The Sweet Spot VI: Brand Name Thoughts (24 micro-reviews) 04/26/2014

The Sweet Spot VI

Welcome to round 6 of "The Sweet Spot" series of posts dedicated to the question I'm likely asked the most, "Which is the best sweetener?" As covered in the very first post, it's not a quick and easy question to answer (*cough cough* Swerve Sweetener *cough cough*). It's actually a mine field of different ingredients, behavioral quirks, philosophies, impacts on blood sugars, potencies, tastes, personal preferences, costs and so on. My personal favorite sweetener (Swerve), may not be yours. You may LOVE Splenda, or Truvia, or ... a more obscure sweetener that I've never heard of. That's ok!

I couldn't even begin to guess how many sweeteners there are. I'm sure the answer is well into the hundreds, possibly even the thousands. There is simply no way for me to cover each of the various sweeteners and brand names in any meaningful way. This post is about trying to tackle a selection of the heavy hitters, in addition to a few that I was specifically asked to cover. It's far from exhaustive, but the information I'll cover will likely pertain to many of each of the following sweetener's competition.

I should also point out that I haven't personally tried each of these. 100% of what you're about to read is purely my opinion based on either experience, or knowledge of the ingredients being used. In all cases, do whatever feels right and pick the brand that adheres to your tastes, beliefs, price point, etc.

Before I dig into the various common and popular brand names out there, I want to point out the previous 5 posts in the series to new members.

The Sweet Spot Series (so far):

Now, let's throw a couple new recipes on the pile!


Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)

This first one is for Pastry Cream, or Crème Pâtissière. This stuff is some of the best stuff. I love this stuff! I made this for the first time in cooking school and IMMEDIATELY fell in love with it. It's a bit tough to describe to an International audience, as I know the terms "pudding, cream and custard" all have different meanings in different countries. Let's just say that this is roughly the equivalent of an American style vanilla pudding ... the kind of pudding you'd get in a box.


I've been trying to make this for a very long time, but always struggled to get the texture right. I'd either make a custard, flan, panna cotta, or something more like a sauce. I'd never get a smooth and silky "pudding" like texture, perfect for something like a trifle. I finally broke down and used a combination between glucomannan powder and tapioca flour, both ingredients more from the Paleo landscape. The tapioca, especially, boosts the carb count. Fret not! A 1/4 cup portion is still just about 2 net carbs. A full 8 oz. cup of the stuff is still less than 9 carbs. So ... it's far from horrible and this pastry cream is really wonderful. It opened all sorts of doors for me. I'm REALLY looking forward to doing more with this in the future!


Orange-Blackberry Trifle

Ok, I've already got one recipe in the hopper. Let's get it out there. This Orange-Blackberry Trifle was absolutely mind blowing, really. It's mind bottling to think that this whole thing comes in at a sweet 9 carbs.


Bottles the mind, I tell ya!


Sweetener Brands

Now, we're in the thick of it! I'm going to list these products in alphabetical order, to help people find their favorite, in the future. That said, I've been thinking a lot about this series and am planning to rebuild it all into a pretty groovy online framework that should allow people to comment on their own, for each brand, as well as each of the ingredients mentioned earlier in the series. I don't think it's fair for "my" say to be the final say. This is all to help you, so you should be able to help layer in your opinions. It'll likely take me a few months to get there, but ... what I've got in mind is a far nicer organizational structure for all of this, than ... a blog.

I know that price is a big factor, so I've done my best to do a super loosey-goosey price comparison. Deals and discounts come and go. There will ALWAYS be a better price to be found. As such, I didn't even try and track the deals, as they'll all be different tomorrow. Rather, I tried to surmise an overall average for the various products in order to determine which "generally" supplies the most bang for its buck. This is approach is FAR from scientific, but ... it's still fairly illuminating.

Without further adieu ... here we go!


DiabetiSweet: The ingredients are Isomalt and Ace-K, two ingredients covered earlier in the series. It's a combination of a sugar alcohol with a very low glycemic index (just 2) and an artificial sweetener, which is 200 times the sweetness of sugar. This product is essentially pure isomalt, with a touch of Ace-K to boost the sweetness. It will likely have an excellent taste. It's heat stable. It will measure like sugar and can be used in all manner of things from baked goods to hard candies. It will not caramelize. The big problem with this one is the laxative effect of isomalt. The recommendation is not to eat more than 20 grams per day, which is just over 2 tablespoons (30 mL). While a tolerance to this can be built up, I don't feel it's worth it. Also, for those that don't like artificial sweeteners, this one is very artificial. Price, as of this writing, is about $8.00 per lb.


