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A Sweet, Sweet Summer: Date Sugar, Yacon, Fruit Sweeteners and Non-Sweeteners that Taste Sweet

Dates

I’ve decided to have “fruit for dessert” at least once a week around here. Last night was “fruit night.” When I was cutting the cantaloupe and pineapple, Leah had a few pieces, and then I told her not to ask for any more until it was served at the table. Ever observant, she asked with fear in her voice, “Is it going to be dessert? I don’t want it for dessert…”

She’s on to me.

Paul was a bit incredulous that the fruit was offered as the only dessert, but he only paused in disbelief for a moment, then decided it wasn’t worth bothering with an argument and dove into the eating part.

Leah happily ate about 50 billion servings of fruit, so perhaps she won’t be so sad next time when she remembers how much she enjoys fruit, especially when she’s allowed to have plenty.

This ties in perfectly to the Sweet, Sweet Summer series, because fruit is sweet enough to be featured in some things worth learning about.

Alternative sweeteners

These are the sweeteners that are almost not sweeteners, because they’re made from whole fruits or vegetables.

Date Sugar

Date sugar is quite simply dried dates, dried even further, then pulverized into a granulated product that looks an awful lot like unrefined sugar.

A cup of date sugar in a recipe will “work” like a cup of any other kind of sugar, although it’s important to note that date sugar won’t dissolve like many sweeteners, so you need to be thoughtful about which recipes you try it in. For example, it won’t work to sweeten drinks, but it would probably be okay on oatmeal.

I’ve used date sugar with good success in muffin recipes, specifically the grain-free coconut flour muffins from Healthy Snacks to Go, second edition (which seem to be great no matter what sweetener I throw into them) and chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps because it doesn’t dissolve, the cookies look markedly different from other sweeteners.

Cookies with natural sweeteners

Here are the chocolate chip cookies (made with almond flour) with coconut palm sugar, sucanat and date sugar:

The ones with date sugar were higher, spread out less, and have a smoother top. Can you see the difference?

Date sugar is also less sweet than other sugars, and everyone who got to taste test this little kitchen “experiment” made note of that. However, I personally didn’t miss it, especially if it meant a much healthier sweetener.

Is Date Sugar Healthier?

Shiloh Farms states that “it contains all the vitamins, minerals and fiber found in the date fruit.” Anytime you’re eating a whole fruit, you get the fiber with the sucrose and fructose, so it should metabolize more slowly and be easier on your system than those simple sugars alone.

For an alternative perspective – there always is one of those in the world of food, right? – here is an article from the SCD Diet that says some/most date sugars are not made from the whole fruit, therefore are not tolerated well by people on that diet (Specific carbohydrate diet), even though they can eat whole dates.

Nutrition in Date Sugar:

  • 10-12 calories (less than the 15 in white sugar)
  • 2-3g carbs/sugars (less than the 4 in sugar)
  • dates themselves have about a gram and a half of fiber (in one date), trace vitamins like A and B6, minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium (5% DV in one date!). See the nutrition facts here.

Date sugar is a pretty expensive alternative sweetener compared to honey or even sucanat, ringing in at well over $10/pound, but for some diets, it may be one of the only sweeteners allowed, so it’s definitely one to keep on your radar.

Find date sugar on Amazon here.

yacon

Yacon…What’s That?

Yacon is a large tuber native to South America that has a natural sweetness to it. I read/heard about it in a podcast by Ben Fuchs and was curious, so I ended up with some samples from Navitas Naturals:

  • dried yacon slices for munching
  • raw yacon powder
  • yacon syrup

Here’s what they say about it:

A valuable health food and alternative sweetener, yacon’s greatest attribute is its naturally high content of inulin, a complex sugar that breaks down slowly into fructooligosaccharides (FOS). The high levels of FOS is a quality that is beneficial for two reasons. First, although yacon tastes sweet, the sugar of inulin is not digestible and simply passes through the body. Therefore yacon only contains about half the calories of an average sugar source. Secondly, FOS promotes the production of healthy probiotics within the body, which can contribute to better digestion and colon health.

