Baking With Low Carb & Sugar-Free Sweeteners: Part 1

by karlb on January 10, 2008

Sugar-free and low carb sweeteners are one of the most misunderstood areas of a low carb diet for new dieters.

But I’m going to keep this first post about them dead simple. First, we’ll set up a few simple terms to use throughout these posts.

Types of sweeteners:

Nutrative: Usually carbohydrates, these sweeteners have caloric value, like sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar, often sold in crystalline form and in corn syrup), dextrose (honey is the most common example), and sugar alcohols (like Sorbitol, Maltitol, Lactitol, Mannitol, Xylitol, and Erythritol — often found in low carb products). You can also add in modified food starches like maltodextrin (one of the bulking agents in artificial sweeteners like Splenda) and modified sugars, like polydextrose (more on polydextrose later).

Non-nutrative: Otherwise known as artificial sweeteners, and include Nutrasweet (aspertame), Splenda (sucralose), ace-K (Acesulfame potassium), and saccharin (sodium saccharin). These sweeteners in their pure forms are extremely sweet (hundreds of times sweeter than sucrose by volume) have no caloric value. However, dextrose and maltodexrin are often added to give these sweeteners bulk and make them easier to use.

For baking purposes, I’d like to introduce two more-relevant terms:

Bulk sweeteners: Add volume to a recipe, like table sugar or maltitol, and are critical components for producing a baked item with proper rise, texture, and moistness.

High-intensity sweeteners: Add sweetness without volume. Splenda, Nutrasweet, and Stevia (a natural herbal sweetener).

The biggest mistake most people new to low carb baking make is replacing table sugar with Splenda (Nutrasweet breaks down with heat and is a poor choice in baked goods). They will read the sugar-equivalent chart on the package of Splenda and substitute 24 packets of Splenda for 1 cup of sugar in a cake recipe.

When the cake comes out of the oven with the texture of a piece of plywood, they wonder what went wrong.

The problem is that Splenda is high-intensity sweetener, but the sugar it’s replacing in the recipe is a bulk sweetener. In a cake recipe, sugar not only sweetens the cake, it adds moistness and helps create the texture we think of when we bite into a piece of good cake.

To give you an even better idea of a bulk sweetener’s contribution to a baked good, let’s examine the brownie. Your average brownie recipe includes flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and cocoa, plus vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. If you removed the sugar from the recipe, you’d get a stiff, dry-brownie–not the moist, chewy delight we all think of when we imagine a brownie.

But we can’t use table sugar in low carb desserts, so what can we use in place of sugar if Splenda alone won’t cut it?

The answer involves blending a high-intensity sweetener like Splenda with a bulk sweetener. For many low-carb products, that bulk sweetener is Maltitol, a sugar alcohol that has about 75% the sweetness of sugar (for the same volume) and duplicates most of sugar’s baking qualities.

A number of commercial low carb products use this combination successfully. However, not everyone can handle a “normal” portion of Maltitol without experiencing side effects like flatulence and even diarrhea.

And those side effects can be magnified if you combine Maltitol with foods like onions, garlic, and members of the cabbage family.

Not a pleasant end to a nice meal, and a deadly combination for your social life.

But there is a solution, which I’ll reveal in Part 2.

Stay tuned!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracey April 1, 2008 at 3:59 pm

I really needed this article–it explains a LOT. But I need the “answer” you mention at the end, too. I’m just switching over to low-carb for the first time in about 5 years (had a baby in between) and the first time I didn’t really have much variety in my diet. This time it’s for life.

karlb April 1, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Sorry for the delay. I promise to post part 2 by the end of this week.


Joanne December 27, 2008 at 3:59 am

Did you ever post Baking With Low Carb & Sugar-Free Sweeteners: Part 2?

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