Equal: Equal is a blend of Aspartame and Ace-K. Each of these are incredibly sweet, so it's also got dextrose and maltodextin added to it, for more consistent mixing, blending and bulk. Aspartame is amongst one of the more controversial sweeteners. It's also not heat stable, so it's not good for cooking. Dextrose and maltodextrin are both forms of glucose (instant blood sugar), so each packet is roughly 1 net carb and equals about 2 tsp worth of sugar. It's got a slightly bitter aftertaste. Because it can't be cooked with, I'll never buy this. I WILL add it to my iced tea at a restaurant, if no other options exist, but ... I tend to avoid it, when I can. As of this writing, 800 packets are roughly $15.00, which is the equivalent of about 33 cups of sugar, or roughly $1.06 per lb. of sugar equivalent sweetness.


EZ Sweetz (Sucralose): This is the most common form of liquid sucralose that I see floating around. I also own it and occasionally use it. We all likely know the brand name "Splenda". Splenda is essentially sucralose mixed with dextrose and maltodextrin, which renders it about 24 net carbs per cup. This product, on the other hand, is pure liquid sucralose, without the carby fillers. This makes it incredibly sweet. One little bottle of it is equal to about 14 lbs of sugar! It's got a nice clean sweet taste. It's heat stable. I like this product. It's inexpensive and easy to use, but I never use it as a primary sweetener. I use it more as an "adjuster". I tend to use this, much in the same way I may add salt to my dinner at a restaurant, if it needs a bit of a boost. Typically, I use other sweeteners and will use this at the very end, if something is not sweet enough. I'll taste the sauce, or batter, or ... whatever it is that I'm making and if it needs a bit more sweet, I'll throw a few quick drops of this in to it and swirl it in. Quick and easy. Boom! Beyond that, it has no "bulk" of its own, so it can be a bit fussy to use as a primary sweetener. Replacing 1 cup of sweetener with 1/2 tsp of this is going to cause some volumetric issues. Some of the time it can work, others ... not so much. This is an artificial sweetener. As of this writing, the cost is roughly $13.00 for 800 "servings" equal to 2 tsp of sugar, which is the equivalent of about 33 cups of sugar, or roughly $.92 per lb. of sugar equivalent sweetness.


EZ Sweetz (Stevia): Ingredients are Reb-A (a highly refined form of stevia) and glycerin. There are other odds and ends, such as water, natural flavors (which could mean anything) and a few other riddles and games, but ... the heavy lifters are the Reb-A and glycerin. I've never tried this blend and tend to be fairly sensitive to the taste of stevia. They claim it's been "de-bittered", but ... I don't know how one would do that. Rebaudioside A is what it is. My guess is that the sweet glycerin helps to smooth it out through a twinge of synergy, as well as whatever they may be hiding under the "natural flavors" term. Reading through the reviews, it seems clear that some can still taste the bitter. It's got no bulk, so it's not really good as a primary sweetener. For those that prefer to avoid synthetic sweeteners, this is a nice alternative to the sucralose based EZ Sweetz and would likely be used much in the same way I'd mentioned in the previous description. It's heat stable. It does not caramelize. As of this writing, it's about $11.00 for 300 "servings" equal to 2 tsp of sugar, which is the equivalent of about 12 cups of sugar, or roughly $2.09 per lb. of sugar equivalent sweetness.


EZ Sweetz (Stevia and Monk Fruit): Ingredients for this one are Reb- A (a highly refined form of stevia) and Monk Fruit, along with water and other various things. I've never tried Monk Fruit and have only recently become aware of it, so this one is me ... flying blind. That said, I know that synergistic blends tend to work well and I also know that some do enjoy the taste of Monk Fruit. By and large, I'd say that this is equivalent to the EZ Sweetz Stevia and would be used similarly. The big change is the lack of glycerin in this one, which is replaced by the Monk Fruit. There are also no "natural flavors" ... so there's nothing to hide. I suspect I slightly tilt towards this one, if I had to choose between the two, but ... even then, only as a vehicle for nudging quick sweetness, not as a primary sweetener. It's heat stable. It does not caramelize. As of this writing, it's about $7.00 for 300 "servings" equal to 2 tsp of sugar, which is the equivalent of about 12 cups of sugar, or roughly $1.33 per lb. of sugar equivalent sweetness.


