The Sweet Spot VII
Ok, here is the grand finale. The final post in the massive "Sweet Spot" series of posts. Today we'll learn how to make your own sweetening blends. HUZZAH!
Our goal is to create a cup of sugar replacement. Or, more specifically, we're going to create something with the sweetness and bulk of sugar, with a clean sweet taste and very few of the drawbacks associated with many existing blends. Keep in mind, that ... none of these are as good as sugar, in terms of taste and behavior. If you're comparing it to sugar, you'll be disappointed. However, these are EXCELLENT alternatives, without the hard hits that your blood sugars take from ingesting too much sugar. These are, in fact, far better than many pre-mixed brands out there and ... if you make your own, also far more economical.
It should also be said that the blends work together to form a synergy. They tend to help emphasize the benefits of the sweetener/bulking agent, while decreasing the negative qualities. It is literally almost a case where 1+1=3 or 1+2=5. The blended ingredients vastly improve the overall quality of the sweeteners.
Now, before we get into the blends, I should catch up the new folks. For the past month or two, I've been researching and writing a big series about sweeteners called "The Sweet Spot". It's a series focused on answering the ubiquitous question, "So ... um ... which really is the best sweetener?" Far from a simple question to answer, I've been breaking out the question into its various parts. Read back through the earlier posts to learn LOADS about some of the best ... and some of the worst ... sweeteners and raw ingredients out there.
The Sweet Spot Series (so far):
Now, before I get into the heart of the post, let's throw out a new recipe ... Chocolate Cake!
Making Your Own Kinda Sugar
Each and every sweetener that I've ever seen specifies somewhere on the bag, box, bottle or jar how much of it equals a similar amount of sugar, in terms of sweetness. It doesn't always say "a cup", but will do say something like "1 1/2 tsp erythritol equals 1 tsp sugar". This suggests that 1 1/2 cup of erythritol equals 1 cup of sugar. If, for whatever reason, it doesn't ... you can always search on the internet.
The first thing is to understand how much of the sweetener you're working with is required to make a cup of sugar's sweetness. Some of the time, with potent sweeteners, it's only a tiny bit, measured in grams or drops. Other times, it's quite a bit more! Ultimately, it's important to know this, though, if you want to start making your own homemade blends.
Before proceeding with any mixing and matching of your own, know how much if it equals the sweetness of a cup of sugar.
Now what we need to do is mix and match a variety of sweeteners in order to equal both the sweet potency of the blend, as well as the VOLUME. If you have a sugar cookie recipe asking for 1 cup of sugar equivalent and substitute a few drops of liquid sucralose, it's likely to have poor results. This is because a full cups worth of volume has gone mysteriously missing. Now, in a liquid, like coffee, or even a liquid base like ice cream ... it doesn't matter as much, but the bulk is very important to some recipes. We need to maintain that bulk.
What follows will be a bunch of non-judgemental ideas. Because there are so many products out there, this is my honest stab at getting a variety for people looking for something inexpensive, whereas I also want to make sure that there's a super natural base covered as well. This is a stab at creating a variety of blends for a variety of purposes. Again, none will be perfect. They're just good enough for me! ;)
Tasty vs. Goodness
I really see the sugar-free sweetener world as having two mainstream dominant super potent sweeteners: stevia and sucralose. There is also monk fruit, as the potential third, but having not tried it and not being enamored with anecdotes or the literature, I'm going to stick with the two I know. Both are valid and have their place in this story. One is synthetic and the other is natural. Both are very sweet, to the tune of hundreds of times sweeter than sugar.
If I had to do a double-blind taste test ... sucralose wins. I don't love it alone, but I prefer the taste to stevia. Stevia just has a bitter taste to me, which is less pleasant than the somewhat hollow or empty sweetness that I get from sucralose. However, stevia is going to win every argument put forth about health and nature, simply because it comes from a leaf (somewhere in there).
So, I'm going to create a split in my naming convention. Sucralose blends will be known as "Tasty" and Stevia Blends will be known as "Goodness", henceforth.
Tasty blends will often be less expensive than their goodness counterparts. They're likely to be more synthetic in nature, and are likely to be the better tasting of the blends. Goodness blends will be as close to nature as I can make them, without concern for costs.
Even though I personally believe that the Tasty ones are less expensive and taste better, I'm still likely to mix up a batch of goodness for myself. As a person, I often call myself a "gateway cave hippy". It's the best way I can describe my desire to be open to things, while trying to stay closerish to nature and eat like Grok. In other words ... I'm a confusing mess of hypocritical humanness.
Finally, all of my blends contain erythritol. Remember from previous versions in this series. My fun and frisky pet name for erythritol is "Smappy", as the word "erythritol" sounds like a chemical spill. Such a shame for such a wonderful and natural sweetener. So ... they will all be named "Smappy".
