Swapping Sugars in Cooking

Understand how different types of sugars influences the flavors of your foods, and learn how to swap out one for another.

| May 2018

  • Different types of sugars have different affect in your cooking.
    Photo by Pixabay/congerdesign
  • “How to Taste” by Becky Selengut helps home cooks bring balance to their meals through proper seasoning.
    Photo courtesy of Sasquatch Books

How to Taste (Sasquatch Books, 2018), by Becky Selengut explains to readers how to properly taste your food and give it the seasoning it needs most. You will learn how to adjust dishes that are too salty or acidic, how to identify when a specific seasoning is missing, and how to use spices to balance your dishes. The following excerpt gives advice on swapping out different types of sugars when cooking.

You might think you could swap one type of sugar for another, as you might do with salts, but different sugars add more than sweetness alone. Only granulated sugar provides sweetness without aromatics (well, high-fructose corn syrup too, but you’re unlikely to be cooking with that). All other sugars will affect the flavor balance of the food by contributing the unique properties they have to offer. Think about what a really floral honey would add to a cake recipe, or how using raisins as a sweetener might affect texture and flavor. Total aside: You must try Tupelo honey sometime in your life; it’s incredible, with aromas of Earl Grey and flowers. It’s not too sweet, just barely citrusy, and very clean tasting.

You might be wondering about the use of artificial sweeteners, and while I’m sentimental about the pink package of Sweet’N Low that my stepmother repetitively taps on her finger before adding it to her decaf coffee, I don’t recommend them. Artificial sweeteners may or may not be harmful to us. But more relevant to this book, they taste strange to most people, with bitter or metallic aftertastes that are difficult to mask. Obviously many diabetics rely on them to satisfy any sweet cravings, so for that reason, I’m glad there are options, but as a general practice I avoid using them.

I aim to use naturally occurring sugars more than refined sugars in my cooking, though I’m not rigid about this. I will roast and caramelize vegetables and use fruits and naturally sweet vinegars, such as balsamic, before reaching for granulated sugar. If fruit or balsamic vinegar just don’t make sense in a dish, I will

add some honey or maple syrup. Ultimately sugar is sugar is sugar to your body, but honey has aromatic qualities and antioxidants, which refined sugar does not. When baking, I love using a variety of sugars to add depth to the finished product. When you venture beyond granulated sugar, you can enjoy a world of sweetness with more complex flavor profiles.

Sweetener Short List

Brown sugar: Many people don’t realize that brown sugar is simply granulated sugar with molasses added in, making it deeper and slightly more complex in flavor. Light brown sugar has less molasses added to it than dark brown.


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