Ideal: Ingredients for this one are xylitol, dextrose, maltodextrin and sucralose. I'm sure that this one is delicious. The ingredients in it are all either sugar, or made from sugar, except for the xylitol, which ... tastes like sugar! It looks, tastes and measures like sugar. It may even caramelize. While it's definitely heat stable, xylitol doesn't caramelize, but ... I'll bet that the dextrose and maltodextrin do, but ... maybe not for something like a hard candy. In any event, that's all the good news. Xylitol has a glycemic index rating of 7 (on a scale of 0 to 100), suggesting that it's very low. Based on the nutrition label, it's reasonable to assume that the product is about 75% xylitol, with the remaining 25% being dextrose and maltodextrin, which are cheap forms of sugar. It's essentially glucose, or "instant blood sugar" with a glycemic index of 100. It's baffling to me why sugar-free sweeteners are made from something that's WORSE for us than regular old sugar (with a GI in the 60's). This stuff is like pure instant blood sugar. It also claims to be 99% natural, with only a tiny amount of artificial sucralose. Now, I'm actually fine with sucralose, but I think that line is a bit disingenuous. It's like saying, "These brownies are delicious, make with 99% goodness, and only 1% bug spray." Point being, that sucralose is HIGHLY concentrated. A little bit goes a very long way. Again, I'm fine with sucralose, but find the wording to be a bit deceptive. Ultimately, this is about 19 net carbs per cup, which isn't horrible. It's actually a bit better then Splenda, which is about 24. On the whole, I'd say this product is a lot like Splenda in terms of carb impact and overall dietary philosophy. I think the xylitol is a better filler, so I suspect this tastes better and functions better than Splenda. It's got full bulk. Keep it away from your dogs, as xylitol is poisonous to dogs. It may have a minor laxative effect, but ... that should go away fairly quickly. As of this writing, it's about $8.40 per lb.


Just Like Sugar: This one contains chicory root dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin C, natural flavors from the peel of the orange. I'll be honest ... I've never tried this one, but I also don't "get it". I've tried other sweeteners made from chicory root fiber (inulin and fructooligosaccharides) and ... they tasted a bit like a lightly pleasant sweet chalk dust. To be fair, I've never tried this particular product. It could be phenomenal, but based on everything I know, at its best, it's going to be half as sweet as sugar, at its worst ... merely 10% as sweet, meaning you'd need to use 2 to 10 times the amount to equal the sweetness of sugar. They've added some orange essence ... for ... charm? Complexity of flavor? Because they were bored? I think it would be a nice taste, but it runs the risk of competing with other flavors in the actual use of it. To really use this in any meaningful capacity would require fairly large amounts and ... hitting one's system with this amount of fiber is going to produce some challenges for many. The reviews for this one tend to bounce all over the place, with many suggesting it's not very sweet and even has an impact on blood sugars (although, it really shouldn't, if it's truly just all fiber). I don't know. This product baffles me. The wording surrounding the product is a bit too flowery for my tastes. Their brown sugar variation contains "Natural Molasses Type Flavor", which says almost nothing. Without tasting it, I know I'll never buy it. If you're a fan of this particular product, speak up. I'd love to know why this one has any level of popularity. Ah, also, as of this writing, this is hovering around $18.00 per lb. It's not cheap, either.


Lakanto: Ok, this one was requested that I mention it. I've never heard of it, I've never tried it, so I have no idea what I'm talking about. *ahem* ... Lakanto contains 2 ingredients, erythritol (Smappy) and monk fruit extract (Lo Han Guo). This bodes quite well for it! As a smappy nerd, I'm pretty quickly sold when a product uses this as its bulking agent. This one will measure, cup for cup, like sugar. This means it's got bulk and can be used in just about any recipe asking for sugar, without needing to make any adjustments. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's delicious. It's also got the whole "super natural, from the prized fruit of the mountains" thing going for it. I'd buy this one to give it a shot, to be sure. However, I know it won't caramelize. I also know that it'll run in to some of the issues many erythritol blends fall in to. Because it's almost 100% erythritol, with just enough monk fruit to boost the sweetness, any recipe that has a fairly high concentration of it will crystallize when it cools, creating a gritty texture and having a "cooling" sensation in the mouth. A product like Truvia somewhat gets around this by creating a product SWEETER than sugar, requiring less to be used, so it decreases the chances of crystallization. It's also not cheap. As of this writing a lb of it will run you about $27.50.


Monk Fruit in the Raw: This product contains Dextrose and Monk Fruit Extract. Frankly ... this product makes me mad. The first ingredient is dextrose, which is glucose, which is instant blood sugar. It's worse for you that straight up table sugar. It's enhanced with some monk fruit. The dextrose comes from corn, so it's a "natural" ingredient, with a cutesy name suggesting something, somewhere along the way may have accidentally rested near something raw. It measures like sugar, but ... really ... the ratings for it stink, it's just "Super Sugar" branded in an appealing manner and hidden behind laws to take advantage of people that don't know any better. Pass this one up. It runs about $23 a lb. Because dextrose is lighter than sugar, it actually runs closer to $9.50 per lbs of sugar equivalent sweetness. The more I read about this company, their products' ingredients and overall product line ... I'm officially saying that this company is mired in bull-pucky. Their products are expensive, purporting to be natural, but are all highly refined and packed with flaked glucose. They've also got an agave product. They are capitalizing on trends and charging handily for it. Smart and devious people are at work here ... taking advantage of buzzwords. Bleh. Skip any and all "in the raw" products ... in my opinion, of course.


