Clean Sweets: 5 Eco-Friendly Sugar Alternatives
Winter is for hot toddies and nogs, pies still warm from the oven, and fudge that makes your teeth ache. For those planning on baking up treats this holiday season, these sweeteners will ease the guilt that'll come with each glorious bite.
When former healthcare executive Jim May founded WISDOM NATURAL BRANDS in 1982, it was because a Peace Corps volunteer who'd worked in Paraguay convinced him to taste the leaves of an herb called stevia. Once May learned that the processed plant can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar but lacks calories, carbohydrates, or chemicals, he realized it could be a potent natural alternative to artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and high-fructose corn syrup. He sunk his life savings into starting the company that now makes SweetLeaf Stevia, instilling strict rules for sustainable practices: No chemicals, solvents, or alcohols are used when extracting or purifying the plant; leaf residue becomes mulch or cattle feed; and water is recycled to irrigate local Guaraní farms. $14 for a 4.1-ounce bottle
Zeke Freeman grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, where his twin passions sprouted: producing artisanal food and caring for pollinators. "I was able to eat homegrown fruits and vegetables off the land," he says. "We won't have that if we lose the honeybees." After he founded BEE RAW, he started the Save the Bees fund to combat colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out millions of hives. The company's Single Varietal Honey is pesticide-free, of course, but also unprocessed, unfiltered, and packaged in beautiful, gift-worthy glass. Flavors include wild raspberry, star thistle, orange blossom, and blueberry—each of which will last years if properly stored. $12 to $15 for a 10.5-ounce jar
A sweetener that retains its vitamins and minerals? Sign us up! The Organic Whole Cane Sugar from RAPUNZEL—a German company that's been all-organic since its 1974 launch—is made from canes harvested by hand (bypassing the typical burning of dry leaves) at fair-trade farms in Brazil, then processed so minimally that the plant's nutrients are preserved. The result: golden-colored, fine-textured granules, unbleached and unrefined, with a subtle molasses flavor that tastes especially good in pastries, cookies, and cakes. You can substitute it for regular white sugar in any recipe, cup for cup. $5.59 for a 1.5-pound bag
Coconut palm trees produce up to 75% more sugar per acre than cane fields do, and require just a fifth of the resources to crank out the same amount of sweetener. So it's obvious why Organic Coconut Sugar from MADHAVA, produced from those trees' flower buds, would be a sustainable choice. Further sweetening the deal, this product is unrefined, is verified by the Non-GMO Project, and maintains nutritional perks like amino acids, iron, and zinc. Use it as you would any other sugar. $6.49 for a 16-ounce bag
Sweet Dreams Organic Brown Rice Syrup from LUNDBERG FAMILY FARMS smells, feels, and tastes like honey but has a nuttier undertone. If you're a vegan, this sticky stuff does the trick: Amie Valpone, a Manhattan nutritionist who runs the Healthy Apple blog, says, "I love the way it binds desserts without adding an animal source. I also love the taste and often choose it over other sweeteners when baking." You can stir it into coffee or tea or drizzle it atop ice cream or pancakes. Brown rice syrup is less sweet than sugar, so use 1¼ cup in place of 1 cup of sugar. Lundberg's organic rice isn't genetically modified and is grown without synthetic fertilizers. $8.39 for a 21-ounce jar
--text by Avital Andrews / photos by Lori Eanes