From taking the bitterness out of a morning cup of coffee, sweetening your daily beverages, to elevating the flavors of favorite desserts, natural sweeteners do just as much heavy lifting as sugar. These sweeteners may or may not be processed, contain other ingredients, and come in several forms such as powder, liquid, syrup, or even in a wholly natural state, such as honeycomb.
What Are Natural Sweeteners?
The renewed interest in dietary health in recent years has introduced a slew of new – or, perhaps more accurately phrased, rediscovered – natural sweeteners as sugar alternatives. Store shelves are brimming with tablets, powders, and syrups, including stevia leaf extracts, coconut sugar, monk fruit extracts, agave syrup, molasses, maple syrup, and nature’s original sweetener, natural golden honey. The latter has emerged as a huge natural sweetener trend, with varieties of honey ranging from raw and local to imported and creamed available in most large markets. Honey’s natural packaging is making quite the stir on modern market shelves too. While some boutique apiaries – the official term for beekeeping establishments – often present their jars of honey with an in-bottle garnish of honeycomb, individually packaged honeycomb is now also readily available as a standalone snack and sweetener.
How Do I Use Natural Sweeteners?
When natural sugar is the predominant sweetener and ingredient for a lifetime of cooking, incorporating new natural sugar substitutes can have a bit of a learning curve. Powdered or granular sweeteners like powdered stevia have volume substitution suggestions on their packaging to aid in baking and cooking. But what about less straightforward sweeteners, such as honeycomb? In general, experimentation is the best way to determine what level of sweetness works for your palate – some people may want a large slice of honeycomb in their morning coffee, while others may prefer a few smaller pieces eaten directly as a snack.
Because natural sweeteners generally don’t contain any preservatives, you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s storage directions for each type. This may mean keeping your sweetener in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place, or storing it in the freezer until you’re ready to bake with it. Individually-packaged portions of natural sugar alternatives are a great way to start incorporating them into your diet, as they can be tucked into a desk drawer at work or kept in a bowl on a kitchen counter in place of normal table sugar until they’re needed.
Are Natural Sweeteners Better For You?
Sugar sensitivity is a widespread concern in America, where approximately 1 in 10 people live with diabetes and nearly 4 of the remaining 9 are considered pre-diabetic. While all forms of nutritive sweeteners – those with caloric value – need to be carefully evaluated before being incorporated into a diet, natural sweeteners may be a little easier to predict. Honey, for example, has been found to be less likely to raise blood sugar levels than traditional white sugar, making it a great step in the right direction for individuals working to reduce sugar spikes. It contains less fructose and glucose than natural sugar, making it a good alternative for those that are at risk of diabetes or heart disease. Honey has also been found to contain calories along with healthy nutrients and vitamins that are beneficial in the diet in place of regular sugar consumption.
It stands to reason that the less processed a sweetener or type of sugar substitute is, the less likely a user will be to “dump in” too much. When adding plain white sugar to tea, for example, a tilt of the wrist is all it takes to make a cup almost unpalatably sweet. A slice of slowly-melting honeycomb infused with honey, on the other hand, is a more conscious companion to the cup, and easy to physically remove when the tea is sweet enough. Additionally, if a “sweet tooth” strikes mid-work-day, it’s considered a lot healthier (and, arguably, more normal) to nibble at a piece of honeycomb than to pop sugar cubes like chips!
Natural vs Non-Nutritive Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are chemically-based, man-made products that are often presented alongside natural sweeteners like honeycomb as a good dietary choice. However, some studies suggest that the five artificial sweeteners used today – saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame, neotame, and aspartame – may have a negative impact on overall eating habits.
Chemical sweeteners are classes as non-nutritive sweeteners: that means that they don’t have any calories or nutritional value. The lab-created sweetness of these additives throws off the natural sense of taste, making normally naturally sweet foods like fruit taste bland and unappetizing over time. The result? Users may either overindulge in legitimately sweet food believing they’ve “balanced” their diet, or reach for intensely artificially-flavored products to overcome the trained imbalance in their taste receptors.
Honeycomb: The Healthy-Alternative Sweetener
Natural sweeteners have a place in every cupboard, recipe, or favorite morning beverage – it’s simply a matter of finding the right ratio for your tastes. Even if you enjoy a natural sweetener such as honeycomb as an energy-packed snack rather than an additive to a food, you’ll be helping to shift your diet away from chemical additives that could potentially sabotage your efforts at healthy eating. As with all things, the best approach to eating well – and joyfully – is experimentation and moderation. So, the next time you’re craving processed sugar, why not try a nibble of honeycomb instead? With Pass The Honey’s sustainable, environmentally-responsible honey products, you and your loved ones can enjoy eating clean and feeling good about your healthy-alternative sweetener choices – from our family to yours.
- Strawbridge, Holly. “Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost?” Harvard Health Publishing / Harvard Medical School, July 16, 2012, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030. Accessed July 27, 2019.
- “New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes.” CDC.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), July 18, 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0718-diabetes-report.html. Accessed July 27, 2019.
- “The 5 Best Natural Sweeteners.” Elizabeth Rider.com, (no publish date), https://www.elizabethrider.com/5-best-natural-sweeteners/. Accessed July 27, 2019.