Nectresse: From the makers of Splenda comes this "100% Natural Sweetener". Nectresse contains erythritol, sugar, monk fruit extract, molasses. As an erythritol based sweetener, I'm already happy. Yay! However ... the second ingredient is just straight up sugar. Then, there is the Monk Fruit Extract, which is what all the future hype will likely be about ... and then molasses, which is just sugar with some brown stuff in it (minerals and vitamins and what not). I'm glad that there's no "fluff" on this one. It very plainly says it's got sugar in it. I respect this. I also suspect this blend tastes great! Where I really start to fault this product is in the inky-dinky serving size of 1/4 teaspoon. Laws states anything lower than .5 carbs or 5 calories per serving can be listed as zero carbs and zero calories. This suggests the POTENTIAL for this product to actually have just short of 96 net carbs per cup, or just short of 960 calories per cup. There's no real way to know. It's all hidden beneath labeling laws. Now, the GOOD news is, this stuff is concentrated. It's 4 times stronger than sugar, which suggests that each cup of sugar in a recipe needs only 1/4 cup of this. That brings the functional number of net carbs to less than 24 net carbs per sweetening power of a cup of sugar, equal to that of Splenda or Ideal Sweetener. So ... now it's back to not so bad ... and this is the worst case scenario. I just don't like the method of obscuring the numbers. They are playing us for fools, sad to say ... In any event, this one is likely to taste great. It'll likely caramelize and it has "some" bulk, but not full bulk. It's not very likely to crystallize in recipes because it's a smaller concentration of erythritol, so it's going that going for it. All in all, not a terrible sweetener. If they were just up front about the numbers, I'd probably love it even more! As of this writing, this is about $17.00 per lb, but because it's super concentrated, it's actually closer to $4.25 per lb. of sweetening power. I've actually bashed this one in the past and now that I've done some of the math on it ... I withdraw "some" of my snarky comments. I now say ... Not bad!


NuNaturals PreSweet Tagatose: I'm a filthy scoundrel. Each of these other products are common brand names, for primarily sweetener blends. In this particular instance, similar to the EZ Sweetz version of liquid sucralose (there other other brands), I wanted to include this on this page because it's an excellent cup for cup sugar alterative. Because this page contains a variety of options, this one felt like it belonged on the list, as it's actually one of the best replacements. It contains ... tagatose, which is a sweetener derived from dairy. The flavor is indistinguishable from sugar. In fact, molecularly, it's a mirror image of sucrose (table sugar). So ... it's like sugar's better doppelganger or "bizarro sugar". It's just a hair less sweet than sugar, meaning you can mostly use it cup for cup, in place of sugar (just accidentally spill a twinge extra in there). It's 92% as sweet as sugar, unnoticeable to the naked tongue. It caramelizes ... "too" easily, however. This is great for flavor and color, but it means your baked good should be baked at a lower temperature for a bit longer, or run the risk of burning it. So, rather than 350 F for 10 to 12 minutes, it's probably better to try 325 F for 12 to 14, for example. Just a slight slide in temperature and times and you've got a really stellar alternative. It's got a glycemic index of 2 to 3, which is super low (lower than xylitol, but still higher than erythritol). Anecdotal evidence suggests some people have gastric issues with this, but scientific tests put the gastric threshold fairly high, roughly equivalent to erythritol. As of this writing, a lb. is $9.49, but let's just call it an even $10.00.


NutraSweet: Interesting! This one looks like its dying! The Nutrasweet website is targeted at manufacturers, rather than the public. The home page of the nutrasweet website very clearly pronounces a new product called "Swirl" with its very own website! When you go to THAT website ... it's not there! In essence, Nutrasweet is Aspartame. I believe their Swirl product is a combination between Aspartame and Neotame. I just stopped caring.


Pure Via: This one contains Maltodextrin, Reb A (Stevia Extract) Cellulose Powder, Natural Flavors. Again, we see another sugar-free product starting with "maltodextrin", which is like super sugar. It's what the entire glycemic index is set up to rate against. Maltodextrin is glucose, rated 100 on the glycemic index and is the single thing that all other ingredients are compared to, in order to determine the rate at which a carb will turn into glucose in the blood. Being that it IS glucose ... it's 100. The reason dextrose is added is because Reb-A (stevia extract) is so concentrated that something with "bulk" needs added to help maintain control over sweetness. It also helps add bulk to recipes, but unfortunately, it's sugar, with carbs and ... right evil carbs, too! This is one I've tried. I didn't like it. Too stevia-y for my tastes, plus ... the whole maltodextrin thing is a problem. This measures cup for cup like sugar. However, because the serving size is so low, it's hard to know how many carbs there are in a cup. I'm going to guess at about 24, right along with several others. It'll work in baking. According to Amazon.com ... it runs about $60.00 per lb, or ... seen another way ... about $7.00 per cup.


