Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami. We think there’s a reason the five basic tastes kick off with a nod to dessert! Goodness knows we love treats of all sorts, from caramel and nougat-filled chocolate bars to stretchy gummies and lickable lollipops.
The thing is, so many of our favorite sweets—especially the big brand, preservative-packed kind you’ll find in the supermarket—revolve around refined sugar. The omnipresent sweetener is obtained from sugar cane, sugar beets or corn, that’ve been heavily processed to isolate the sugar. Which in turn, strips away every last bit of nutritional value.
But nowadays, there’s a way to counter a craving without solely relying on the stuff (or its identical siblings, sucrose, glucose, and high-fructose corn syrup). We’re showcasing both natural and organic alternative sweeteners, commonly used in artisanal, small-batch treats. Oh, sugar sugar…and honey honey!
The best thing about this seasonal nectar is that it brings a lot more than simple sweetness to the party. It also adds autumnal flavor to everything in touches, thanks to warm and spicy undertones of caramel, vanilla, and prune. Harvested directly from maple trees before being boiled into rich syrup, it comes in 4 grades, from delicate Golden and full-bodied Amber to Robust Dark (also known as Grade B) and nearly black Very Dark, whose powerfully maple-y flavor translates well to cooking. And as opposed to basic table sugar, it’s loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and probiotics. Which means you should totally seek it out in fall-friendly candy such as caramels, chocolate bars, and even the nougat-like treat known as halvah. Yeah, we’d sap that.
Even the ancients had sweet tooth’s, as evidenced by Mesolithic rock paintings in Valencia, Spain that depict honey foragers—and date back 8000 years! Oh, and no less than Cleopatra was believed to scrub her face with honey every day, since one of its many medicinal qualities is its ability to trap in moisture. And did we mention the fact that honey is drop dead delicious? It can even be a throat-soother when it comes to lollipops! Refined sugar tends to pop up in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect it—think savories as well as sweets. That’s why we love to see honey used as an all-natural sweetener in condiments like ketchup. It’ll have your tastebuds buzzing.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice is generally considered health food, right? But you don’t need to limit it to a side of steamed vegetables. When the cooked grains are exposed to enzymes that break down the starches and turns them into sugars, a thick syrup results. Which makes it an awesome alternative sweetener for vegan desserts! In fact, brown rice syrup plays a starring role in butter crunch, a tender and buttery cross between brittle and toffee. Talk about a sugar substitute that goes against the grain.
Organic Cane Sugar
Far be it from us to hate on sugarcane. If anything, we confess to a serious sweet spot for the white stuff. But it’s not all created equal. Organic cane sugar is much less processed, so it retains more of the nutrients present in cane juice, and is free of the pesticides present in conventionally-grown sugarcane. Yet it still has all of that no-holds-barred sweet taste we’ve all come to know and love! Care to get acquainted with cane sugar? You’ll find it in natural, spoonable preserves (another product in which refined sugar often hides) as well as artisanal takes on classic candies like organic gummy bears, gummy fish, and pate de fruit…essentially, a fancy French gummy. So bon appetit!