Your whole food, plant-based life.

Raw Food Sweeteners

Recipes for raw food desserts are extremely popular. It is appealing to be able to replace the traditional butter, flour and sugar (nutrient void, calorie dense) with ingredients that actually have nutritional value. With the main ingredients, nuts, coconut, cacao  and fruit, we can make delicious desserts that have no saturated fat and are packed with things that are good for you. We can have our cake and eat it too!

There is a caveat. Even though they are raw food recipes, they are still desserts and should be consumed with the same sensibilities. They are nutrient dense but also calorie dense. I believe that an occasional treat can add needed variety to our diets. That said, let’s discuss some of the popular sweeteners used in raw food recipes. There is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion concerning them. It is best to be informed.

Agave: Probably one of the most frequently used sweeteners in raw food recipes, agave has gotten some bad press. Frankly, it is one of my favorites to use. Made from the agave plant, it is low on the glycemic scale, doesn’t take much to really sweeten, and doesn’t impart a strong flavor or after taste. You should be careful of where you source your agave, as all your food. True raw agave is made by adding organic enzymes to break down the juices. Pure, raw agave has a GI of 30. Agave contains inulin, which has many health benefits. It also contains, fiber, enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

Dates: Another popular item used for sweetening. Containing only 24 calories per date, they are packed with more potassium than a banana and are high in fiber. Dates have a very high GI, 103, and are high in natural sugars. So, don’t go thinking that you can just throw 15 dates into a recipe with out any ramifications….

Stevia: A controversial little herb, stevia got caught in the fight between the natural food wing and the artificial sweetener and sugar lobbies. It was actually  blocked from import by the US in 1991. Now allowed, it contains virtually no calories, no fats, and has over 100 identified phytonutrients. I do find that it has an after-taste that I do not like, which is why I do not use it in recipes.

Raw Honey: While honey is raw, it is not vegan. It is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. It is full of B(ee) vitamins and many minerals. Honey definitely has a taste associated with it. I like the dimension it can add. GI 45-85. Make sure you use raw, not processed honey and also, beware that honey should not be fed to infants.

Maple Syrup: Not raw but used in raw cooking.  Coming from maple trees and heat reduced, it is a great source manganese and zinc. It can provide a much needed texture to raw desserts.

Yacon Syrup: I don’t have any experience with this as of yet, but will be using it soon. Coming from the root of the Yacon, it is glucose free. Yacon is naturally high in inulin, a complex sugar that breaks down into fructooligosaccharides. They help the production of healthy probiotics which can contribute to better digestion and colon health. Yacon syrup is said to taste a little like molasses.

This should give you a little insight into the different ways we sweeten raw desserts. As always, it is a good idea to be aware of what we are eating an how it affects our bodies.

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  1. Kristin wrote on December 3, 2014

    thanks for going over this. One thing I’m unsure about; I’ve read from multiple sources that dates are low on the glycemic index, actual scientific studies on diabetics so I’m confused. Where did you find such a high number for the glycemic index of dates?

  2. April wrote on November 20, 2014

    what is the best sweetener for coffee and tea??

    • Susan wrote on November 21, 2014

      I use coconut sugar. Cheers!

  3. Kasey wrote on March 26, 2012

    Dates, filled with natural fiber, are a great sweetener to use in health-conscious deserts. The way it is phrased in your article gives the wrong impression. The glycemic load of dates is only 11… glycemic load takes into account serving size whereas the glycemic index does not. (

    • Susan wrote on March 28, 2012

      I have seen the glycemic load estimated at 14. Also, you need to take into account that it takes a lot more dates to get the same sweetness that a little agave provides. 2 tablespoons of agave has a glycemic load of 9.4.

  4. Kyle Weber wrote on March 8, 2010

    I’ve never heard of Yacon Syrup! I use all of the others that you mentioned except for Dates… I’ve never thought about that. I do have an entire shelf in my cabinet dedicated to different kinds of raw organic honey. I love Stevia too, but I prefer the liquid over the powder. If you use too much though, it does have that after taste that is pretty powerful. I’ll have to look in to the Yacon Syrup!

  5. Shaina wrote on March 4, 2010

    I just wanted to add, that if you grow your own stevia plant and use it in cooking (as an herb)- it gives a nice sweet kick to foods and no aftertaste.

  6. Catherine wrote on March 3, 2010

    This was very informative. Thank you.
    Also, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your website. I love it’s clean look and the great information (particularly how user friendly it is!), not to mention your great recipes.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Nancy Zare, WellnessWiz wrote on March 3, 2010

    Thanks for the good overview. Agave is indeed controversial. It is my understanding that when it’s colored, it means it’s not raw. What do you know about this?

  8. Ida wrote on March 3, 2010

    Have you tried coconut palm sugar yet? It comes dried, in a powder, in cones, or in a paste. I have not physically located the paste yet ( only online) but I saw the granules in bulk in Whole Foods and tried it. GI of 35, it tastes great!Can be a little grainy in a recipe. I made a raw chocolate “fudge”. Very good, but I was supposed to use the paste and didn’t have it, hence the “grainy-ness”.

    • Susan wrote on March 3, 2010

      Haven’t tried it yet…I will be sure to look for it!

  9. Adrienne wrote on March 3, 2010

    Great info!
    I am going to add it as a link in my latest newsletter (if that’s okay)!


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