Guide to Natural Sweeteners

The following list is adapted from Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.  Palm sugar, coconut sugar, and a few others are not covered here, as Sally did not print about them and I haven't done research yet regarding them.  I will include information about them when I do.

As with all sweeteners, too much of any of them will throw off the chemical balance of the body.  Moderation is the key.  Below is Sally Fallon's Guide to Natural Sweeteners:

"Natural sweeteners" may be defined as sweet foods which the nutrients have not been removed, or may even be more concentrated due to boiling down and evaporation.

RAW HONEY: Honey that has not been heated over 117 degrees is loaded with amylases, enzymes that digest carbohydrates, as well as all the nutrients found in plant pollens.  This makes it an ideal sweetener for porridge and toast, as the amylases in raw honey help digest grains.  Glucose tolerance tests indicate that, for most people, honey does not upset blood sugar levels as severely as does refined sugar.  Buy honey labeled "raw" and use it in desserts that do not require heating.  Raw honey should not be given to infants, as they lack sufficient stomach acid to deactivate bacteria spores. 

MAPLE SYRUP:  The concentrated sap of huge deciduous trees, maple syrup is rich in trace minerals, brought up from below ground by the tree's deep roots.  It imparts a wonderful flavor to cream-based desserts and may be used in baked goods, such as muffins and pancakes.  Unfortunately, formaldehyde is used in the production of most commercial maple syrup. 

* For organic, non-formaldehyde maple syrup: Grain & Salt Society (828) 299-9005; Coombs Vermont Gourmet (888) 266-6271,

RAPADURA:  Rapadura is the commercial name for dehydrated cane sugar juice, (my note: evaporated cane juice) which the people of India have used for thousands of years.  It is rich in minerals, particularly silica.  Rapadura has a wonderful flavor and closely mimics sugar in chemical properties.  It gives the best results for cookies and cakes, but be careful not to overdo--in large amounts Rapadura can upset the body chemistry just as much as sugar.

STEVIA POWDER:  A sweet powder made from a South American herb, stevia can be used by those who are sensitive even to natural sweeteners.  A little goes a long way--a pinch of stevia powder will sweeten as effectively as a spoonful of sugar.  As it does not add bulk, it is difficult to use successfully in baked goods; but stevia powder is a good sweetener for salad dressings, smoothies, whipped cream, and pie crusts (also iced tea and yogurt--Kristina). 

Note from Kristina:  I read recently that white stevia powder is also considered a refined sweetener, and we should buy brown stevia. 

DATE SUGAR:  Made from nutritious dehydrated dates, it does not dissolve easily and is therefore unsuitable for many desserts. Its high tryptophan content makes it a good sweetener for hyperactive children, as this amino acid has a calming effect.  Date sugar is delicious on porridge. 

MOLASSES:  A "waste" product from the production of refined sugar, molasses has a strong taste and moderate sweetnes.  If extracted from sugar cane grown in well fertilized soils, it will contain many minerals, especially iron, calcium, zinc, copper, and chromium.

BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES: Blackstrap molasses is approximately 65 percent as sweet as sugar and can be used in both cooking and baking. Blackstrap molasses is an excellent source of manganese and copper, and also contains iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and Vitamin B6.
(added by Kristina)

MALTED GRAIN SYRUPS:  Made with malted grains, usually barley, these syrups have been used for thousands of years, especially in the Orient.  Sprouted grains are kiln-dried and the rootlets removed.  The grains are then ground up, dipped briefly in an acid solution and heated with water to form malt syrup.  Malt syrup is about 65 percent maltose, a disaccharide composed of two glucose molecules.  (Sucrose is a dissacharide, composed of two glucose and fructose.)  Malted syrups contain small amounts of nutrients; but their real value is in the fact that they contain little fructose, which in large amounts is far more harmful than glucose.

Note from Kristina:  I am assuming Sally is referring to brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup. 

SORGHUM SYRUP:  A sweetener once popular in the Southern United States, sorghum syrup is made from sweet sorghum, a grain related to millet that grows on woody stalks to a height of 15 feet.  The syrup is made by boiling the sorghum sap.  It takes 8 to 12 gallons of sap to make one gallon of the syrup.  Sorghum syrup contains B vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, and phosphorus.  It can be used in place of maple syrup.

