There are four options that I would like to briefly explore here.
- Agave nectar
Rapadura still has the all the nutrients that are in the cane juice. It is metabolized more slowly than refined sugar and does not cause your blood sugar to spike. In other words it has a low glycemic index rating. For a comparison between the components of rapadura, raw sugar and refined sugar click here.
I use rapadura in much of my baking. I find it very successful in cakes and biscuits. I always reduce the quantity of sweetening of any recipe so I might use 1/4 -1/3 cup of rapadua when the recipe asks for 1 cup sugar. Others might prefer things sweeter so experiment and see what suits you.
When the plants are 7-10 years old the leaves are cut off, leaving the core of the plant called the pina. The sap is extracted from the pina, filtered using enzymes and heated at a low temperature (under 118F), giving the resulting agave nectar.
Agave nectar has about the same calories as sugar but is sweeter so less is used.
Raw herbal stevia contains nearly 100 identified phytonutrients and volatile oils. Most of these will be nonexistant in the refined extracts. On the down side many stevia products leave an aftertaste.
If you have access to stevia leaves you can make your own extract. Combine a measured portion of stevia leaves or herval powder with pure USP grain alcohol (eg Scotch) and let sit for 24 hours. Filter and dilute to taste using pure water. Reduce the alcohol content by heating vely slowly to allow the alcohol to evaporate off.
To make a water based extract. Pour boiling water over the leaves and allow to steep, strain when ready. This will now extract as much of the sweet glycosides as the alcohol. Either extract can be cooked down and concentrated into a syrup.
Stevia can be used for any cooking where sweetening is the only use. It does not caramelize, brown or crystalize like sugar does so it is not suitable for anything that needs these properties.
If you have a favorite natural sweetener please share it with us by leaving a comment.