Splenda: Splenda contains Maltodextrin and Sucralose. I'm just not a fan of the cheap filler "maltodextrin". I don't want to be overly repetitive, but for those scrolling to just their sweetener of choice, maltodextin is glucose, rated 100 on the glycemic index and is the single thing that all other ingredients are compared to, in order to determine the rate at which a carb will turn into glucose in the blood. Being that it IS glucose ... it's 100. The reason dextrose is added is because sucralose is so concentrated that something with "bulk" needs added to help maintain control over sweetness. It also helps add bulk to recipes, but unfortunately, it's sugar, with carbs and ... right evil carbs, too! The maltodextrin adds about 24 carbs with of instant blood sugar per cup, which is the primary reason I steer towards other sweeteners. However, these issues aside, Splenda is generally tasty, it measures cup for cup like sugar, it's incredibly easy to find and is relatively inexpensive at $13.74 per lb. However, because the maltodextrin is "flaked" it's actually very lightweight, while still being a volumetric match for sugar ... cup for cup. A 1.2 lb bag of Splenda is actually equal to 10 lbs of sugar, dropping the price to an even more affordable $1.65 per lb of sugar sweetness.


Stevia in the Raw: This one contains Maltodextrin and Stevia Extract (rebiana). Again, we see another sugar-free product starting with "maltodextrin", which is like super sugar. It's what the entire glycemic index is set up to rate against. Maltodextrin is glucose, rated 100 on the glycemic index and is the single thing that all other ingredients are compared to, in order to determine the rate at which a carb will turn into glucose in the blood. Being that it IS glucose ... it's 100. The reason dextrose is added is because Reb-A (stevia extract) is so concentrated that something with "bulk" needs added to help maintain control over sweetness. It also helps add bulk to recipes, but unfortunately, it's sugar, with carbs and ... right evil carbs, too! This measures cup for cup like sugar. However, because the serving size is so low, it's hard to know how many carbs there are in a cup. I'm going to guess at about 24, right along with several others. As of this writing, it's about $11.31 per lb. Because maltodextrin is so light, it's actually closer to $1.42 per sweetening power of a lb. of sugar.


SweetLeaf: SweetLeaf is a leading brand in Stevia related products. Amazon carries over 80 individual stevia based products from this one company, alone. If you click the link, I've selected a blend of stevia and inulin, which are both products I support (although, I confess to not loving the taste of stevia). From a purely healthy perspective, this will lend sweetness to recipes (not as cleanly or pronounced as others, but still a noticeable sweet taste is evident). This is a nice and natural (albeit refined) sweetener, with zero impact on blood sugars. It's also 8 times sweeter than sugar, suggesting 2 tablespoons is equal to a cup of sugar. This means it has no bulk to it. I personally wouldn't consider this a primary sweetener, but ... more than anything, I'm highlighting this brand because it's quite well known, common and has a variety of blends and products, all seemingly honorably presented. If you want a blend of sugar and stevia? They've got it. If you want a vanilla flavored stevia tincture ... look no further! Straight up super refined organic stevia extract? They've got that, too! Point being, there's every kind of stevia product under the sun, some steeped in water, others in glycerin, others in alcohol, some are mixed with other sugar alcohols, fibers and sugars, all coming in at a variety of price points, qualities, tastes and philosophical advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, it all comes down to the ingredients on the label. I can't quantify a price on this one as there's far too much variety. A pure stevia extract will go quite a ways, though and can be found fairly inexpensively.


Sweet'N Low: This is essentially saccharin. It's a blend of saccharin and dextrose (glucose ... instant blood sugar). While technically this is heat stable and can be used for cooking, near as I can tell, it's not even available as a bulk sweetener. As such, I wouldn't consider this a primary sweetener. Also, because of the dextrose, I'd also likely skip it. 1 packet is equal to 2 tsp sugar. As of this writing, the cost is roughly $19.00 for 1500 "servings" equal to 2 tsp of sugar, which is the equivalent of about 63 cups of sugar, or roughly $.72 per lb. of sugar equivalent sweetness.


Sweet One: This is a essentially acesulfame-K and dextrose. It's super rare and I don't love the dextrose aspects of it, but ... I'm going to use this one in a blend in the upcoming secret 7th installment of this series, so I wanted to include it in this list. It's a strong sweetener like the other packets, it's one packet is 2 teaspoons. It's delicious and heat stable, but with a minor bitter aftertaste. Great in blends, but not great as a standalone sweetener. It's heat stable, but has no bulk of its own. As of this writing, the cost is roughly $2.00 for 50 "servings" equal to 2 tsp of sugar, which is the equivalent of about 1 cup of sugar, or roughly $4.73 per lb. of sugar equivalent sweetness. For a concentrated sweetener, it's not very cheap.


