How to Choose Natural Sweetener

When it comes to sweetening your food and drinks, there are many alternatives to highly refined sweeteners like sugar and corn syrup. Natural sweeteners like honey, molasses, and agave nectar have many advantages over white sugar. They are generally recognized to produce less pronounced swings in blood sugar levels, and they offer richer, more complex flavors in culinary applications. Learning a little about each type of sweetener will help you to choose a natural sweetener that fits your needs.


  1. Image titled Choose Natural Sweetener Step 1
    Consider using honey to replace refined sugars. Honey is the oldest and most natural sweetener available - it is made by bees even without human intervention. Honey is incredibly versatile, working well in tea, sauces, salad dressings, baked goods, and more. Honey ranges in color and flavor based on the type of flower from which the bees get their nectar.
    • Clover honey is perhaps the most common, and is readily available in grocery stores. Its mild flavor makes it incredibly versatile.
    • Orange blossom honey is also easy to find, and has a mild flavor with slight citrus notes. It is just as versatile as clover honey, and works especially well when paired with citrus.
    • Buckwheat honey is a dark, full-flavored honey. It is excellent in baked goods, where it imparts a rich, caramel-like flavor.
  2. Image titled Choose Natural Sweetener Step 2
    Use fruit juice concentrates and reductions to add sweetness to your cooking. Fruit juices have a high level of natural sugars, and their sweetness can be amplified by reducing them. This can done by simmering juice in a saucepan; an alternative is to buy fruit juice concentrate in the grocery store. Fruit juice reductions work well in both sauces and baked goods, while also making an excellent natural dessert topping.
  3. Image titled Choose Natural Sweetener Step 3
    Try using agave nectar as an all-purpose sweetener. Agave nectar is made from the agave plant, known for its crucial role in preparing tequila. It is as versatile as honey, working well in everything from cocktails to savory sauces. Agave nectar has a low glycemic index measure, meaning it will not cause spikes in blood sugar levels like more refined sugars.
  4. Image titled Choose Natural Sweetener Step 4
    Cook with molasses when you need a hearty, full-flavored sweetener. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar-refining process. It is thick and dark, with a full, rich flavor. It works well in baked goods and as a glaze on roasted winter squash or hams. It can also be used to sweeten coffee for an earthy, caramel flavor. Molasses, like many other natural sweeteners, comes in different colors which denote its depth of flavor.
  5. Image titled Choose Natural Sweetener Step 5
    Substitute maple syrup for refined sugars in baked goods. Maple syrup, which is made from the sap of maple trees, is a natural sweetener with a full, spicy, earthy flavor. While it may not be the most versatile sweetener available, it can help you create stand-out baked goods and even be a part of spicy, winter-themed cocktails.
  6. Image titled Choose Natural Sweetener Step 6
    Use barley malt syrup when a low-glycemic measure is important. Malt syrup is less rich than molasses, but not as mild or sweet as honey. It works well in all manner of baked goods. Maltose, which is the primary sugar present in barley malt, is very low on the glycemic index. While malt syrup can be found in health food stores and some grocery stores, a wider variety of it will be available at home-brewing supply stores where it is sold for making beer.


  • Most of these natural sweeteners are very shelf-stable, so consider keeping several different types on hand for different applications.
  • If you still want the versatility of sugar, you can use less-refined versions like demerara or turbinado sugar.

Things You'll Need

  • Honey
  • Fruit juice
  • Agave nectar
  • Molasses
  • Maple syrup
  • Barley malt syrup

Article Info

Categories: Desserts and Sweets