The vegan natural sweetener market has expanded considerably over the last decade. They provide a much healthier alternative to refined, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and – in my opinion – many of them also taste much better than the refined sugars.
White sugar is a big no for vegans, since it contains crushed animal bones, to achieve the pretty white color.
High fructose corn syrup is known to present a health risk, since it has been associated with increased risk of obesity, heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, and cancer. Unfortunately, corn syrup is found in many products. So to avoid it, it is important to read the ingredients of any product you buy, and it is best to stay away from sodas. Most of them are loaded with corn syrup.
Some vegan sweeteners are agave nectar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, stevia, coconut sugar, dates or date syrup, and organic brown sugar.
Let’s look at each one to see their pros and cons.
Agave nectar is juice from agave plant leaves. I live in Mexico and this sweetener is widely available here, due to an abundance of agave plants. It has a delicious flavor. I’m also lucky enough to be able to buy this from local, organic producers. 🙂
Maple syrup comes from maple trees. The trees are tapped and sap is extracted. Then it is heated to concentrate syrup. Maple syrup can be expensive, but it has a nice, smooth flavor and it also contains potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and manganese.
Brown rice syrup: cooked rice is cultured with enzymes and concentrated. Basically, the rice starch from the grains is broken down which creates digestible sugars. The downside is that it has a high calorie content, and there is a risk of arsenic.
Stevia. This comes from the Stevia plant. The leaves are dried, filtered, and purified. It dissolves very easily in liquids such as tea or coffee. Personally, I find the taste of Stevia too sweet, but is a favorite among many, and it also is a healthy alternative to conventional sugar.
Coconut sugar is also a good, natural alternative to refined sugars. It comes from the coconut tree, more specifically from the liquid sap in the coconut flower. Coconut sugar even retains some healthy nutrients from the palm tree such as potassium, zinc, iron, and calcium.
Dates enhance the flavor of desserts and smoothies, adding a rich, sweet essence. You can do this yourself by just grinding dates with a little water in the food processor, and you’ll get a nice syrupy content.
This is probably the safest natural sweetener so far, since it is made at home from dried dates. Nothing can go wrong here can it? You are in control of the process when you make date syrup.
What about brown sugar? Unfortunately, it is not vegan, because some animal bone char is still used in the creation process. However, organic brown sugar is vegan, since it does not go through that refining procedure and therefore it contains no crushed animal bones. So, if you want to buy brown sugar, make sure it is organic. 🙂
When you pick your sweetener and you have doubts or certain health conditions, please consult with your doctor or dietitian first.
If you have any questions, please let me know.