SweetPerfection: This one contains chicory root fiber (inulin and fructooligosaccharides). I mentioned before that I've tried a product like this. This is that product. This is made by the same company that makes ChocoPerfection chocolate bars, which I love, so I wanted to love this, as well and ... it tasted a bit like a lightly pleasant sweet chalk dust, in my opinion. They claim it measures, cup for cup, like sugar, but based on everything I know, at its best, it's going to be half as sweet as sugar, at its worst ... merely 10% as sweet, meaning you'd need to use 2 to 10 times the amount to equal the sweetness of sugar. To really use this in any meaningful capacity would require fairly large amounts and ... hitting one's system with this amount of fiber is going to produce some challenges for many. As of this writing, this is hovering around $34.00 per lb. Because it falls somewhere within 10 to 50% the sweetness of sugar, this suggest that for the equivalent sweetness of sugar, it's actually going to cost somewhere between $68.00 and $340.00 per pound. It's not cheap.


Swerve Sweetener: My #1 Pick

Swerve Sweetener: Swerve contains erythritol, oligosaccharides and natural flavor. This is my pick and is the the dominant sweetener in my home, from pretty much everything from coffee to muffins. As stated before, using erythritol gets a big thumbs up from me, as opposed to many of the other bulking agents (primarily the cheap dextrose and maltodextrin). Some use xylitol for bulk, which ... is better, but erythritol is always my pick. However, erythritol isn't perfect. For one, it's not as sweet as sugar, which means you need MORE to match the equivalent amount of sugar. This has a few negative impacts in that it's too much bulk, upsetting the balance of the recipe, plus high concentrations of erythritol will never dissolve and what percentage DOES dissolve, will crystallize when it cools, creating a gritty texture. Additionally, crystallized erythritol has a minty "cooling" sensation as it dissolves in our mouths. Swerve counteracts this "high concentration" issue by bulking out the erythritol with oligosaccharides (a sweet prebiotic fiber usually made from chicory). This is why Swerve is far less likely to crystallize than pure erythritol. However, what's always been baffling to me is the level of sweet. It measures, cup for cup, like sugar, but ... erythritol and oligosaccharides are both less sweet than sugar, suggesting that one of their "natural flavors" is a highly concentrated sweetener. Swerve prides itself on not using ANY artificial sweeteners, nothing GMO (some erythritol is made from genetically modified corn), no MSG, etc. So it's nothing unsavory. I used to assume the sweetener was stevia, but ... it's not stevia, nor is it monk fruit. There are other very rare and unknown concentrated natural sweeteners, such as brazzein, glycyrrhizin, thaumatin, monellin, monatin, miraculin and/or some others. As with all the other ingredients I know, a blend creates a wonderful synergy. So it's likely a blend of one or more of these. Whatever it is, their formula is well balanced to my tastes. Like every sweetener out there, there are those that don't like it, or who experience issues with it (potentially because of the fiber, for those who don't get enough fiber in their diet). In any event, I've corresponded with people at Swerve and they are wonderful. The product has integrity. It's delicious and it works in most applications, just like sugar. It even caramelizes! However, like everything, it's got its downsides. Super high concentrations will still crystallize. It's challenging to dissolve (I suggest the powdered version, as it's got smaller granules and dissolves more quickly, while still measuring like sugar). It's also hard to find, needing to be ordered online for most of the world. Finally ... it's a bit on the expensive side, at $12.00 a lb. on average. That said, as of this writing a 22 lb. bag costs $154.00, which amounts to about $7.00 a lb. Now, you may be asking yourself what you'd do with a 22 lb. sack of this stuff. Currently, the average American consumes about 150 lbs. of sugar, per year. This suggests that the 22 lbs of Swerve will be gobbled up in less than 2 months! In any event ... Swerve is just the bee's knees.


