In order of sweetness there are five sugars with which you should be familiar with: fructose, sucrose, glucose, maltose and lactose. They range in sweetness from the highest, fructose or fruit sugar to the lowest, lactose or milk sugar. Sucrose is made from sugar cane or sugar beets and is our common table sugar. Maltose is derived from barley and other grains and is most associated with brewing beer. It is also produced when glucose is caramelized.
Other sugar sources used in cooking include honey, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum (like molasses, but from an African grain) and corn syrup. Corn syrup is mostly glucose and thus is less sweet than honey or table sugar. If you think back to the slave trade, you might recall the trouble caused by the New World’s desire for sugar.
Molasses is a less refined liquid derived from cane sugar or sugar beets. Brown sugar is made by adding 1-3 tablespoons of molasses back into plain white sugar. I never buy brown sugar any more, but keep molasses on hand and add more or less of it to get the light or dark brown sugar called for in a recipe. That way I don’t have to deal with that rock solid brown sugar lump in my pantry.
Honey is also a sweetener that can be used in place of sugar. It is natural and although it may crystallize, it will never spoil. You can use 2/3 cup of honey (or maple syrup) plus ¼ cup flour as a substitute for 1 cup of granulated white sugar. When baking with honey reduce your heat twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit and cook a little longer. Honey also has a tendency to darken the end product more than if you use white sugar. Since I usually keep honey on hand, I use an equal portion of honey instead of corn syrup, when a recipe calls for corn syrup.
Powdered or confectioner’s sugar is very fine granulated white sugar. You can make it yourself by putting regular sugar in a coffee grinder. It is handy for icings and frostings, where quick dissolving is important. Be aware that store-bought powdered sugar has an anti-caking agent added to it. Check to see, but that agent is most likely cornstarch or wheat flour. You can use ½ cup honey plus 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar as a substitute for 1 cup of powdered sugar.
If you really want to reduce granulated sugar in a recipe, replace up to half of it with nonfat dry milk and increase the overall sweetness by adding fruit, such as raisins. To add sweetness without adding calories, consider doubling the amount of extract you use in your baking.
The problem with obesity is often linked to high fructose corn syrup, which is used in a lot of soft drinks and foods. Corn syrup used in baking is made from corn and is a glucose, whereas high fructose corn syrup introduces proteins and creates a syrup which is quite a bit sweeter. Because white sugar costs more and the government subsidizes corn, US food manufacturers prefer to use this corn derivative to sweeten foods.
The sugar substitutes mentioned here are the more commonly used sweeteners that are readily available in groceries. Chemical substitutes like saccharine or aspartame and more natural sweeteners like agave and stevia are substitutes that will require greater examination.