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Substituting Honey for Sugar in Recipes

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After going sugar-free in 2010, I rarely use honey; however, I do often use it in small amounts every now and then if I’m in a pinch, often combining with other sweeteners, like coconut palm sugar, xylitol, and stevia. Substituting honey for sugar in your recipes is definitely a science, as it has many different chemical and structural properties than sugar or other sweeteners, like xylitol, erythritol, or coconut palm sugar.

Substituting Honey for Sugar in Recipes

Below I give you some of the tips I have picked up along my journey in baking and cooking with honey. Also, I present some facts from various respected cooking organizations and companies on substituting honey for sugar in your recipes. If you keep these tips in mind, you should end up with a sweet and delicious recipe that holds together just the same as you would when using other granulated sweeteners. Keep in mind also that honey is sugar. Therefore, I only recommend it in small amounts, combined with stevia or other low-glycemic sweeteners (see notes below).

  • Use Less. Honey is sweeter than sugar, so you can actually use less honey than sugar. That means, you shouldn’t replace sugar 1:1. Instead, you want to use 1/3 less honey than sugar called for. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use 2/3 cup of honey. Some people claim that you can even use 1/2 the amount of honey than sugar. I think this depends on your sweetness sensitivity.
  • Adjust Leavening Agents. Honey has acidic properties, which work extremely well with baking soda. So, if you are substituting honey for sugar in a baking recipe, add baking soda to the recipe. You will often have to add 1/2 tsp. baking soda for every 1 cup of honey used. If the recipe calls for baking powder, which is different from baking soda as it contains cream of tartar, a starch and sodium bicarbonate, then keep it in. The alkalinity baking soda reacts with the acidity of the honey to help the product rise correctly.
  • Reduce Eggs, Milk, or Oil. For every one cup of honey, reduce any liquid by 1/4 cup. This is equivalent to 1 egg, or 4 tbsp. oil or melted butter, or 1/4 cup of milk. This will reduce the likelihood of a baked good from being too moist, which can often result in the product not baking correctly or not holding correctly after it is baked. For coconut flour recipes, I would suggest leaving out 1 egg, instead of leaving out the oil. If you need a little more moisture, add the egg, but often this won’t happen. Sometimes, especially with gluten-free baking, you have to use trial-and-error, as many brands of the same product are not always consistent in their results.
  • Combine with Stevia or Xylitol to Lower Sugar Content. I never use honey to replace all of the sweetness that comes with sugar. Instead, I use half the amount of honey needed and replace the other half with xylitol or coconut palm sugar and stevia. For example, if I need 1 cup of honey for a recipe, I would use 1/2 cup of honey plus 6 tbsp. of xylitol or coconut palm sugar plus 3 packets of stevia (equal to 2 tbsp. sweetener). This would give me a total of 16 tbsp. of sweetener, equivalent to 1 cup.
  • Use Raw Honey. Raw, local honey contains more nutrients, as it hasn’t been exposed to high-temperature processing. Granted you may be cooking with it, thus destroying some of the nutrients; however, it still tastes better and you will still have far more nutrients than your average store-bought honey. There is also some theories that local honey can help fight allergies, or at least, protect you or your children from developing allergies.

Sometimes honey is necessary in a recipe, even in small amounts. 2 tbsp. in a recipe, which divides out to 8-16 servings isn’t bad, and goes a long way in helping out a sweet treat for browning or caramelization purposes. Substituting honey for sugar in my recipes should be done with these tips pinned up in your mind, or even on your refrigerator, and should be done carefully.

I don’t recommend agave nectar, as it is relatively high in fructose. There are many health risks associated with fructose and sugar in general, especially the processed form in agave nectar. Honey is slightly lower in fructose, and is far more natural than agave nectar.

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