There’s a lot of discussion about sugars and sweeteners. About the only thing that everybody seems to agree on is that refined sugar is bad and we all need to consume as little as possible of it.

Serene and Pearl discuss various sugars and sweeteners at length in pages 181-189 of their book Trim Healthy Mama . The only ones they approve for the THM plan are xylitol, erythritol (these are sugar alcohols) and stevia. Sweeteners containing monk fruit extract are also on plan but even more expensive. All sweeteners have their pros and cons and some people (with stronger wills than mine) just decide to go completely without.

Many people struggle with the bitter aftertaste of stevia and the cool (think menthol) taste of these alcohol sugars. All the different sugar alcohols affect people’s blood sugars and digestion to a greater or lesser degree. Erythritol has the least impact (virtually zero) with xylitol being a close second, though xylitol is poisonous to dogs and birds. Both are less sweet than sugar.

For these reasons I prefer to use erythritol. Combining erythritol and stevia reduces the bitterness of stevia and the coolness of erythritol and also adds bulk to baked goods. Many sweeteners are available on the market that combine these two ingredients, but it is much cheaper to mix your own if you’re prepared to go to the trouble of getting the ingredients (mostly online).

I make my own white sugar substitute using 1 teaspoon of stevia extract to 1 cup of erythitol. This is a double strength mix (use half the amount that you would sugar) which saves money and further reduces the cooling effect of the erythritol. I also make my own double strength brown sugar substitute, which I call Nettisweet Gold (because it’s less wordy that “double strength brown sugar substitute”); the recipe can be found here.

Natvia is the most readily available sweetener of this type in New Zealand. Many people don’t realise it’s not a one-to-one sweetener and that a serving (equivalent sweetness to a teaspoon of sugar) is two-thirds of a teaspoon. In my recipes I label the white sugar substitute as Natvia because of its availability and that it is similar in sweetness to mine.

Here’s a few tips to using these sweeteners:
– Give your taste buds time to adjust – they do taste different, but give it a few weeks (especially without sugar) and many people find they prefer them to sugar.
– Less is more. Stevia extract is extremely sweet – 32 times sweeter than sugar (1 pinch = 1 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon = 1 cup). Start with much less than you think you’ll need – you can always add more.
– The bitterness and strength of stevia varies with different brands. Combining it with erythritol also reduces the bitterness and makes it easier to use.
– Keep your options open and the price down by buying stevia extract powder and erythritol separately rather than pre-mixed.
– Choose your recipe and sweetener carefully. If you dislike the coolness of erythitol choose recipes that don’t have a large proportion of sugar or sweetener in them. Stevia can work fine by itself in most drinks, citrus and tea flavoured items.
– A pinch of salt can do much to balance and enhance flavours in drinks and baking.
– Dissolving the erythitol first can eliminate its cooling effect and grittiness.