Hi there! I’m back with more from the Vegan Baking Basics series! I have been getting a few questions about vegan sweeteners and the best ones to use in certain baking areas, so I wanted to put my two cents in on those. I rotate between a few different sweeteners in most of my baking, but there are several out there that can be used in vegan baking. Before I started baking vegan, I never really used anything outside of regular brown sugar and white granulated sugar, so it was a whole new world to me when I started vegan baking and discovered there was a whole world of vegan sweeteners out there! All of these range anywhere from super sweet to liquid to different tastes. A lot of them can’t necessarily be used in exchange for one another (subbing maple syrup for white sugar, etc.), it all depends on the recipe. Ok, here we go!
Brown Sugar- Obviously this is a pretty common sugar used in most all baking. It differs from regular granulated sugar because it has added molasses, for color and for a bit more of a deeper flavor. Usually brown sugar is used in conjunction with granulated sugar and adds more of a deeper sweetness to baked goods.
Granulated sugar- This is the most common sweetener for all baked goods. Not only does it add sweetness, but it affects the texture of baked goods too. Sometimes granulated sugar allows for baked goods to become more tender and gives some baked goods more of a ‘crunch’. As always, to be truly vegan white sugar shouldn’t be processed with bone char (gross, right?), since that is technically using an animal product. White sugar is kind of an artificial thing and something that has gotten into our heads over time, so if you buy granulated sugar and it isn’t white, that’s totally fine! It means it has been bleached and hasn’t had weird things done to it.
Molasses- I don’t use this that often in baking as a sweetener, unless it’s in a gingerbread recipe or in something that needs more of a deeper, sweet flavor. I have a jar up in my cabinet (I think it leaked a bit, so it’s kind of stuck on the shelf at this point) that I’ve used maybe a fourth of in the last few years, but I find it good to have on hand.
Dates/Date paste- I have a whole post devoted to baking with dates, but overall, they have become one of my favorite vegan sweeteners in the last few years. Using dates can be tricky, but once you get the hang of it, they are the perfect healthy alternative to regular sugars in vegan baking. I’ve found they do really well in granola bars, some cookies, and any other dense baked goods. They don’t do well in cakes or breads sometimes, trust me! (I’m speaking from experience of many a flat cake here!).
Brown Rice Syrup- To be honest, I’ve never really used this one, but I wanted to include it on the list because I know it’s becoming a more popular vegan sweetener. From what I know, it’s very similar to agave nectar and is great for binding things together, like vegan rice krispie treats or granola bars. This is on my ‘to try’ list. If you have any suggestions for baking with brown rice syrup, let me know!
Agave nectar- Agave was one of the first vegan sweeteners I tried experimenting with when I first began vegan baking. It is a great alternative to honey and is very, very sweet. I remember trying to sub agave in cup for cup for regular sugar and the results were less than ideal! Usually, a little less agave is used in relation to the original amount of sugar called for. I also tend to increase the amount of flour just a bit to compensate for the extra liquid being added to whatever you are baking.
Jam- This might seem like an odd man out, but stay with me here! I’ve found that jam is a perfect sweetener for cocktails, some sorbets, and granola bars (see a pattern here, granola bars are perfect for experimenting). My favorite is cherry jam from a place up in Northern Wisconsin, especially since there is a lot of real fruit in it and it’s lower on added sugars. I haven’t tried actually baking with jam yet, but it’s also on my to-do list.
Maple syrup- Not only is this stuff great for pouring on pancakes and sweetening up oatmeal, but I consider it to be an essential in my vegan baking pantry. I probably use maple syrup more and more as I continue baking, because it’s super sweet taste means I can use less and adjust the recipe accordingly (little more flour, etc.). I love using it in fudge, donuts, brownies and almost every other baked good so far. I tend to buy mine by the huge jug, since I go through it like crazy. Also, get the real deal, not the corn syrup-y stuff that isn’t quite the same. (Trader Joe’s has a pretty good deal on high quality maple syrup).
There you have it! These are the sweeteners I know about right now, but tell me, are there any that I missed or you know more about? I’m sure this list will keep growing or changing over time, but for now,this is what I keep around as I bake. Sugar is sugar, but it seems like there are alternatives that can work well for everyone!