In A Hard Look At The Benefits And Concerns Of Natural Sweeteners, I outlined the benefits and the concerns of most of the major natural sweetening agents on the market today. I declared honey to be my first choice of sweeteners with “real” stevia as another viable option.
One method of sweetening that I intentionally left out was fruit. Yes, fruit. Fresh fruit, fruit purees, dried fruit, fruit juice, and frozen fruit can all be used as a replacement for sweeteners in MOST recipes.
Applesauce has long be touted as the healthy substitute for butter and oil in a recipe as it will allow the finish product to remain moist (the property attributed to the use of butter and oil). However, you all know that I am a firm believer in the health benefits of eating fats. So if you are already using applesauce in place of the “fat,” (which I advise against), you probably will not have much success using fruit as a sweetener. It will simply be too much fruit.
Fruit can be a little tricky to bake with. You see, sugar adds texture, volume, color, and moisture to a recipe. Take it out without making tweaks to the rest of the recipe and you could end up with a real flop.
I have found that using fruit as a sweetener is pretty much a trial and error situation. After everything is combined and mixed together, I might find myself adding a little more almond or coconut flour or another egg white or egg yolk. (Handy tip! Egg whites dry out baked goods. Egg yolks add moisture. So if you aren't egg-free, this is the best way to increase or decrease the moisture in a recipe.) Sometimes I even add more butter or coconut oil. It really just depends on what I am baking. Muffins are always more forgiving than cookies and cakes. Pie – those are tough. I am still trying to master the fine art of pie making with fruit as the sweetener.
It is important to note that if your recipe already uses carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, cassava, or yams, there will be a bit of sweetness already imparted from the vegetable. Adjust the amount of fruit you use accordingly.
I'm sure you are sitting there scratching your head and wondering what fruits and in what form are the best sugar substitutes. Let me see if I can shed a little light on this topic!
In my experience, homemade fruit purees are the easiest option and typically do not affect the rest of the recipe. I use typically use ½ cup of fruit puree in place of every 1 cup of sugar.
Overripe fruits, such as bananas, apples, pears, figs, monkfruit, mangoes, and papayas provide a tremendous amount of sweetness, moisture, and flavor. Always buy fruits individually, not in plastic bags. The flavors and sweetness are much more intense when the fruits haven't been packaged in plastic. I use an equal ratio of fresh fruit to sugar called for when substituting. You will need to reduce liquids by about ¼ cup.
Adding dried fruits, such as plums, raisins, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, and cranberries provide bursts of sweetness. Cutting each one into very small pieces helps distribute the flavors and sweetness more evenly. Since dried fruit is rather dense compared to the other ingredients, you want to make sure it doesn't all fall to the bottom of your mixing bowl only getting into some of your cookies or muffins. Make sure each cookie or muffin gets pieces of the dried fruit.
You can also use fruit juice to add sweetness. If you press your own juice from fresh fruits, you can go ahead and use the juice as is. If you purchase 100% juice with no added sweeteners, it is best to reduce the fruit juice to 1/3 of their original volume by boiling over high heat for concentrated flavors and sweetness. You will want to use ¾ of a cup of fruit juice for every 1 cup of sugar. You then need to reduce the liquid ingredients by 3 tablespoons.
If you juice regularly you undoubtedly have pulp that you hate to see go to waste. Use that fruit pulp to sweeten up your recipes! There is no hard and firm ratio of pulp to sugar. It really depends on what fruit pulp you have available. Since the pulp is fairly dry, using it does not require too much of an adjustment to the liquids in the recipe.
If you are still not quite satisfied with the sweetness or overall taste after replacing fruit for the sweetener in your recipe, you might try one of these tricks:
- Using flavor enhancers such as orange or lemon zest brings out the fruitiness in a dish and heightens the flavors of the ingredients used.
- Sweet-enhancing spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg intensify flavors in a recipe. Or try combining several spices instead of using just one for a fresh, uplifting flavor.
- Topping baked goods with fruit, fruit spread, or a generous amount of cinnamon allows the flavors to be on top and tasted immediately.
- Double the amount of vanilla called for in the recipe as it will accentuate the sweetness in the recipe.
What are some other ways to use fruit as a sweetener?
- Replace syrup with a fruit puree. Smash 1 cup of berries, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, cook on low until thickened, and pour over your pancakes, waffles, or other breakfast breads.
- Add dried fruit to your oatmeal. Combined with nuts, this can be a real satisfying meal.
- Top homemade yogurt with fresh fruit.
- Simmer one cup of water and ¼ cup of dried fruit on the stove for an hour. The liquid can then be used as a syrup.
- Make your own fruit spreads to use in place of commercial jams and jellies.
- Mash a super ripe banana and spread it on top of toast, pancakes, waffles, or muffins.
- Like sweet drinks such as sweet tea? Sweeten it up by adding mashed berries or tropical fruits to your beverage pitcher. Let it infuse for at least 12 hours.
I am always looking to add to my repertoire of sugar substitutes so please do share any ways in which you use fruit as a replacement for sugar!