Sweeten to Taste: A Guide to Sugars and Alternative Sweeteners

January 21, 2022

There are lots of different types of sugars out there, and just as many sugar alternatives waiting to replace them. Whether you’re looking to cut out sugar entirely, scale back your sugar intake, or even to replace your tried-and-true sugar with a different type of sweetener (monkfruit, anyone?), we’ve assembled a handy guide to help you sift through the wide world of sweetners — pun totally intended.  

Our Favorite Sweeteners, Sugars, and Sugar Substitutes

What is it? A sweetener made from the nectar of the agave plant; many modern agave products are processed by breaking down the nectar with heat or enzymes, which removes the nutrients and makes it quite high in fructose

What it tastes like: Similar to honey, and it is significantly sweeter than cane sugar

Why it’s great: A low glycemic index sweetener made from natural ingredients

What it’s best for: Drizzling over yogurts, baking, sweetening warm beverages or cocktails, in place of maple syrup on pancakes or waffles 

Substitution ratio: Use ⅔ cup agave for every one cup sugar; reduce the other liquids by about ¼ cup 

Try it: Wholesome Organic Blue Agave

What is it? A rare type of sugar derived from fruits like figs or raisins 

What it tastes like: Slightly less sweet than cane sugar, but similar in flavor

Why it’s great: A virtually calorie-free alternative to sucrose-based sugars; adheres to keto and paleo diets; doesn’t affect blood sugar or insulin levels

What it’s best for: Baking, or anywhere else you would normally use traditional cane sugar 

Substitution ratio: Can be substituted 1:1 for cane sugar

Try it: King Arthur Baking Company Baking Sugar Alternative 

What is it? A type of sugar made by reintroducing molasses into pure cane sugar, or in the case of unrefined brown sugar, by cooking sugarcane juice until it crystalizes 

What it tastes like: A darker, deeper, more toffee-like flavor than white sugar 

Why it’s great: Has slightly fewer calories than white sugar; provides a deeper flavor, softer texture and more moistness for baking

What it’s best for: Cookies, cakes, and other baked goods

Substitution ratio: Can typically be used interchangeably for white sugar, though it will create a different flavor, color, and texture 

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Light Brown Sugar

What is it? Unrefined, unbleached sugar sourced from sugar cane (rather than sugar beets, which is what many conventional refined sugars are made of)

What it tastes like: A classic sugar flavor with a fine, grainy texture

Why it’s great: Less processed than white sugar, which may be important for those who are able to consume sugar, but are looking for something less processed

What it’s best for: Any type of baking 

Substitution ratio: Does not need to be substituted, as cane sugar is the “standard” sugar used in most recipes

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Cane Sugar

What is it? A sugar substitute sourced from the sap of the coconut palm 

What it tastes like: Similar flavor to dark brown sugar

Why it’s great: An alternative to cane sugar that contains inulin, which could help to reduce blood sugar spikes

What it’s best for: Baking, or anywhere else you would otherwise use traditional cane sugar

Substitution ratio: Can be used as a 1:1 replacement for cane or brown sugars

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Coconut Sugar

What is it? Liquid sweetener made by extracting the sugar and nutrients from dates

What it tastes like: Date-like flavor with a consistency similar to maple syrup

Why it’s great: Contains no added sugars or artificial flavors; source of fiber, magnesium, and potassium

What it’s best for: Sweetening oatmeal, as a topping for pancakes, drizzling over yogurt or ice cream

Substitution ratio: Use as a direct substitute for honey or other liquid sweeteners; sub ⅔ cups of date syrup for every one cup of sugar

Try it: Just Date Syrup

What is it? A sweet liquid produced by bees from the nectar of flowers

What it tastes like: Sweet, viscous, often floral- or clover-forward 

Why it’s great: Honey is a naturally sourced, flavorful sweetener that can be produced without added sugars or chemicals (Note: since it’s sourced from honeybees, some vegans choose not to consume honey)

What it’s best for: Sweetening teas or warm beverages, drizzling over oatmeal or pancakes, in place of sugar in certain baked goods 

Substitution ratio: Use ⅔ cup honey for every one cup of sugar; for every cup of honey you use, reduce the other liquids in the recipe by ¼ cup 

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Honey Bear

What is it? A sweet byproduct of sugar beets, made using the leftover syrup extracted during the sugar-making process

What it tastes like: Ranges from light molasses, which has a sweet, syrupy flavor, to blackstrap molasses, which is the most concentrated and therefore has a more bitter taste 

Why it’s great: Concentrated molasses contains more nutrients than conventional sugar

What it’s best for: Baked goods like cookies and muffins, adding flavor to chili, sweetening barbecue sauces and other marinades 

Substitution ratio: Use 1 ⅓ cup molasses for every one cup of sugar; slightly reduce the rest of the liquids in the recipe (Note: Darker types of molasses have a robust flavor, so only use blackstrap molasses in savory dishes, or if your recipe specifically calls for it)

Try it: Wholesome Organic Molasses

What is it? A sweetener made from the extract of a small, gourd-like fruit grown in Southeast Asia

What it tastes like: More than double the sweetness of cane sugar, sometimes with a mild aftertaste

Why it’s great: Zero glycemic index, which makes it good for diabetics; contains nearly zero calories; adheres to keto and paleo diets 

What it’s best for: Baking, sweetening coffees and teas

Substitution ratio: Can be used as a 1:1 replacement for sugar

Try it: Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener

What is it? Sugar made by grinding sugar cane into a very fine white powder 

What it tastes like: Tastes similar to cane sugar, but with a much more powdery texture

Why it’s great: While some conventionals powdered sugars are made with cornstarch and added chemicals, Thrive Market’s organic powdered sugar is made of pure cane sugar and tapioca starch 

What it’s best for: Topping baked goods, making homemade icings 

Substitution ratio: Cannot be directly substituted for cane or white sugar

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Powdered Sugar

What is it? A sugar substitute made from a sweet-tasting plant, which is much sweeter than cane sugar

What it tastes like: Similar to cane sugar

Why it’s great: Contains little to no calories; makes a good sugar alternative for people with diabetes and other dietary restrictions; adheres to keto and paleo diets; much more potent than sugar

What it’s best for: Baking, sweetening beverages like tea and coffee (stevia easily dissolves in liquids), cooking, flavoring sauces and/or dressings 

Substitution ratio: As little as ½ teaspoon of stevia replaces one cup of sugar

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Stevia

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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