Your Commonsense Guide: Sugars & Sugar Substitutes

12 March 2014

Everyone wants a bit of sweetness in their lives. From natural cane sugar, to Lucuma powder to xylitol, Commonsense has got you covered! 



Sugars and Sweeteners

A variety of sugars and sweeteners are available, many of which we stock at Commonsense.

Sugars vary in sweetness, melting point and solubility in water.

Sugars are carbohydrates – their molecules consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.  The simplest sugars are called monosaccharides (single sugars) e.g. glucose (also called dextrose) and fructose.  Glucose occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables and in the blood of animals, whereas fructose can be found in plants and honey.

Disacharides are double sugars in that each molecule consists of two single sugar molecules joined together.  Examples of these are sucrose (one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule), the major component of cane sugars; and maltose (two molecules of glucose), a sugar produced in malting when the enzyme diastase acts on starch.


Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is a sweetener made from the agave plant grown in Mexico.  It consists of approximately 70% natural fruit sugar and 25% dextrose.  These are absorbed more slowly into the
bloodstream than sucrose causing less disruption to blood sugar levels.

Dark agave contains the plant’s natural flavour and minerals – iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.  Light agave has a more neutral taste and has lost some of the initial nutrients.

Baked goods made with this sweetener brown more quickly so should be cooked at slightly lower temperatures.

Barley Malt Syrup

Barley malt syrup is a naturally processed sweetener made from fermented sprouted barley.  It contains many of the nutrients found in the whole grain and is made up of approximately 50% maltose and a little glucose.

Being less concentrated and higher in complex carbohydrates than other sweeteners it is less likely to upset blood sugar levels.  Barley malt powder is made by evaporating the water out of the malt syrup.


Beet Sugar

Beet sugar is made from sugar beets, from the same family as the familiar crimson beet.  As sugar beet molasses is completely unpalatable, only fully refined white sugar can be made from sugar beet.

Brown Rice Malt / Brown Rice Syrup

Brown Rice Malt Syrup / Brown Rice Syrup is an easy-to-digest balanced sweetener made by adding dried sprouted barley or barley enzymes to cooked brown rice and fermenting this mixture until the malt enzymes convert some of the rice starch into glucose (about 3%) and maltose (about 45%).  The liquid is then cooked to the consistency of syrup.

Brown rice malt adds a mild flavour to baked goods and has about 2/3 the sweetness of white sugar.

As it is high in complex carbohydrates it enters the blood stream slowly and will not upset blood sugar levels.


Cane Sugars

Cane sugar is produced from the juice of sugar cane.  Unrefined and partially refined sugars are made by simply pressing out, cleaning and crystallising the cane juice so that the nutrients found in the sugar cane are retained (compared to non–organic refined sugars which undergo chemical processing as well).

The colour and intensity of flavour depends on the degree of processing and the amount of molasses left in the sugar.

Blackstrap Molasses is the thick dark syrup left over after sugar crystals are removed during the refining process.

Molasses is a good source of iron and also contains potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamin B6.  The main component in molasses is sucrose – 65% sucrose compared with refined white sugar at 99% sucrose.  It is best used in strongly flavoured goods such as gingerbread, molasses cookies, rye breads and traditional home made baked beans.

Demerara is a lighter brown sugar with relatively hard crystals.

Icing Sugar is the finest of all sugars made by mechanically crushing crystals.

Jaggery is a product of cane sugar without separation of the molasses and crystals.  It contains up to 50% sucrose and up to 20% invert sugars.

Sucanat is a brand name for fresh sugar cane juice that has been pressed from the cane stalk, concentrated into a syrup then dried and milled in combination with organic blackstrap molasses.

Sucanat contains 80–85% sucrose (compared to refined cane sugar which contains 99% sucrose) while the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from sugar cane are retained.

Both Sucanat and Jaggery can be used in baked goods for a rich caramel taste, in tea and coffee, sprinkled over cooked cereals or used in brown breads and traditional baked beans.