Basic Tasty Smappy
Basic Tasty Smappy is designed for simple applications. It's cheap, easy to make and tastes great! It's good in most applications. This runs the risk of crystallizing in super sweet recipes, but is fine as a standard sweetener. This would be great for coffee, or ice tea. This would be good to give a sweet kick to a pancake batter. It's great for adding a touch of sweetness to ANY savory dish. Really, what we're trying to do is limit the high concentrations of erythritol. So, this sweetener should work for most things, where sugar is needed, provided the end result isn't super sweet. We have another blend for that.
Here's the recipe:
That's it! In a bowl, add the erythritol and then distribute the 14 drops around the bowl. Mix it very very well, making sure there are no clumps. Then, leave it uncovered, or "mostly" uncovered, so that nothing can fall in it ... for a few days, to let any water evaporate from the drops. A good way to do this is in a kitchen aid on the lowest setting. Just let it churn until dry. Mix it before using, just to be safe. You can now use this mixture like you would for sugar, one cup to one cup.
Here's how to arrive at this conclusion ...
Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar. This means that 1 full cup of erythritol is going to be equal to the sweetening power of 7/10th of a cup of sugar, even though it takes up the full volume of 1 cup of sugar. So, we need to add 3/10ths of a cups worth of sugary sweetness, without adding any extra volume. This is where the zero carb liquid sweetener sucralose comes in. The brand I'm using suggests each drop is 1 teaspoon's worth of sugar. (remember, if you use a different brand, this number is important) There are about 14 teaspoons in 3/10ths of a cup. So ... we add the 14 drops to the erythritol and we now have something with both the volume and sweetness of 1 cup of sugar. BOOM!
Actually, what I like to do is put it into a coffee grinder and powder it. Because erythritol is so stubborn to dissolve, I tend to pulverize it. This, somewhat confusingly, changes its volume. When you powder the smappy, it increases in volume, because of all the air that's just been added to it. This means it's actually bigger ... or physically takes up more space than it used to. So, what I usually do is just weigh it. The weight is consistent, whether it's full of air, or not. So, imagine a cup of sugar, or a cup of Basic Tasty Smappy as being 200 grams, or just over 7 ounces. If you powder it, but you need a cup of granulated sugar for something ... just to be safe ... weigh it out, weighing out 200 grams or ... just a hair over 7 ounces. However, if you never powder it, then it's fine to keep the granular Basic Tasty Smappy and measure it ... one for one, to sugar.
Are we cooking now?
Basic Smappy Goodness
Mix it up! Powder it, if you want to. That's it!
Again, we're just trying to replace that 3/10ths of a cup of sugar, but this time doing so with the stevia. The stevia powder I'm using is highly concentrated and suggests 1/2 tsp is enough to replace a full cup of sugar. If you do a bit of math, the real numbers are actually .15 tsp, but 1/8th is close enough and I've seen 1/8th tsp measuring spoons. I suppose you'd want it "heaping". If you've got a VERY accurate scale, you'd want about 192mg worth of powdered stevia to make up that 3/10ths of a cup.
This stuff may sound a bit intimidating at first, but ... it's really not. It's all basic math, based on stuff printed on the labels. It takes a bit of extra knowledge to know things like how many teaspoons are in a cup and so on, but that information is just a quick online search away. My goal with this series is less to lock people into a specific recipe, but to give them the keys to make their own blends, combining their favorite products. These blends I'm describing are merely examples. Good examples, but ... optimized by math, not your personal tastes.
Neither of these two blends will caramelize, for example. However, there are some sweeteners that do. My hope is that by the end of this series, you'll have the knowledge and skill to build a sugar replacement blend that DOES caramelize! Moving on ...
Tasty Smappy - Baking Blend
Now, here's a sugar blend that's better for baking. Really, it's just as good as the Basic Tasty Blend, but it's a bit more complex, a bit more costly and certainly a bit stranger. HOWEVER, it's also very tasty (very probably the tastiest blend in this list) and will work fabulously in your muffins, cakes and cookies. Again, the idea is a cup of sugar replacement, but with a whole lot less carbs.
Mix in a bowl! And/or powder in a vitamix or coffee grinder and then sit out, uncovered, stirring occasionally and allowing to dry.
This one uses polydextrose to bulk out the erythritol. Erythritol, in too high a concentration tends to crystallize when it cools, resulting in a gritty texture and a "cooling" sensation. This is why recipes that are super sweet tend to exibit this behavior. By using a bit less, and adding the bulk of the polydextrose, and the sweetness of the liquid sucralose and the acesulfame potassium (Ace K), we're given a blend that's more suited to sweet things like super sweet cakes, cookies, frostings, some ice creams, etc.
