Stevia and coconut sugar are both marketed as healthier options than cane sugar. While they are healthier, what you may want to ask is how much healthier? Also, does being healthier mean that they are interchangeable? The short answer to that last question is no. For the long answer, let’s break it all down via our SPICEography Showdown below.
How does coconut sugar differ from stevia?
Coconut sugar comes from the coconut tree, while stevia comes from the Stevia rebaudiana herb. Aside from that, the other most significant difference is that coconut sugar is an actual sugar while stevia is not. Because it is a sugar, coconut sugar is high in calories and can cause all the health issues associated with regular refined sugar. It is chemically similar to refined sugar with only a very slight difference in the proportions of fructose and glucose along with the presence of a few nutrients.
In comparison, stevia is a low-calorie food that does not cause type 2 diabetes or any of the problems that too much sugar can bring. Coconut sugar does have some health benefits, mainly because it contains inulin. Inulin is a fiber that can slow the body’s absorption of sugar and prevent dramatic blood sugar spikes.
Flavor is another important difference as coconut sugar tastes very much like unrefined sugar while stevia is far sweeter than sugar. Some people can detect a bitter aftertaste from stevia, which coconut sugar does not have. Coconut sugar is said to have a low glycemic index of 35, stevia has a glycemic index of 0. The glycemic index measures the effect of foods on blood sugar; the higher the number the greater the effect. The respective scores of these two sweeteners indicate that stevia has much less of an effect. Note that both numbers are somewhat controversial, so take them with a grain of salt.
Sweetening power is another area where stevia differs from coconut sugar. Stevia is many times sweeter than coconut sugar, which has roughly the same amount of sweetness as cane sugar. Some estimates state that it is 300 times sweeter than sugar, but that sweetness can vary depending on which glycosides are used in the stevia extract.
Can you use coconut sugar in place of stevia and vice versa?
Before you think about using one of these sweeteners in place of the other, you will need to take their differences above into account. Both can sweeten effectively as long as you adjust the amounts you use to get your preferred level of sweetness. If you are baking with stevia as a replacement for coconut sugar, you will also need to make up the bulk in your recipe since you will be using much less of it. You can do this with applesauce, yogurt, or by adding more of an ingredient that is already in the recipe. For example, you may want to double the number of eggs. If you are using coconut sugar in place of stevia you will need to add a lot more of it to get the same level of sweetness. This means that you may have to remove some of the bulk from a recipe that is formulated specifically for stevia.
When should you use coconut sugar and when should you use stevia?
Use stevia in applications where its lack of bulk will not be an issue, which means that you can use it to sweeten most beverages without trouble. Keep in mind that its bitter aftertaste is a problem for some people. Use it in coffee and other strongly flavored items to hide that bitterness. Use coconut sugar anywhere that you would otherwise use cane sugar. You can swap it in for cane sugar in virtually any recipe where its golden-brown color will not be an issue.