Sugar: we wish we could quit you. But if there’s one vice that’s proving the hardest to kick, it’s the sweet stuff.
From topping breakfast cereals or in cups of coffee in the morning, right through to a sweet treat after dinner; unfortunately for our teeth, it tends to make an appearance in most meals during the day.
However, with schemes such as the soft drink sugar tax, the trickle down effect is that we all know now we also need to cut back on the amount of sugar – especially white cane sugar – in our diets. If only it didn’t taste so good…
There are alternative though, and the rise of a range natural sweeteners has happily come at the perfect time to get a bit of a better balance in our lives.
With that in mind, we’ve tested 10 of the best options on the shelves at the moment. Natural doesn’t mean no sugar at all, but like everything in life, a bit of moderation is always the key, so unfortunately, this isn’t an excuse to chug syrup straight from the bottle.
With our taste buds also primed to pick out the best of the bunch; from coconut palm sugar to pomegranate molasses, here’s how to make your dishes and drinks sing with natural sweetness.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism acrossThe Independent.
Organic Traditions yacon syrup
The yacon is a root vegetable mainly grown in and around the Andes, and has been a favourite of the Incas since the 13th century. From the indigenous people who discovered the cacao bean makes hot chocolate, we also have to give them huge thanks for transforming this ugly vegetable into a healthier sugar staple, which is also a prebiotic, so great for digestion. While this Organic Traditions variety might have a slightly mellow, malty taste that might take a few spoonfuls to get used to, it more than ticks the boxes for us, on a health note, even if the price isn’t as pocket-friendly as we’d like.
Buy now £15.99, Planetorganic.com
SugaVida palmyra tree blossom sugar
If you’ve ever visited Sri Lanka or India, you’ll have seen the palmyra trees reaching up to the brilliant, blue sky, and the early spring blossom from these trees soaks up all that glorious sun. That sunshine can almost be felt through this sugar – also known as palmyra jaggery – which has a slight floral and butterscotch tang. It’s known for its health perks too, as it’s low GI and is naturally rich in B vitamins and minerals, which can boost moods and promote healthy hair and skin.
Buy now £10.00, Sugavida.com
Forest Whole Foods organic date sugar
Those on a vegan or raw diet will already know of the mass appeal of the humble date when it comes to desserts: these buttery and sticky flavour bombs are a treat enough in themselves, and are beyond useful as the main ingredient for any sweet course. This sugar is made from dried organic deglet nour dates from Tunisia and its tangy caramelised flavour works particularly well sprinkled on porridge, in smoothies and in biscuits. It’s high fibre content and layered depth of mellow taste should guarantee it a place on your kitchen shelves.
Buy now £4.95, Forestwholefoods.co.uk
Buckwud organic canadian maple syrup
From the days when the Native Americans first tapped the sap from maple trees, and boiled it down, maple syrup has become as popular as a plate of hot, buttered pancakes – which, incidentally is the perfect partner for the sweet liquid. Rich in antioxidants and scoring low on the GI index, don’t be alarmed when pouring out this light golden Buckwud variety if it looks a little thin, as truly premium maple syrup shouldn’t actually be thick like honey or treacle. The difference in taste – a slightly woody butterscotch infusion – is what makes the slightly higher price worth it, and what keeps us coming back for more spoonfuls of the stuff.
Buy now £6.00, Waitrose.com
The Groovy Food Company light amber and mild agave nectar
While the blue agave plant is more commonly known for providing the world with tequila and mezcal, another byproduct from this Mexican greenage is agave. It’s kind of perfect planning by mother nature, as a squeeze of agave in a margarita perfectly compliments a shot or two of the spirit. This light version by The Groovy Food Company works better than the stickier and deeper dark variety, as it’s also great as a replacement for sugar syrup in other cocktails or hot drinks. Because of its low GI levels, it won’t spike your blood sugar levels but will give you a touch of special sweetness instead.
Buy now £2.50, Groovyfood.co.uk
Odysea pomegranate molasses
Thick, sharp and sweet, this deep burgundy nectar is at the heart of many Middle-Eastern dishes, as its gentle acidity cuts through plates of grilled meat, vegetables and cheese. It’s essentially pomegranate juice, boiled down, and it gives that pleasing luxe finish as a drizzle or dressing on salad or fruit. It can even be squeezed over ice cream, or as this Odysea brand suggests, with some water, a few ice cubes and a sprig of mint, even made into a refreshing fruit cordial. All this versatility, and it’s also a great price point, too.
Buy now £3.29, Odysea.com
Biona Organic brown rice syrup
This option is low in fructose, so won’t cause a big sugar spike if you have it on toast for a mid-afternoon snack. Its health advantages just about make up for its slightly forgettable nutty taste, yes, it’s got a pleasing nudge of sweetness, but it also has a slight savoury tang – great for people who don’t have a very sweet tooth. This definitely feels like one of the most “health food” of the products on our list.
Buy now £3.39, Biona.co.uk
Manuka Doctor manuka honey
While it’s always best to choose a local, raw honey – that old wives tale about taking a spoonful of the stuff each day to help with allergies is yet to be proven – nutritionally, the best option is Manuka honey, a true wonder product from New Zealand. It acts as an anti inflammatory, is high in antioxidants and is an antibacterial – look to find a high MGO, which is methylglyoxal, the naturally occurring compound; this particular one is 55 MGO. High price point aside – we’ve seen some jars on sale at £499! – this Manuka Doctor brand is an earthy, deep and dense sweetener, best enjoyed over muesli, fruit salad and yoghurt, or perhaps with a cheeseboard. Steer clear of baking with this particular honey, as when heated it loses its antioxidant qualities.
Buy now £19.00, Manukadoctor.co.uk
Meridian organic black strap molasses
Think of molasses and you’ll probably conjure up a sharp, tar-like treacle, only ever suitable for use in a Christmas cake. But it’s about time we all had a rethink on this ingredient. While still made from sugar cane, this is a technically byproduct of the same process, but unlike white table sugar, it’s packed with all the nutrients from the cane and is high in iron and calcium. This Meridian version is both organic and fairtrade, and offers a satisfying, deeply caramelised depth to any baking. It’s also a welcome umami hit on overnight oats, or stirred into a warming herbal tea like ginger or cardamom, and can give a kick to marinades as well.
Buy now £2.20, Planetorganic.com
Bulk organic coconut palm sugar
This sugar has been used as a sweetener in Asia for thousands of years, and is made from the evaporated nectar from the coconut palm flower, which is about as exotic as sugar gets.
While Bulk’s product scores points for being unprocessed and unbleached, and is certified organic by The Soil Association, the sugar count isn’t quite low enough to convince us completely that it’s that much a healthier choice than regular sugar. However, its caramel-y and fragrant notes almost make up for this, as it makes it a perfect addition to coffee, or for making cakes or crumbles.
Buy now £4.21, Bulk.com
The verdict: Sugar alternatives
Purely looking at a product with the lowest sugar content, the Organic Traditions yacon syrup is going to be the winner, but it’s unusual flavour might not convince everyone that it’s the greatest replacement on offer. For superfood power and its many health benefits, Manuka Doctor honey is another easy choice, but the high price point doesn’t quite put it into pole position. For us, ultimately for that sweet kick, we’d look to the humble tree sap of the maple, and Buckwud’s organic canadian maple syrup. Perfectly primed to play a starring role in baking, drizzling, topping and spreading, and with its superfood powers, the last word on this product is simply: sweet!
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