Monday, July 12, 2010
So you want something sweet. And you are low-carbing. And to your chagrin, you've learned that the carbs in artificial sweeteners ADD UP! How do you choose what to use? There is taste, of course (does it taste close enough to sugar for you?), and there is function (does it do what sugar does...caramelize, add bulk, tenderize, etc.). There is monetary cost (dollars) and there is carb cost (HOW many carbs are in this product!?).... There is no one perfect sugar substitute. You can pick what suits your purposes best; you can COMBINE sweeteners too. In fact, I recommend combining sweeteners for best taste. Actually, most artificial sweeteners today have NO CARBS, but the way they are packaged and marketed adds carbs to them in different amounts.
SUGAR: 1 t = 4 grams carb
white stevia powder (or liquid): 1 t = 0 g
bulk (concentrated powder) sweeteners: 1 t = 1 g
Diabetisweet (equal measure): 1 t = .19 g
cyclamate (equal measure products): 1 t = .27 g
packet of sweetener, any type I've seen so far: 1/2 packet = .45 g
any equal measure product I've seen so far: 1 t = .5 g
maltitol syrup: 1 t = 2 g
maltitol powder: 1 t = 2.5 g
ERYTHRITOL: 1 t = .3 g
Now, except for PACKETS of sweetener above, I've given you how many carbs 1 teaspoon of a sweetener equals. You know how sweet 1 t of sugar is, but you don't know how sweet 1 t of any of the other stuff is, except for equal measure type products (which is 1 t = 1 t sugar in sweetness). So the info above is still pretty useless info, until you get very familiar with the product.
For now, I am going to exclude polyol information. The chart below tells you how much sweetener to use to equal 1 Tablespoon sweetness of sugar, and how many carbs it has:
ALL MEASURES EQUIVALENT TO 1 T SUGAR IN SWEETNESS:
SUGAR: 1 T = 12 g carb
stevia: 1/8 t = 0 g
bulk sweeteners: 1/2 t = 0.5 g
Diabetisweet: 1 T = 0.56 g
Cyclamate: 1 T = 0.81 g
packets: 1 & 1/2 packets = 1.4 g
equal measure products: 1 T = 1.5 g
Here, you can see that most equal measure products have the most carbs. So while convenient when baking since you don't have to mentally convert the amount used, you will "pay" for it by having higher carbs. Packets also are fairly high carb when you compare them to your other choices. Of course, packets are everywhere, there are several brands available (and this DOES make a taste difference since the artificial sweetener varies!), and they are convenient!
We take a big step forward when DiabetiSweet or cyclamates are used. Cyclamates are banned in the USA, but they are available in Canada -- and cyclamates are reputed to have the best taste. DiabetiSweet is a great product -- an equal measure product that actually caramelizes (!) and ADDS BULK in baking. But for me at least, it is getting harder and harder to find, and it can be expensive.
Bulk sweeteners, such as Sweet-N-Low (in a box) are cheap, and have little filler -- and it is the filler that adds carbs. But you do have to do the mental math to convert them to sugar equivalents. Since they are so concentrated, you can't just use them casually and hope you've got it close enough! Still, they are cheap, and easily available.
Stevia is a bulk sweetener, but it is in a class by itself. First, it is a natural, not artificial sweetener. Second, it has ZERO carbs. Otherwise, it has the same set of advantages and disadvantages as the other bulk sweeteners. Some people find it has an licorice-like taste. Its taste certainly is affected by the other ingredients that you are using it with. Too much can taste bitter.
NOW for the polyols: All polyols are not created equal. Some are sweeter than others. They have different carb values. They function differently. And some are more available than others. And of course, their costs vary. I got this info from the USDA:
SORBITOL: 80% as sweet as sugar, cool-tasting, gives you gas and tummy troubles (I'll just say "gassy" for the other polyols), is anti-crystallizing, and is hygroscopic (attracts water). Sorbitol has 2.6 calories per gram. These are CARBS.
XYLITOL: 100% as sweet as sugar, cool-tasting. 2.4 calories per gram
MALTITOL: 90% as sweet as sugar; non-hygoscopic, neutral taste, very gassy, creamy texture. Good in chocolate; a great corn syrup substitute. 2.1 calories per gram.
ISOMALT: 60% as sweet as sugar. Non-hygroscopic, neutral taste, good for bulk, very sugar-like, can caramelize. Might be gassy. 1.5 calories per gram. Commercial brand: DiabetiSweet
ERYTHRITOL: 75% as sweet as sugar. Non-hygroscopic, very cool taste, NOT gassy, good for adding bulk to liquids, re-crystallizes upon baking. Can caramelize. 0.2 calories per gram. More commercial brands are coming out all the time!
Each of these have their uses.
Erythritol is fabulously lowest carb; but the fact that it re-crystallizes after baking is a real drawback for me. What does that mean? It means you have little sweet crystal crunchies in your cheesecake instead of smooth creamy texture! It does make great granola, strudel toppings, and things where sweet-crunchy is a good thing. But fudge will be grainy not smooth. And unless you happen to bite one of the crystals, the "sweetness" is locked up, so baked goods generally taste less sweet than you expect. Also, depending upon what you buy, erythritol, while cheap, can be almost minty-cool.
Maltitol blends in well and stays that way. It tastes great! BUT! It gives you BAD gas (really!) and tummy trouble if you eat too much. And at half the calories of sugar, it is still pretty high carb.
Likewise, xylitol and sorbitol are too high carb for frequent use. Too high for me (over 60% the calories of sugar) -- I can't tell you anything about them because I don't use them.
ISOMALT -- or the only commercial brand I know -- DiabetiSweet, is what I use most frequently for baking where the bulk of sugar is important. DiabetiSweet has acesulfame-K added to it to make it an equal measure product (it measures like sugar). It has only a third of the calories of sugar. Drawback: it is expensive.
So what do you use?
It depends on what you are using it in, and how you are cooking it. It depends on the results you want, the taste you want, and the convenience and cost you want.
What do I do? I MIX THEM! In baking, I use erythritol and stevia as much as I can because they are so very low-carb. I mix them with other sweeteners to try to avoid their drawbacks. If I REQUIRE the bulk of sugar, I might use a mixture of erythritol, Diabetisweet, and maltitol. If I desire a caramelized flavor, I will caramelize Diabetisweet or erythritol. For ice cream, at least SOME maltitol is required for its softening effect...
If I can, I use the liquid version of a sweetener. That product will almost always be ZERO CARB. But that is a subject for a different blog...
I ALWAYS try to mix my sweeteners: aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharine, and stevia, for the best taste. Frequently, mixing can give you a synergistic effect, making things taste even sweeter than you might expect.