Raw Food Sweeteners

by Susan on March 2, 2010

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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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

bitt March 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

there are some articles showing that agave is NOT good for people with diabetes.

i personally only use clear agave, and sparingly. i love yacon syrup and use dates often too. i am starting to play with coconut sugar too. it’s not raw but not overly processed either.

and the newbie is Jerusalem artichoke syrup. i haven’t liked it but it is supposed to be very good for diabetics.

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Susan March 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm

If you have a condition like diabetes, I think you should check with your doctor, do the research and make the decisions that are correct for you.

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Pam Cook March 2, 2010 at 7:47 pm

You know what is also awesome – coconut water. Of course the “watery-ness” of it is limiting, but it can come in handy for drinks and some “baking” (dehydrating). I’m on a low-sugar, low glycemic raw diet right now, so agave, honey, and dates are off limits.

Anyway, today I made almond milk using coconut water instead of plain water, plus dried vanilla bean. It was amazing! I also made a hot cocoa out of it, only adding a few drops of stevia to boost the sweetness (no bitterness or aftertaste). It was incredible!

I also recently heard of lucuma powder, but have no experience with it yet.

Thanks for the great article Susan :)

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sioux March 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Great post — I like Yacon Syrup, has a nice almost molasses-like but more subtle flavor, but can be pretty pricey in the small jar I get it in. I bought a lb of yacon powder and man is that stuff good — it’s reminds me of powdered sugar. I haven’t read much about it yet though, so I can’t speak to it’s GI or raw-ness. I am interested in lucuma powder, but haven’t made the leap to buying food online yet, and it’s not carried by any of my local stores. As for agave, it just seemed easier to stop using it, especially since I’d feel my heart race after a cup of tea sweetened with it. We use primarily dates or date paste, honey and maple syrup, but I think the best point of your post is at the beginning. Sweet treats are treats and should be treated as such, only indulging occasionally, not all the time. I find myself feeling unwell when we eat a lot of nut and sugar heavy foods, but gosh, they all look and taste so yummy! ;-)

Thanks!

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mandy March 3, 2010 at 10:13 am

Great Post. I have been wanting to try Yacon Syrup but at the local health food store it was like $11…so I will have to stick to dates and agave for now.

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Diane March 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

Deserts and sweets have always been my addictive downfall, no matter what type of diet I’m on, and I’ve overdone it with a lot of the delicious raw desserts. I’ve found that the food combining rules work best for me, which means fruit eaten alone (or at least not with fat), so that rules out many, if not most of the raw desserts. I use stevia a lot – I got started with that on a candida diet years ago, and I’ve gotten used to the weird over-sweet after taste. One of my favorite fruit-only (without fat) desserts is frozen bananas run through the green star (I used to do that in a champion which worked even better), with a little added stevia and vanilla, sometimes cinnamon. Of course what I really want when I have that is also some cacao syrup and raw tahini drizzled on it with some chopped nuts!

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Judith March 3, 2010 at 10:28 am

I have tried alot of brands of Stevia and almost all of them have left an aftertaste. I tried the Wisdom SweetLeaf brand and no aftertaste – I tried their liquids. After doing some reseach, this is the only stevia company that does NOT use chemicals, solvents, alcohols, ethanols and/or methanols which leave residues in their sweetner products. Wisdom uses water and a cool, purified water filtration process and NO chemicals to process their stevia, and no aftertaste. It is the best!

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Adrienne March 3, 2010 at 10:29 am

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

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Ida March 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

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”.

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Susan March 3, 2010 at 10:46 am

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

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Nancy Zare, WellnessWiz March 3, 2010 at 11:37 am

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?

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Catherine March 3, 2010 at 1:41 pm

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!

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Shaina March 4, 2010 at 7:19 am

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.

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GoRawMe Jensey March 5, 2010 at 7:51 pm

In my experience using ground stevia leaves (should be green, not white) leaves no after taste … and you don’t need to use very much. Try organic Stevia Powder Extract from http://www.TheRawFoodWorld.com. Also, regarding agave … if going to use, try to use only clear agave as with SunFood http://www.sunfood.com/buy/1/103/Agave-Nectar-Clear-Platinum-500mL-Truly-Raw-Certified-Organic-1443.aspx.

Very nice site Susan! Thank you … In joy ~)

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Kyle Weber March 8, 2010 at 11:17 pm

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!

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Kasey March 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm

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. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycemic_load)

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Susan March 28, 2012 at 10:10 am

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.

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April November 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm

what is the best sweetener for coffee and tea??

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Susan November 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I use coconut sugar. Cheers!

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