Truvia: Truvia contains erythritol, rebiana, and natural flavors. As stated before, using erythritol gets a big thumbs up from me, as opposed to many of the other bulking agents (primarily the cheap dextrose and maltodextrin). Some use xylitol for bulk, which ... is better, but erythritol is always my pick. However, erythritol isn't perfect. For one, it's not as sweet as sugar, which means you need MORE to match the equivalent amount of sugar. This has a few negative impacts in that it's too much bulk, upsetting the balance of the recipe, plus high concentrations of erythritol will never dissolve and what percentage DOES dissolve, will crystallize when it cools, creating a gritty texture. Additionally, crystallized erythritol has a minty "cooling" sensation as it dissolves in our mouths. Truvia counteracts this "high concentration" issue by adding a higher concentration of stevia and other flavors, to make it "super sweet". This means, less is used ... meaning ... less crystallization. This has the negative consequence of less bulk, unfortunately. Less than half as much is used (1 cup of sugar would mean 1/3 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons of Truvia). On a personal note, this was my first favorite sweetener. When I first started low-carb, I could get this in Mexico. It was expensive, but I could find it at the local health food store and was MUCH better than anything I could find at CostCo. It still had that stevia "twang" to it, but ... from a health standpoint, it was as good as it got, so it's what I used. This is also made from erythritol, which is always a plus. Unlike Swerve, this is based on GMO corn. The stevia in use is the super fantastic 40+ step procedure which has been patented by Cargill. The "natural flavors" could pretty much be anything. While I trust the integrity of "Swerve's" natural flavors ... I'm less likely to believe that Cargill is looking out for my wellbeing. I could be wrong, but ... there are enough tell-tale signs in the world to feel this is a reasonable assumption. In any event, like all of them ... it's got its pro's and cons. This is fairly easy to find and is zero carb. It makes a decent sugar replacement. It runs roughly $9.80 per lb. as of this writing. Because it's concentrated, it's actually more accurate to say it's about $3.68 per lb of sweetening power.


XyloSweet: Here's another branded product which is pure "something". In this case, it's pure xylitol. This has a glycemic index of about 7 out of 100, which is higher than erythritol's zero and tagatose's 2 or 3. It's 92% as strong as sugar, but ... taste just like sugar. This is generally used cup for cup in place of sugar, but with a tiny bit more. I'd really describe this as about equal to tagatose in terms of balancing the pros and cons. I like it, but believe there are better options. You can read more about xylitol on my sugar alcohol's page. As of this writing, XyloSweet is about $7.00 per lb.


Whey Low: This is another one that was requested. Prior to that request ... I'd never heard of this brand and I still haven't tasted it. Again, I'm shooting in the dark. This contains crystalline fructose, lactose monohydrate and sucrose. Here's their health claim, from their website, "This healthful, patented blend of fruit sugar, table sugar, and milk sugar offers an amazing 60 to 80% lower glycemic index, 75% lower caloric value, and 75% lower effective carbohydrate (or net impact carbohydrate) count than sugar." Honestly ... fructose just simply ain't good for us. Sure, it's got a lower glycemic index than table sugar (on a scale of 1 to 100, fructose is 19 and sucrose is 65), but it's actually worse for us, in many ways. Lactose is milk sugar and ... as far as I know, is basically sugar with a slightly lower GI than sugar, at 46. Then we have sucrose which is sugar, which ... is equal to sugar. Unless I'm missing a big piece of the puzzle (this is possible and wouldn't be the first time), I don't understand this product. I don't understand why it exists or what it's trying to be. I'm sure it tastes awesome, but it's just sugar that's been kind of twisted into a new animal ... which is still just sugar. I'd love for someone to chime in with some reasons why this one is better than my current understanding. My current knowledge base is begging me to stop writing my thoughts ...


Zsweet: The ingredients in ZSweet are erythritol, S. rebaudiana Leaf Extract (stevia extract) and natural flavors. Their claim is, "All of the ingredients in ZSweet are zero calories, zero glycemic, zero-net carbs, certified non-GMO, vegan, kosher, gluten-free, sugar-free and completely 100% natural. We do not add any chemical or artificial ingredients - not even in trace amounts." In essence, this is a bulkier Truvia, with a conscience. It measures, cup for cup, like sugar. So, it's less potent than Truvia and will be more likely to crystallize than Truvia. It shouldn't be used in high concentrations, but it's also probably got a bit less Stevia in it, resulting in a potentially better flavor. I've never tried this one, but this would probably be my second pick for an "off the shelf" blend ... probably equal really ... in a four-way-tie with Lakanto, tagatose and xylitol. As of this writing, this is about $13.00 a lb.


In conclusion

Here are some overall suggestions and observations based on the above information. Remember, this is all my opinion and is far from scientific, but ... it's a very sincere and honorably presented list.

My personal favorite for overall cup-for-cup sweetener: Swerve Sweetener

This will work well for most all applications and measures just like sugar. No need to fiddle with math. Just start cooking! It's delicious in coffee, but harder to dissolve in iced tea. 100% of the time, I suggest the powdered. I see no benefit to the granular. The ingredients are the same and it measures the same, volumetrically. The only benefit I can see to the granular is ... if you can get it at a better price ... at which point, I suggest powdering it yourself in a coffee grinder. 100% of my Swerve is powdered. I also suggest buying it in bulk, to cut costs. Chances are good that you'll use it, in time.

Runners ups: Lakanto, Zsweet, NuNaturals PreSweet Tagatose and XyloSweet ... probably in that order.

