Stevia is often used as a replacement for sugar and has many benefits over sugar. Sweetness alone does not make these two products interchangeable so if you want to choose between them, you need to know what makes them different. We will take a look at how these two sweeteners compare in this edition of SPICEography Showdown.
How does stevia differ from sugar?
Stevia comes from a South American plant called Stevia rebaudiana that belongs to the sunflower family. Its sweetness comes from compounds called glycosides not from sucrose and fructose. Stevia is low in calories with a teaspoon of it containing 5 calories; a teaspoon of sugar has 30 calories. Stevia is widely considered a healthier alternative to sugar since it does not create many of the health issues that you might get from sugar.
Ounce for ounce, stevia is much sweeter than sugar so you only have to use a little of it to get the same degree of sweetness. The downside is that it does not caramelize the way sugar does and this means that your baked goods may not get the golden brown color that they would get from sugar. Other stevia downsides include its slightly bitter aftertaste, which makes it a somewhat controversial sweetener — not everyone can tolerate the taste. Unlike sugar, stevia contains meaningful amounts of beneficial compounds. For example, the glycosides that give stevia its sweetness may also help to lower your blood pressure.
In comparison to stevia, sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beet but mostly from sugar cane. It is notoriously bad for you. Its high calories are a leading cause of obesity and it can cause diabetes as well as contribute to heart disease. The bacteria that cause tooth decay love it when compared to stevia, which means that a high sugar intake can contribute to poor dental health. Because it is not as sweet, you have to use much more of it; however, its flavor is a simple sweetness with no aftertaste. It is much easier to find sugar and it is more affordable when compared to stevia.
Can you use stevia in place of sugar and vice versa?
If the aftertaste is not a problem, stevia can work as a substitute for table sugar with no issues. When it comes to using it in baked goods, stevia can get tricky. When you use stevia instead of sugar, you are not only replacing a source of sweetness but a source of bulk as well. For many recipes, you will need to make up that bulk. Options range from adding more of other ingredients to adding new, neutral ingredients. Examples of neutral bulking ingredients include applesauce or egg whites. Sugar can be used to replace stevia for baking as long as you are mindful of the fact that the recipes probably contain bulking agents. You will have to remove some of the ingredients that are present only to make up for stevia’s lack of bulk.
When should you use stevia and when should you use sugar?
Use stevia for sweetening coffee and tea. You can also sprinkle it into your cereals or on your grapefruit. It works best in strongly flavored applications that can mask its mild bitterness. If you are trying to lose weight, stevia is clearly the better choice. If you are concerned mainly about flavor and getting the best possible results with baked goods, stick with sugar. It will give you the desired texture and color in most recipes with no extra steps.