Stevia and brown sugar are two sweetening options that are sometimes marketed as being healthier options than white sugar. Their ability to replace refined sugar does not make them interchangeable; these products have quite a few differences. Consider the stevia vs. brown sugar comparison below in this SPICEography Showdown.
How do stevia and brown sugar differ?
The first and most obvious difference between stevia and brown sugar is the difference in their origins, which means the plants from which they come. Brown sugar comes from sugar cane plant, while stevia comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. While it may seem obvious, stevia is not a sugar even though it is sweet.
Because it is not a sugar, it has a completely different nutritional profile from sugar. Stevia has no calories while brown sugar has a lot of them. In addition, stevia contains antioxidants and glycosides that are beneficial for health. Brown sugar has trace amounts of minerals and vitamins but not enough of anything to be valuable for health.
The flavors are also different as some people consider stevia to be slightly bitter; brown sugar has its molasses flavor accompanied only by plain sweetness. Pure, undiluted stevia will have a different appearance from brown sugar in that it is a white powder. It will also have a considerably smaller volume.
Can you use stevia in place of brown sugar and vice versa?
The ease of switching these two sweeteners out depends on which form of stevia you are using. The fact that stevia is so many times sweeter than brown sugar can make the substitution difficult. You can use sugar substitutes that contain stevia along with fillers to make the volume to sweetness ratio similar to that of sugar.
It is also possible to find substitutes that contain coloring so that they have a similar appearance to brown sugar, or you can make your own brown sugar substitute by combining molasses with stevia. The alternative is to add other fillers to the recipe to make up the bulk that you lose when you omit the sugar.
The difference in bulk is important if you are baking since the missing brown sugar will affect texture and moisture. You may also need some extra gelling agent to make up for the absence of brown sugar’s thickening ability if you are making a jam or certain sauces. You can use brown sugar in place of stevia but will need to take the extra bulk into account if you are using recipes formulated specifically for stevia. This may mean omitting some of the ingredients in the recipe.
When should you use stevia and when should you use brown sugar?
You can use them interchangeably as table sweeteners for things like coffee or oatmeal. You can also use stevia in most baking recipes that require brown sugar if you compensate for undiluted stevia’s lack of bulk and molasses flavor. Options include adding fillers and molasses or using a stevia product that comes with fillers and flavoring. It is also a good idea to use stevia only in strongly flavored foods and beverages to hide any bitterness.
Use brown sugar in recipes that are formulated for sugar and where you want its color and molasses flavor note. It is the better option for mildly flavored dishes since it does not have stevia’s bitterness.