Want to be happy? Bake some cookies! There is just something comforting about the smell of freshly-baked fruit pie or homemade muffins. In fact, studies have shown that baking has many mental health benefits. Is it any surprise that baking is a therapeutic and productive activity that can be enjoyed by the family year-round?
That said, making a case for the health benefits of baking is difficult when you look at the conventional ingredients involved, particularly all that sugar. But baking simply would not be the same without the sweetness! Since many store-bought baked goods contain high amounts of processed sugar, home baking can be a healthier alternative, as you can choose healthy and natural sweeteners instead.
You may have heard the saying “sugar is sugar,” but not all sugars are made equally. Refined, processed or “added” sugars are metabolized (broken down) rapidly in the body, which causes insulin and blood sugar levels to spike. Also, because of how quickly the refined sugars are digested, you can consume a large amount of empty calories without feeling full. Research has also linked consumption of refined sugar with a higher risk of health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and impaired brain development in children - yikes! On the other hand, natural sugars are usually found in nutrient-rich foods such as fruit (fructose), honey, and maple syrup. They are broken down more slowly and contain essential nutrients such as vitamins, fibre and antioxidants to help reduce inflammation and support immunity.
Let’s take a look at some of the best natural, organic, and plant-based sweeteners you can use at home to make your baking delicious, therapeutic and healthy.
Unsweetened applesauce is a staple of healthy baking at home. Suppose you are feeling hesitant about baking because of the fat, calories, and sugar, the cholesterol in the oil, and the butter, eggs, and granulated sugar found in most baking recipes. If that’s the case, you'll be delighted to know that applesauce is a healthy substitute for many of these ingredients! There are a host of other health benefits as well – for example, applesauce contains about the same amount of fibre as whole apples and polyphenols, which help reduce inflammation and blood sugar levels. Furthermore, researchers at Cornell University reported that apple components had more antioxidant capability than a 1,500-milligram dose of vitamin C. If that isn’t enough to convince you that applesauce belongs in baking, consider that applesauce also adds fibre and moisture to baked goods without the unhealthy fats. And, of course, the naturally occurring sugars also help sweeten your creations.
Nevertheless, choose your applesauce wisely! The USDA has identified 35 different pesticides deemed hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency that are commonly sprayed on apples. For your peace of mind and the best quality applesauce, we recommend Eden Foods' Organic Apple Sauce, made using traditional methods from 100% organically grown apples on family-owned orchards. They are superior in flavour and nutrition, and contain no added sugar.
Note: Applesauce will give your baking a soft and sweet finish. When substituting applesauce for oil, use a 1:1 ratio.
Don’t let the name fool you: there’s no actual butter in fruit butter. The name comes from its smooth, buttery texture. This vegan-friendly baking substitute is delightfully sweet, with a smooth consistency, and the natural sugars in the fruit purée caramelize when it cooks, giving it a rich and sweet flavour. Unlike fruit jams that contain high amounts of added sugar, pectin, preservatives and even artificial colouring, fruit butters are a health-conscious alternative for everyday enjoyment – including your baking! We love Eden Foods’ Organic Fruit Butters because they are slow kettle-cooked from 100% organically grown fruit, without refined sweeteners or preservatives. Available in four delicious flavours: apple, cherry, apple cherry, and grape.
Note: You can use fruit butters in your cookies and cakes to add fruity flavour and sweetness. Substitute fruit butter whenever jam is needed.
Fruit juice is beloved by children everywhere, and an easy substitute for white sugar in your baking recipes! Fruit juices enrich the flavour, provide natural sweetness, and keep baked goods moist for longer periods. Because fruit juices are acidic, be sure to use them in recipes where baking soda is an ingredient.
If you want to enjoy all the health benefits of natural fruit, such as fibre, vitamins and antioxidants, we recommend Eden Foods’ Organic Apple Juice and Organic Cherry Juice. Both options are 100% pure juice from organic fruit, with no added sugar. The juices are also lightly filtered and bottled in amber glass to protect their rich flavour and nutrients.
Note: When substituting fruit juice for white sugar, use ¾ cup of the juice for every 1 cup of sugar in the recipe.
Barley Malt Syrup
Let’s talk about one of the most prevalent and unhealthy sources of sugar found in many store-bought baked goods (and many other foods): high-fructose corn syrup, also known as HFCS. HFCS – a highly processed form of refined sugar - consists of chains of glucose (simple sugar) which, when broken down, become corn syrup. Manufacturers then add enzymes to the syrup to chemically change some of the glucose into fructose. That’s why another common name for HFCS is glucose-fructose, an ingredient you'll find in just about everything that comes pre-packaged at a supermarket. Just how unhealthy is it? According to several studies, consumption of HFCS has been linked to everything from obesity to diabetes and heart disease - another reason why baking at home and choosing natural alternatives to refined products like white sugar and HFCS is highly beneficial for your health.
But don't let high-fructose corn syrup give syrups a bad rep. Barley malt syrup is a nourishing and versatile sweetener ideal for baked foods such as rye bread, spice cakes, gingerbread, muffins, whole-grain breads and more. It is a clean-tasting and healthy alternative to refined sugar, with about half the sweetness. Barley malt syrup has a consistency and flavour similar to molasses.
For the highest-quality barley malt syrup for all your baking and natural sweetener needs, we recommend Eden Foods Organic Barley Malt Syrup. It is made through a process of traditional malting, using only water and organically grown barley.
Note: When substituting Barley Malt Syrup for refined white or brown sugar, use 1 ⅓ cups of barley malt for 1 cup of sugar, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by about ¼ cup. For more lightly baked goods, use ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of barley malt in baking.
Last but certainly not least in our recommendations for healthy, natural and plant-based sweeteners is maple syrup. Not only is it perfect for your weekend pancakes, it is very sweet with distinctively complex maple flavours that will bring your granola, cookies and cakes to life. Unlike the milder barley malt syrup, this one is for the sweet tooth, as maple syrup is about as sweet as white sugar.
For the highest-grade maple syrup, we recommend Eden Foods Pure Maple Syrup. Certified organic and non-GMO, this syrup is derived from sustainable practices, and features a balance of deep notes with lighter maple flavours that are perfect for cooking and baking.
Note: When replacing refined sugar with maple syrup, use a 1:1 ratio.
Recipes for Healthy Baking
With these simple and easy-to-use natural sweeteners, you can easily turn any baking recipe into a healthy one using our suggested substitutions for sugar. So go enjoy some baking, and spread some cookies and happiness all around!
Founded in 1968, Eden Foods is the oldest principled independent organic food company in the United States. Its mission is Creation and Maintenance of Purity in Food. Eden brand is the authentic alternative to commercial food; the purest, best tasting grains, beans, and vegetables on the planet, from known trusted growers. Healthy soil, long-term organic, non-GMO.