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Vegan Sugar Substitutes

A vegan diet contains no meat, fish, dairy or other animal products--including certain sweeteners. Strict vegans won't eat honey, made by nectar-producing bees, or even white granulated sugar, which may be refined using animal-derived products. Moreover, the typical vegan diet emphasizes healthy, non-refined and organic foods. Sugar substitutes from plant sources fit into vegan diets and provide a sweet taste in vegan muffins, pastries, pies, cakes, beverages, desserts and other treats.


Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, an herb in the chrysanthemum family. The powdered leaves taste about 10 to 15 times sweeter than granulated sugar, while the refined extracts taste up to 300 times sweeter than sugar and must be diluted before using in recipes. Unlike sugar, Stevia is extremely low in calories.


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Fructose is sugar that naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables. Some health food stores sell bags of granulated fructose for replacing sugar in recipes, adding to coffee or tea and dusting on top of vegan muffins or other baked treats. Fructose tastes about twice as sweet as white sugar, so chefs should use 1/2 as much fructose as the amount of sugar needed in recipes. Fructose also appears in fruit juice concentrate, a type of liquid sweetener used in vegan baked goods.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar, sometimes called agave syrup, is a liquid sweetener derived from the sap of the blue agave plant, a succulent similar to aloe vera, native to southern Mexico. The plant's high carbohydrate content results in a super-sweet syrup with a taste hovering between honey and pure maple syrup. It lacks the bitter aftertaste associated with saccharin and artificial sugar substitutes.

Maple Syrup

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Made from the thick sap of sugar maple trees, maple syrup is a suitable sugar substitute in recipes that call for honey or granulated sugar. Though expensive, nothing quite replicates the luscious caramel-like flavor and buttery-sweet aroma of pure maple syrup. Maple sugar, a granulated sweetener that results from evaporated maple syrup, also serves as a replacement for granulated white sugar. Note that maple-flavored "pancake syrup" is not real maple syrup--it's primarily corn syrup and artificial flavors.

Barley Malt Syrup

This semi-sweet, viscous syrup is made from evaporated corn mash and sprouted barley. Though not as sweet as sugar, it has a molasses-like flavor and can replace honey or sugar in recipes. Brown rice syrup, derived from the healthy whole grain, is similar to barley malt syrup.