Bonus Tidbit: Of the 5 cup-for-cup sweeteners previously mentioned, NuNaturals PreSweet Tagatose is the least expensive at about $10.00 a lb. However, Swerve Sweetener can be purchased for as low as $7.00 per lb, if purchased in bulk.

Each of these 5 are all natural and either very low or zero glycemic. I feel comfortable saying these are all zero carb sweeteners (in excess, they all have trace carbs).

Most Bang for Buck: In terms of pure sweetening power, the least expensive option seems to be Sweet'N Low at about $.72 per lb. of sugar equivalent. However, this one isn't used in cooking that I'm aware of. It can be, but I've never seen a recipe with it. However, I've seen LOTS of recipes with concentrated liquid sweeteners, such as EZ Sweetz (Sucralose), which comes in at the second least expensive, at about $.92 per lb. of sugar sweetness. For those that scoff at the idea of using the liquid synthetic sweetener, EZ Sweets also makes a Monk Fruit/Stevia blend which comes in at number 4, at $1.33 per lb. of sweetening power (number 3 was Equal).

Bottom Line: I encourage you to find deals and pick the best product that works for you and your lifestyle. A REALLY general recommendation based on a variety of costs, qualities and philosophies suggests that you purchase Swerve by 22-lb bags and supplement with the far less expensive EZ Sweets products for simple things like beverages, or to adjust the sweetness at the last minute, as well as recipes that are designed for these products. My concentrated sweeteners do get used (often in conjunction with Swerve) ...

There are some fine alternatives in this list, but they're either really expensive, contain dextrose and/or maltodextrin, they're "puzzling" to me, or I simply forgot to list this here, because ... let's face it ... this is a long blog post and my brain just fell out!

Stay tuned for next week's super secret mega final post ... containing recipes for your own homemade blends, lovingly dubbed Basic Tasty Smappy, Basic Smappy Goodness, Tasty Smappy (Baking Blend), Smappy Goodness (Baking Blend) and Smappy Brown.

Have a great weekend ... more soon!

DJ

Barbara, I appreciate the comments on Swerve. I'm not much of a baker. I don't endlessly work to create cakes, pies, cookies, or any of those kinds of things, so I readily confess to not having deep experience with this. I suspect it's possible and that their blend does run on the sweet side. There is a pointed sharper sweet twang near the end which does exist. I also wonder how much our tastes change as a result of dropping sugar. As a general rule, I suggest tasting everything as you make it. Cut back on some of the Swerve (or any sweetener for that matter) and add some in, to taste, if the batter does seem quite up to snuff. Omitting some of the sweetener can alter the texture of a recipe, but ... then again, different sweeteners all behave differently, anyway. In truth, we're all pioneers on this particular front. I am sorry your dessert didn't work out. It sounded delightful!
by DJ on Apr 28, 2014, 05:08 PM EST
Hi Dave,

Wow!

That’s a new one to me … on a few levels. Firstly, I’ve never heard of the brand name, nor have I ever seen it in a store. Secondly, its primary ingredient is xylose, which is also something foreign to my world. A little digging suggests that xylose is what xylitol is made from. Everything I’ve found does suggest that it’s non-caloric, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and good for the teeth. It’s got a very low glycemic index at 7, equal to xylitol. Because this particular product is mixed with erythritol, the overall GI of the product is just 2, which is super low. According to another reviewer, it’s not as sweet as sugar, only coming in at about 70%, which can be a problem. This product actually confuses me. If I had more time I’d study it much further and would love to track some down to play with it. I’d like to understand the differences between xylitol and xylose. Is one better than the other? Does it caramelize? Will it feed yeast? (sugar alcohols, like xylitol won’t feed yeast, but I read a quick study suggesting that xylose WILL feed yeast and can be converted to ethanol. Interesting! ) A really gut response based on almost nothing is … interesting product! I’ll buy it and play with it, for sure. It may even be one of my new favorites! Thank you for alerting me to its existence!
by DJ on Apr 28, 2014, 05:00 PM EST
Any comments about SinFree Sugar?:

http://www.sinfreesugar.com/
by Dave N on Apr 27, 2014, 04:22 PM EST
I use Swerve for baking and I have found that it is so sweet that you need to use far less than what is called for. I almost always reduced the sugar in "normal", i.e., non-diabetic recipes when I made them, unless it was so integral to the recipe that altering the amount would alter the recipe. Someone else I know who does a good deal of baking has said the same, as well as the fact that the sweetness of Swerve seems to intensify at least a day after you made the recipe. I made a vanilla bean flourless torte for Easter and the Swerve was so overpowering that the actual flavors of the torte were lost. I ended up throwing it out. I think that using blends may be a better option, so I appreciate your evaluating all the ones out there and giving us cooks some pros and cons for each.
by Barbara on Apr 27, 2014, 04:10 PM EST