Date Sugar

Date sugar is made solely from pitted, dried and pulverised dates.  Sweet and mildly date flavoured it has the same sweetening power as cane sugar.



Fructose is fruit sugar derived mainly from berry fruits and other fruits and vegetables.  It is substantially sweeter than sucrose.


Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners known to humans.  Its use predates the raising of cereal grains or dairy animals.  Honey is a product of nectar gathered by only 5 species of bees and converted into a sweet sticky liquid. 

Organic honey is not heated above 40oC and therefore its vitamins and minerals remain.

It is sweeter than cane sugar so less can be used.  If substituting honey for sugar in baking adjust the liquid quantity of the raw mixture accordingly.  Baked goods made with honey tend to keep longer as the honey retains moisture.

Honey is antiseptic and mildly laxative.  It can also be applied to wounds to keep them sterile and speed up healing.  Some manuka honeys have additional antibiotic properties which are measured with the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) – look for manuka honeys with a UMF greater than 10 for this purpose.

Lighter honeys, e.g. clover, are milder in flavour than the more strongly flavoured dark honeys.

Honeydew is unique among honeys as the bees source the excreta of an insect found on South Island black beech trees.

Lucuma Powder

Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit related to sapote with a taste described as being like maple syrup flavoured ice cream!  It is low in sugar and high in nutrients especially beta-carotene, vitamin B3 and iron and is very popular in raw food cuisine.

Lucuma powder has a rich, creamy texture, blending well with ice-cream, yoghurts, smoothies and desserts.

Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar

Maple syrup and Maple sugar is made in parts of the U.S. and Canada from sugar maple trees.  Sap is collected in late winter and early spring then boiled to evaporate the water.  Maple sugar is made from the syrup which is boiled down until it crystallises and sets solid into sugar cubes.  These are light tan in colour and have a concentrated maple flavour.

Both the syrup and the sugar can be used in baking (they add a warm rich flavour), and of course maple syrup is indispensable over pancakes and french toast.


Palm Sugar

Palm sugar is made from sugar palm sap tapped from the flower stalks of various palm trees.  A completely natural sweetener, palm sugar contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals, in particular potassium and magnesium.

It has a rich caramel-like taste and is especially suitable for strongly flavoured baking and Asian cooking.


Sugar Substitutes


We carry a variety of sugar substitutes that may be suitable for people on sugar-free diets.  However, where a serious health condition exists, you should check with your health professional prior to using these products.


Stevia is a plant that provides an excellent alternative to sugars and other sweeteners.  Stevia sweeteners have no calories, are non-toxic and apparently do not affect blood sugar levels.

It is available as the powdered herb, herb extract or as a concentration of the active ingredient, stevioside.  Comes in convenient sachets, pottles and liquid rips.


Xylitol is a polyol (sugar alcohol), a natural sweetener found in small quantities in many plants including rice, corn, lettuce, hardwoods and fruits such as raspberries.  It is produced in the human body and is found in breast milk.

Xylitol gives a slow steady release of energy with minimal effects on blood sugars and insulin levels.  Unlike sugar it is good for your teeth and suitable for all ages, but should be used sparingly (4–12g per day); daily intakes of over 50 grams of Xylitol per day can have a laxative effect.

Xylitol is available at Commonsense.



Erythritol is a polyol (sugar alcohol), and is sold at Commonsenseas ‘Natural Sweet - Erythritol’ and in combination with stevia, as ‘Betta Sweet’.

It is derived from corn and is also present in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes, as well as foods such as mushrooms and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce and cheese.

It has a similar taste to cane sugar, but is approximately 30% less sweet.  It does not promote tooth decay and is safe for people with diabetes. 

Erythritol’s caloric value of 0.2 calories per gram and high digestive tolerance distinguishes it from some other polyols.  It has only approximately 7–13% of the calories of other polyols and 5% the calories of sucrose.

Because erythritol is rapidly absorbed in the small intestine and rapidly eliminated by the body within 24 hours, laxative side effects sometimes associated with excessive polyol consumption are unlikely.


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