My notes from Ben Fuchs:

  • Syrup or powder, comes from tuber
  • Good source of antioxidants because it’s plant-based
  • Amino acids, especially tryptophan (important for brain health)
  • Great source of inulin – technically referred to as a fructo-oligo-saccaride (fructooligosaccharides FOS) – not usually very sweet, because we can’t get energy from FOS, but bacteria can. It makes the bacteria, especially the good guys, more robust and healthy. FOS actually food for the probiotics.
  • Fights yeast infections because it’s helpful for prebiotics. Yeast loves sucrose, but using yacon does the opposite – allows you to fight recurrent yeast infections while allowing the sweet flavor.
  • FOS helps calcium absorption!
  • Helps fiber digestion, speed up movement of food thru colon, elimination of poison, keep you regular, detoxing.
  • Improves hunger satisfaction (satiety) – therefore ideal for people trying to lose weight.
  • Doesn’t affect blood sugar or blood glucose/insulin

My experience:

Dried yacon slices were a great treat when I just wanted something to munch on, quickly, but really didn’t need a “treat” or dessert type thing. (I’m a terrible muncher/snacker and always want to be eating!) They taste a bit like a dried apple but with less sweetness and flavor. So they’re not really a “treat,” but if they’re as healthy as claimed, they sure aren’t bad to eat!

I tried yacon syrup (expensive!) in my grain-free granola from Healthy Snacks to Go, and it was just fine, like any other sweetener but MUCH more brown and tinged with a heavy flavor like molasses. It made the milk turn brown, which tricked the kids into thinking it was almost like chocolate milk. Smile

After using the yacon powder in a recipe for Lucuma ice cream, also from Navitas, which no one liked, I guess I was scared to use it in anything else. I should have tried it in those muffins, just a single batch of 6, but I was too scared it would turn out badly. Big failure on my part. Anyone have experience with yacon powder?

Find yacon on Amazon here.

monk fruit sweetener

Monk Fruit

Monk fruit is gaining popularity since it is a natural, no-calorie sweetener. In fact, it is said to be anywhere from 100 – 400 times sweeter than sugar! So a little goes a long way.

Monk fruit grows in China and is only good eaten fresh. It goes rancid quickly, so it can not be exported. Mogrosides are extracted from the fresh fruit to create the sweeteners you find in stores. The extraction process is both complicated and expensive.

Is Monk Fruit Healthy?

Some of the health claims of monk fruit include:

  • It combats free radicals.
  • It is anti-inflammatory.
  • It fights infections (including yeast!).
  • It treats diabetes.
  • It lowers the risk of obesity and diabetes.
  • It helps treat and possibly prevent cancer.
  • It is an antihistamine.
  • It boosts energy.

Many people use it as a way to eat sweets without carbs on a ketogenic diet or a diabetic diet. And it is safe for everyone, including children and pregnant women.

See our post detailing whether you should try monk fruit sweetener and what type to buy here!

You do have to be careful about which products you buy, as some add other sweeteners and flavors. It comes in powder or liquid form. How much you need to replace the sweetener in your food will depend on the form and the brand you buy.

Some enjoy the flavor, while others say it has a bad aftertaste. Dr. Oz is actually proponent of monk fruit (you can hear his thoughts here)! He combines it with stevia for a more balanced flavor.

Find monk fruit on Amazon here.

Allulose

If you haven’t heard of this sweetener yet, you’re not alone. It’s not nearly as common as some of the others I’ve mentioned. Allulose is derived from fermented corn (doesn’t everything we eat come from corn now?). It has a very similar chemical structure to table sugar, but with only a tenth of the calories and 70% of the sweetness.

Unfortunately we do not have the enzymes to break down allulose. So it can cause digestive problems if you eat too much. And at this point there is no research on how it impacts the gut microbiome or your health overall.

Personally I would avoid this sweetener. It comes from corn and is not well-researched. It is FDA-approved in the US, but not permitted in Europe.

Find allulose on Amazon here.

Does Sweetener Have a Negative Effect No Matter What?

Some say yes, some say no. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to actually cause weight gain. Does the same hold true for natural no/low calorie sweeteners? The verdict is still out.