NATURALLY SWEETENED JAMS:  Look for jams sweetened with dehydrated sugar cane juice rather than fructose or high fructose corn syrup.

The following sweeteners are used in many so-called health food products, but should be avoided.

FRUCTOSE AND HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP:  These are highly refined products composed mostly of fructose.  It is the fructose, not the glucose, part of sucrose that causes deleterious effects, especially in growing children. 

CONCENTRATED FRUIT JUICE:  Fruit juices that have been boiled down are composed largely of fructose.

"RAW", "NATURAL", TURBINADO, AND SUCANAT SUGARS AND FLORIDA CRYSTALS:  These are all refined sugars from which the nutrients have been removed.  Small amounts of molasses may be added back to give a light brown color.

AGAVE NECTAR: Agave Nectar is advertised as a “diabetic friendly”, raw, and “100% natural sweetener.” Yet it is none of these. Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed during the 1990’s. Even though, like corn, agave is a starch and fiber food processed with enzymes, it does not require the label “High Fructose Corn Syrup”.While high fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood glucose levels (due to its inulin content), the fructose in it may cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity.   (The part about Agave Nectar was not found in the book, but quoted from her from an online source.)

--End of Sally Fallon's list.

Comment by Kristina:  There is a lot of controversy over Agave Nectar, so I'll leave it up to you to decide whether it's a good product to use.  As with all sweeteners, moderation is the key.  The following is a rebuttal about the potential dangers of Agave Nectar from the Madhava company: 

"Last week Mike Adams' Natural News published an article about agave, based on misinformation. Yesterday, a rebuttal was printed. Below are some excerpts. You can read the full article at Agave Nectar: A Rebuttal to Misinformed Attacks on this Natural Sweetener and my comments on agave at Sweet Savvy: Agave Nectar.

We hope that this rebuttal from Madhava will help bring more clarity to the agave nectar issue. Here is the full rebuttal from Craig Gerbore:

In response, I must first point out that Mr. Nagel's article is based on the view of a sole individual, Russ Bianchi. I suppose we should thank Mr. Bianchi for pointing out some issues that may have contributed to Iidea's (the initial manufacturer of blue agave nectar) demise from the market, however I want to be clear, this is not about Madhava or our agave nectar. Once a dominant supplier, as of this past summer Iidea is no longer a major supplier in the agave syrup business. The distributors using them as a supplier have quietly switched to newly formed blue agave companies for their supply. Madhava has always worked exclusively with Nekutli, the producer of agave nectar from the agave salmiana, a very different species of the agave.

However, there is no mention of our agave nectar from salmiana in the article, nor of the differences in the plant, the collection and production of our product. So, the author has blurred the line with his all encompassing attack on blue agave nectar, by his failure to present complete information on the subject of agave nectars...

I believe Mr. Bianchi, presented as the sole authority on agave nectar, was initially introduced to Iidea's blue agave syrup product on their entry to the market in the late 90's. At that time, Iidea was promoting a 90% fructose agave syrup. This is what I believe Mr. Bianchi is referring to. Unfortunately, he ignores the fact that this is not the agave sold on the market today, nor is it representative of Madhava's product. In fact Mr. Bianchi has never even acknowledged the existence of our agave nectar from the salmiana variety. So, all his comments are apparently based on his experience with Iidea's product, but I find ourselves caught in the blast.

In their zestful attack against the blue agave syrup he was introduced to initially, Mr.'s Bianchi and Nagel have also made inaccurate comments which reflect on agave nectar generally. ...

Their discussion of the processing of agave nectar is in no way reflective of how Madhava's agave nectar is produced. There are three ways to convert complex sugars into a simple sugar sweetener such as agave syrup. It can be done thermally, chemically, or enzymatically as ours is. There are no chemicals whatsoever involved in the production of Madhava's agave nectar from agave salmiana, nor is it cooked. Our agave is subject only to low temperatures during the evaporation of excess water from the juice.

The author states "The principal constituent of the agave is starch, such as what is found in corn or rice."

This statement, which is the foundation of much of their argument comparing agave nectar to corn syrup, has no basis in scientific fact, THERE IS NO STARCH IN THE AGAVE....

