you have it. Stressing about that one slice will not help your blood pressure levels, but smiling when your enjoying a well deserved slice does wonders for your mind and your wellbeing.

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