The issue with artificial sweeteners (aside from the chemical factor) is that they give you the sweet taste without the calories your body expects. So you actually crave more. Our bodies are smart. They know that sugar and calories are a package deal. You can’t really outsmart your body! That holds true whether the sweetener is processed or is derived from natural ingredients.

And since there is no definitive answer at this point, I prefer to err on the side of caution and stick to traditional sweeteners like honey, sorghum syrup and maple syrup. It’s better to eat small amounts of naturally sweetened food instead of trying to trick your brain so you can indulge. In the end you are still eating something sweet. And keeping it to a minimum is best.

just use fruit as sweetener

Keep It Simple: Just Use Fruit

To me, the best way to sweeten a dish if you don’t want to use a sweetener, especially an expensive one, is to just use fruit. Dried apricots, raisins, dates or cherries all allow me to use less sweetener in granola and still enjoy a bowl just as much.

The reverse engineered Larabars in Healthy Snacks to Go (called power bars) taste like a sweet treat and really satiate the sweet tooth but they’re only sweetened with dates and other dried fruits. I’m currently out and it’s time to make more!

Yes, dried fruits have carbs and fructose, but if they’re a whole fruit, I can’t worry too much about using them in moderation.

Using applesauce or even pumpkin in things like muffins or pancakes helps to make them sweeter without as much sweetener. What else can you do with fruit to sweeten?

Better Yet: Trick Your Tongue

Since the first edition of Healthy Snacks to Go, I’ve included a section called “Three Tips to Trick Your Tongue.” It basically notes the fact that certain foods add an illusion of sweetness to a dish without adding carbs or sugars:

  • unrefined “virgin” coconut oil
  • cinnamon
  • vanilla
  • spelt flour

When I have oatmeal in the morning, I manage to eat it with zero sweetener and still enjoy it. I add cinnamon, virgin coconut oil, and a few raisins, spaced strategically throughout the bowl for maximum bursts of sweetness from beginning to end of breakfast.

Adding cinnamon or vanilla to cookies, pancakes, and muffins helps mimic sweetness, and if you don’t mind the coconut flavor, use unrefined coconut oil in your baking – you won’t miss 1/2 cup of sugar if you do!

There are a lot of options when it comes to sweeteners. The bottom line is to keep sweets to a minimum and stick to whole foods.

How do you naturally sweeten?
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

20 thoughts on “A Sweet, Sweet Summer: Date Sugar, Yacon, Fruit Sweeteners and Non-Sweeteners that Taste Sweet”

  1. We have fruit for dessert every night, since the fruit is healthy for us. Candy is allowed only on saturday after dinner unless we were already at a birthday party with a candy giveaway on the way home. My mother tells me I am too strict. What do you think? Sometimes I make a smoothie or fruit ice cream sweetened with a little honey as a weeknight dessert. And on saturday or sunday we might have cake or cookies or a muffin for afternoon snack. Am I too strict?

  2. I’m intrigued by your use of almond flour for chocolate chip cookies! I’ve been in search of a good GF alternative to make cookies. Did you just sub almond flour for whole wheat flour in your Smart Sweets chocolate chip cookie recipe?

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      April,
      The recipe was actually on the back of my almond flour bag from Honeyville Grain, but it is from elanaspantry.com originally. So yummy! 🙂 Katie

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  5. we didn’t have dessert regularly growing up, either. as an adult, there are definitely times that i want something sweet after dinner, but i don’t make desserts unless we have an event or gathering. a few chocolate chips, occasionally a few bites of ice cream, banana “ice cream,” or a sweet piece of fruit like a mango or banana with pb usually satisfy the craving!

  6. I too grew up in a household where we regularly had NO dessert, and fruit was a wonderful treat after a meal! Especially frozen (fresh) peaches at my grandmothers house. Partially thawed and served in dainy little glass bowls, I loved them! Still do.