This particular blend is probably the tastiest of them all. It's got the best behaviors. It's also the cheaper blend. However, it's not without its faults. For one, this blend runs about 16 net carbs per cup, unlike the priur two blends, each of which run at zero.
The polydextrose adds about 12 carbs to the mix, for a full cup. That's a clear downside. It's also got a bunch of super strange sounding synthetic oddities in it. And, what's a "sweet one"? Sweet ones are a brand name of acesulfame potassium, which is blended with dextrose and corn starch (to add bulk and to prevent clumping, I'm assuming). This adds another 4 carbs to the mix. This is a simple product and an easy way to test Ace K in your life. You CAN purchase straight Ace K, but I've only ever seen it in bulk. While fairly inexpensive, it would be like purchasing several hundred lbs. of synthetic sugar. Hey, it's an option! Should you decide to omit the Ace K, just replace those 4 packets with an extra 8 drops of liquid sucralose (totaling 31). Typically, the more sweeteners added to a mix, the better the taste, so ... the Ace K is there just a nice little tasty kicker!
Another downside is, the Poly D tends to fight with fat. It won't cream with butter, for example. It'll clump up and misbehave. My little workaround has always been to cream the butter without the sweetener and distribute the tasty smappy baking blend in with the other dried ingredients. This dilutes the behavioral quirks of all the sweeteners and turns out a nice baked treat! This one will caramelize and can be used for some hard candies, although I wouldn't really recommend it. The fiber is likely to cause some gastric distress and the Poly D's water sucking properties will make it sticky and hard to store. In general ... I feel ok saying that hard candies should pretty much be avoided while following a low-carb way of eating. The best are going to have some carbs and have gastric issues and the worst ... well ... they won't be any good!
Smappy Goodness - Baking Blend
Like the preceeding Tasty Smappy - Baking Blend, the erythritol makes up 35% of the sweetness of a cup of sugar. I've picked a nice organic Inulin FOS blend which is roughly 40% as sweet as sugar (being quite natural, apparently batches vary and it's an inconsistent product). This suggests the 1/2 cup supplies a further 20% of sweetness, leaving us to replace the remaining 45% with the stevia. This would be just under 1/4 tsp of stevia. If you were to make your own stevia products, you could combine the inulin and erythritol and adjust the sweetness with your own blend. If it contains water, then you'd omit some water based liquid in whatever recipe you're working on.
This one is zero net carbs and measures, cup for cup, like sugar. It's good for baking and higher levels of sweet. It will also caramelize. I've had less issues with this blend creaming with butter, but I've grown in the habit of mixing my dried sweeteners and thickeners in with other dried ingredients. For whatever reason, wheat, corn and sugar products all seem easy to use, whereas similarly ground and refined nuts, sweeteners and other odds and tubers tend to be FAR more fickle and misbehave more readily. Mixing all the dried ingredients together saves me ... often.
All of this is a relatively imperfect science, as products come and go, products change configurations, etc. My aim, again, is primarily to give you the keys to form your own blends, or at the very least to set you on the path of discovery.
If you like xylitol, for example, using the logic in this passage, you should be able to do a bit of research to figure out how strong it is in relation to sugar and then make up the difference with another sweetener. You could do the same with isomalt and make your own isomalt blends, should you have that desire. Or tagatose! Frankly, I think Tagatose would be positively smashing in some of these blends. Give it a shot. You've now got the keys!
Some blends work better for some applications than others. To date, I have not found, made or even heard of a single sugar replacement that is an exact match for sugar. Once you start venturing down this road, you, like me ... are pioneering.
Light Brown Smappy - Baking Mix
- 1 cup of either of the two Smappy Baking Mixes
- 1 tsp yacon syrup
In an electric mixer, mix the ingredients until well combined.
This will have a slightly muddy and wet texture. That's fine. I wouldn't make too much of it, and would really just drizzle a bit of yacon into whatever it was that I might be making. You could also use 1 tsp of blackstrap molasses, but it adds about 5 net carbs to the whole recipe.
Dark Brown Smappy - Baking Mix
- 1 cup of either of the two Smappy Baking Mixes
- 1 tbsp yacon syrup
In an electric mixer, mix the ingredients until well combined.
Again, this will have a slightly muddy and wet texture. I wouldn't make too much of it, and would really just drizzle a bit more of yacon into whatever it was that I might be making. You could also use 1 tbsp of blackstrap molasses, but it adds about 15 net carbs to the whole recipe.
Ok ... that's all he wrote! I hope you all enjoyed "The Sweet Spot"! Between you and I ... I'm thrilled to have it behind me! As wonderful as it was to research and write ... I'm ready to get deeper into more recipes and fun for a spell! Comment on this post or shoot me an email if you have any topics you'd like me to cover in the coming months.