You probably have some of these in your pantry, so no more last-minute grocery store runs when you've been caught unawares by an empty sugar jar! Plus, some are healthier sugar substitutes.

By Marissa Wu
June 24, 2021
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Southerners take their desserts seriously, and there's nothing like a homemade slice of pound cake or a juicy scoop of cobbler. As it goes, desserts often require a good dose of sugar, and we've rounded up the best sugar substitutes for baking and other sweets.

Before you run to the kitchen to swap out your granulated sugar, here are some things to keep in mind. While sugar substitutes (artificial and natural) can provide healthier alternatives, they won't always yield identical results.

"If you use any sugar substitute, you're not going to get the same consistency, you know, that cake-like fluffy consistency that we're used to eating like our moms used to make," said Belinda Smith-Sullivan, a South Carolina-based chef and author.

That being said, an unidentical result does not mean a less tasty one. Here are the sugar substitutes some Southern culinary experts use and enjoy.

Kenneth Temple, a Louisiana-based Chopped Champion and chef, said his go-to sugar substitutes are Truvia and Swerve.

"You'll still get the flavor profile that you would have with the sweetness, without using as much sugar," Temple said of Truvia. "And, it doesn't have one of those strange aftertastes."

If there's no Truvia to be found, Temple will turn to Swerve, which he notes comes as brown and confectioner's sugar, too, so bakers have more options when substituting.

In addition to artificial sweeteners, there are a plethora of natural ones to experiment with.

If you're looking to take advantage of fruit's natural sweetness, try mashed bananas or applesauce. Temple recommends using the bananas that have sat too long in the fruit bowl. When substituting, simply add, in the form of your chosen fruit, half the amount of sugar called for. For example, to replace a cup of sugar, used half a cup of applesauce. To really get the sweetness from a banana, it should be black before you use it.

An easy, one-to-one white granulated sugar replacement, according to Smith-Sullivan, is demerara sugar.

"It's a raw sugar, so it's not as processed as regular white sugar," she said.  "If your recipe calls for one cup of white [sugar], you can use one cup of demerara."

Because it is still crystalized, demerara is ideal for recipes where you are required to cream your ingredients. Part of the role sugar plays in baking is building structure, and it does so by trapping air. Liquid sweeteners are unable to do this, which can result in a different texture of your baked good.

"The cake ends up being a little more dense; it doesn't have the same crumb as if you use the regular sugar," Smith-Sullivan said. "It's going to be good. But it's not going to be the same as what you're used to eating."

Temple also suggested palm sugar, a milder alternative to coconut sugar, that can be used in the same ratio and manner as demerara.

As far as liquid sugar substitutes go, the list is long, but some easy pantry staples you probably already have include honey, agave, maple syrup, and molasses.

Keep in mind that each has a different flavor profile (or lack thereof—agave is the most neutral), and that it should complement, not clash with your recipe.

General recommended substitution ratios are as follows.

For every cup of sugar, you can replace it with a 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of honey or 2/3 cup agave. If using maple syrup or molasses, 3/4 cup to 1 cup will do the trick.

For all liquid substitutions, you will also want to adjust the liquid ratio of your recipe, reducing it by 1/4 cup, no matter the sweetener. If there is no additional liquid to reduce, add a tablespoon of flour per 1/4 cup of sugar that you're replacing. Happy baking!