For cutting back on sugar intake (15 calories per teaspoon) or other health reasons, sugar alternatives, or sweeteners, are a popular substitute. We find out how they measure up to the real thing.
Sugar substitutes come in several synthetic forms, usually sold under a name brand, or added to many diet soft drinks, and include:
Sucralose (Splenda): 600 times sweeter than sugar, 2 calories per teaspoon. Made from real sugar but bonded to chlorine so it’s not digested. Can be used for baking. Considered safest of artificial sweeteners.
Saccharine (Sweet n Low): 300 times sweeter than sugar, 0 calories since it’s not absorbed by the body. Can have a bitter aftertaste. Can be used for baking.
Aspartame (Nutra Sweet/Equal): Made from two amino acids, the building blocks of protein: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. 180 times sweeter than sugar. Popular in sugar-free gum, diet soft drinks, coffee and tea. Not great for cooking.
Cyclamate (used in Sugar Twin): 30 times sweeter than sugar. Also used in Weight Watchers products. Can be used for baking. There are concerns that it is a carcinogenic and it is linked to health conditions in animals, though available in many countries (banned in USA). Health experts recommend limiting use to 3 packs per day.
Neotame: newest on the market. Similar manufacturing as Aspartame but more stable. Used primarily by food and beverage industry and likely won’t be distributed for table-top use.
Acesulfame Potassium (Ace K: Sunett and Sweet One): 200 times sweeter than sugar, 0 calories. Used in diet drinks, low-cal desserts, sugar-free candy and gum. Often combined with other sweeteners.
Stevia: 300 times sweeter than sugar. All-natural, extracted from a shrub that grows in parts of South America. Available in health food stores.
For baking, the products come in either a granulated or powder form. Work best when sugar is added primarily for sweetness, like in pie fillings, cheesecakes, marinades and sauces. Not as successful for adding colour, texture, volume or moistness.
Try adding lemon, cinnamon or vanilla to counteract any aftertaste.
To sweeten your own beverages you can buy individual servings.
Consider limiting your intake of any synthetic chemicals. Despite past health issues with some sweeteners, there are no current studies that support any adverse health effects.
People with the rare disorder, phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid aspartame since they are unable to break down the phenylalanine ingredient.
Not all artificial sweeteners are heat stable. Splenda and Sweet n Low are good for baking.
We tested these popular products both as beverage sweeteners and baking ingredients:
- Splenda (Sucralose): 8¢ per serving
- Equal Nutra Sweet (Aspartame): 7¢ per serving
- Sugar Twin (Cyclamate): 4¢ per serving
- Stevia (All-natural plant extract): 10¢ per serving
OUR TOP PICK
For baking we preferred the taste and texture results of Splenda, with Stevia coming a close second.
For sweetening beverages, we preferred Equal and Sugar Twin, both of which had the least after-taste. The others were way too sweet.