All plants store energy in one of two ways, as starches or fructans. All agave plants create fructans as their energy storing means.

So, agave plants have fructans, not starch. From Wikipedia: Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants. They belong to a class of fibers know as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and it typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants which synthesize and store inulin do not store other materials such as starch.

There is no starch in either species of agave, and agave nectar is not from starch as the author and Mr. Bianchi claim...

I personally spoke with the author during his "research", as did at least one other in the industry. He chose not to include one word of the information given to him by us, which I will repeat below, and failed to make any distinction between Madhava's Nekutli agave nectar from salmiana and that from the blue agave plant. He only mentions blue agave. The plants differ, the locations differ, the methods and production differ greatly...

Madhava's source is exclusively agave salmiana. If you haven't already reviewed our site at , you will find background information there. Briefly though, the native people supplying the juice collect it from the live plant, by hand, twice daily. There is no heat involved in the removal. The juice is immediately brought to the facility to remove the excess water as it will ferment rapidly if left standing. It is during the removal of the moisture that the only heat is applied. The juice is evaporated and moisture removed in a vacuum evaporator. The vacuum enables the moisture to be withdrawn at low temperatures. The temp is closely controlled. Subsequently, our agave is handled and packaged at room temperatures. No other heat is applied. And, rather than convert the complex sugars of the juice thermally, we use gentle enzymatic action. Just as a bee introduces an enzyme to flower nectar to make honey, we introduce an natural organic vegan enzyme for the same purpose. The technical term for the conversion of complex sugars into their simple sugar components is hydrolysis. Inulin is a fructan which is hydrolyzed into the simple sugars composing agave nectar, fructose and glucose. Honey is composed of the same simple sugars.

The blue agave plant is harvested and the blue agave nectar is produced by a completely different method. I will have to leave it to the blue agave nectar sellers to comment on the production themselves. While I know of it, I have not witnessed it as I have Nekutli's. Unlike the author, I won't comment publicly on something I cannot verify.

To clarify further on another claim, "Agave Nectar as a final product is mostly chemically refined fructose". As regards Madhava's agave nectar, there are no chemicals involved in our production whatsoever. The sugars in our agave nectar come from the breakdown of the inulin molecule through the introduction of the enzyme to break apart that molecule. It is in no way chemically refined, there are no chemicals involved in any part of the production or packaging process. Our agave nectar is refined only in as much as the excess moisture is removed from the juice of the plant.

"HFCS is made with GM enzymes". Bianchi's states "they (agave and corn syrup) are indeed made the same way" This is another false assertion as regards Madhava's agave nectar at least. Our agave nectar is certainly and clearly not made the same way as corn syrup. There is no starch in our agave. There are no chemicals, no refinement beyond the evaporation of water. And, there are no GMO's whatsoever. The agave salmiana has never been subject to this and the enzyme is a natural, non GM organic, vegan enzyme.

Other points regarding fructose apply to sugars in general and are a consumption, or overconsumption issue. Certainly consuming large amounts of sweeteners of any kind will be detrimental to one's health. Suggesting fructose could cause health issues when concentrated amounts are eaten is a statement which should really apply to the overconsumption issue. The information the author links to agave nectar is the result of megadose testing of pure clinical fructose. Not the same thing as normal daily use of agave nectar in the course of our meals.

The antisweetener advocates just have to admit that it is the overconsumption of sugars that is the problem. Used in moderation, sugars serve a purpose, to make other foods and beverages more palatable. Imagine a world without sweeteners if you can. Affinity for sweet taste is a human trait that most want to satisfy. For those who use sweeteners, there are limited choices available and many choose agave for its particular attributes. It is a good choice. Madhava Agave's neutral flavor suits the purpose. It is in fact low glycemic, organically certified and non allergenic. Many with diabetes and other special diets find it suitable for their use where other sweeteners are not. It's easy to use and you can use less.

And, we guarantee the purity of our product. Attached is a letter from the CEO of Nekutli stating this guarantee that Nekutli agave syrup is pure and unadulterated, from the natural juice of agave salmiana.

While it remains up to the individual to maintain balance in their diet and monitor their overall consumption of sweets, Nekutli/Madhava's Agave Nectar does have advantages over other sweeteners and that is why it has become so popular and received so much attention today.