  7. Ya know, that date sugar looks a lot like the demerera sugar I buy out of the bulk foods bin at my local WinCo Foods store. Since the sugar crystals are so large I use half the amount. So when a recipe says 1 cup sugar, I use 1/2 cup demerera sugar. My family doesn’t seem to notice, but when I serve our treats to others, they notice the baked goods are less sweet. Also, because the crystals are larger than regular sugar ( like the date sugar), I pour it into a little boiling water ( enough so it will dissolve ) and then use it for drinks like lemonade. Since I’ll be adding cold water to the lemonade anyway, the boiling water doesnt’ pose a problem.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Nia,
      That’s great that you can cut the sugar in half! The date sugar is totally different from demerera sugar, though. I’m pretty sure you can read about demerera, which unfortunately isn’t much healthier than white sugar, if I’m remembering correctly, here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/08/10/a-sweet-sweet-summer-unrefined-dehydrated-whole-cane-sugar-sucanat-rapadura-panela-and-muscovado/

      But half the sugar is still half the sugar, so you’re on the right track!!
      🙂 Katie

  8. My kids’ new favorite treat is a smoothie so thick it’s almost like sherbert. We use 2 medium bananas (if one is frozen its even closer to an ice cream texture), 1/2C greek yogurt, 1/4C orange juice, and 4C frozen fruit. I just put everything except the frozen fruit in the blender and puree it until smooth and then add the frozen fruit and use the ice crusher setting to get it to an ice cream consistancy. Yum!

  9. Not sure if its an off-topic question, but I normally use sucanat for my baking. I usually buy Wholesome Organic Sucanat.

    Can somebody here guide me if I really need to get ORGANIC or non-organic sucanat is fine. I am able to get non-organic Sucanat @ $1.70/lb from clnf.com, but not sure if its ok for the non-organic version.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Sofia,
      It just depends on your priorities – if you want a more wholesome sweetener, any sucanat will be unrefined cane sugar. Organic will only mean you’re avoiding the pesticides but shouldn’t change the nutritional profile…. (I get mine from Country Life, too).
      🙂 Katie

  10. Husband has Diabetes 2 and controls it with proper diet. Recently I thought about using licorice root to sweeten things a bit so that he could enjoy a bit of sweet, but when I looked at the nutritional data, it does have carbohydrates. So, when things (like coconut oil) taste sweet, it is because they have natural sugars in them I would think. I still want to try the licorice root tea to sweeten things (it does not taste like black licorice), but have been using if anything just stevia and absolutely love SweetLeaf’s flavored stevia. Anyone tried the rootbeer flavor in their water kefir? Get your kefir all sparkly, add your flavor and you’ve got rootbeer! lol

  11. Adrienne @ Whole New Mom

    Hi Katie. I haven’t tried much w/ yacon powder, but what I have tried has been a failure. Sadly. I was hopeful.

    Love yacon, but not the price!

  12. We, too, only serve dessert on some evenings. Right now it’s Sundays only – makes Sunday really special! We will occasionally have a sweet treat in the afternoon but my kids know not to expect a sweet at a programmed time every day.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Our Sunday is the “solemnity” and they’re allowed to ask for dessert at lunch and dinner! 😉 That’s weaned down from every lunch and every dinner, though, so we’re heading in the right direction.

      1. This makes me feel better. It is funny how I make you champion bloggers out to having perfect nutrition in your homes. We rarely have dessert and almost never have candy in the house (mainly because I would probably eat it all). They do get plenty from school and dance class (?). I’m feeling pretty good right now.

  13. First, I greatly appreciate & enjoy your blog! I’ve been wanting to comment on this “fruit for dessert” idea for a while now. It sounds like y’all have dessert after dinner every night, & I just wanted to say that is totally not necessary! I grew up in a home where we rarely had dessert after a meal, & it is the same way now with my kids. Yes, sometimes we surprise them by pulling a chocolate chip cookie out of the freezer, or letting them split a popsicle, but it is always unexpected on their part. Our kids devour fruit several times a day, & they never feel like they’re getting “cheated” on dessert. 🙂 Maybe we’re the abnormal ones…just had to share, though, in case there are other moms that felt the same way as me & wondered if they were doing it “wrong”! 🙂

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Stephanie,
      I know…we fell into a bad habit on that one. I don’t “serve” dessert every night, but the kids are allowed one candy after dinner. It’s the only time they get candy, so we’re letting it stay the status quo. My husband says, “We are not getting any stricter.” Conversation closed, and I’m okay with that.

      Good point, though!!! 🙂 Katie

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