Everything You Need to Know About Natural and Artificial Sweeteners

Sweeteners are essential for adding flavor, tenderness, and a bit of browning to baked goods, and some can even be used as sugar substitutes. Study up on the differences and details about each.

All About Sugar

Granulated, or white, sugar: Granulated, or white, sugar is the most common sweetener used in baking. It is made from sugarcane or sugar beets. White sugar is most commonly available in what is called fine granulation, but it also comes in superfine (also called ultrafine or castor sugar), a finer grind of sugar that dissolves readily, making it ideal for frostings, meringues, and drinks. Pearl or coarse sugar is just that—a coarse granulation best used for decorating cookies and other baked goods.

Use it in Easy Sugar Cookies.

Brown sugar: Brown sugar is a processed mixture of granulated sugar and molasses, which gives it its distinctive flavor and color. Brown sugar is available in both light and dark varieties; dark brown sugar has a stronger flavor. You can substitute granulated sugar cup-for-cup for brown sugar, albeit with slightly different color and caramel-y flavor notes. 

Use it for Brown Sugar Icebox Cookies.

Powdered sugar: Powdered sugar, also known as confectioners' sugar, is granulated sugar that has been milled to a fine powder, then mixed with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent lumping.

Use it in Powdered Sugar Icing.

Natural Sweeteners

Honey: Honey is made by bees from all sorts of flower nectars. It adds moisture, sweetness, and a characteristic flavor to baked goods; it is also available in whipped form. Because it caramelizes more quickly and at a lower temperature than sugar, honey causes baked goods to brown more quickly.

Use it in Honeybee Donut Pops.

Stevia: Stevia is a zero-calorie natural sweetener that comes from the stevia plant, which is native to South America. Its sweetness is concentrated, so keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Use stevia to sweeten drinks, or sprinkle it on top of oatmeal or cereal.

Use it in place of sugar in Baked Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit.

Molasses: You know its signature flavor from gingersnaps and gingerbread, but molasses—a thick, dark brown syrup generally made from the juice pressed from sugarcane during refining—can add sweetness to other baked goods, too. Molasses comes in light and dark varieties, which are interchangeable, so choose one depending on how much molasses flavor you like.

Use it in Molasses Spice Cake.

Corn syrup: Corn syrup is a heavy syrup that is available in light and dark varieties. Like dark brown sugar, dark corn syrup has the stronger flavor.

Use it in Peanut Brittle.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are created through chemical processes. They are intensely sweet, which means very little is needed to artificially sweeten foods. (Note: While most artificial sweeteners are considered "free foods," meaning they have less than 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving, it's important to take into account the rest of the recipe you are consuming that contains the artificial sweetener.) Using a low-calorie sweetener is a good way to cut calories and carbs from a recipe.

Aspartame: Aspartame is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners, and is commonly found in packaged products like diet soda, sugarless candy and bakery items, and yogurt. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Sucralose: Sucralose is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener, most commonly found in Splenda. Sucralose is used in products such as candy and soft drinks. Though several studies have looked at the potential negative effects of consuming sucralose, no compelling evidence has been found, and it is considered safe by the FDA and the WHO.

Saccharin: Commonly found in baked goods, jams, and gum, saccharin is an artificial sweetener that is more than 200 times sweeter than regular white sugar. Like other artificial sweeteners, there has been some debate over the safety of saccharin, but both the FDA and the WHO have confirmed that saccharin is safe to use.

Our All-Time Favorite Dessert Recipes

Put your newfound sweetener knowledge to use and try out a few recipes for our favorite sweet treats:

Our Best Vanilla Cakes and Cupcakes

Healthy Dessert Recipes

Easy 30-Minute Desserts

All-Time Favorite Cookie Recipes

5-Ingredient Dessert Recipes


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