Sugar may not be the star ingredient in bread, but bread wouldn’t be bread without it. Sugar feeds the yeast to activate it and get things rising, so to speak.
But what if you’re looking to cut down on refined sugars? Are there any alternatives you can use that may be a bit healthier and will still feed your yeast?
But before you reach for that splenda or aspartame, you need to know one important thing: artificial sweeteners won’t feed your yeast. Yes, even yeast agrees that these alternatives are so bad, they don’t even want to eat them.
The good news? There are natural alternatives that will work nicely in your favorite bread recipe.
1. Barley Malt Syrup
Barley malt syrup is often used in artisan bread-baking because of its rich flavor. It’s a staple in most bagel recipes, too.
To make this syrup, barley grains are sprouted, dried and roasted. What you’re left with is a syrup that has a rich, earthy flavor. (You can easily dry your own with a food dehydrator)
The syrup’s flavor can be intense and overpower subtle flavors in a recipe, so keep this in mind. It works best for plain bread recipes, like French baguettes, and bagels.
While its flavor is rich, barley malt syrup is not quite as sweet as sugar. It’s about as half as sweet as white sugar. If you want something a little sweeter, like for sweet bread, the barley malt syrup pairs well with maple syrup.
Barley malt syrup can be used as a 1:1 sugar substitute. It’s an extremely thick syrup, so there’s no need to reduce the amount of liquid in your bread recipe.
2. Muscovado Sugar
Bakers often say that Muscovado sugar is like brown sugar on steroids. It has a deep smoky flavor, and it can really aid in the browning process.
We don’t often see brown sugars used in bread recipes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. Muscovado will still feed the yeast, and it will give your bread an interesting flavor.
And unless you’re baking a sweet bread, the sugar shouldn’t impact the flavor too much.
Muscovado sugar can be used on a 1:1 basis, but be aware that it will cause your baked goods to brown quicker. That browning effect may make your bread appear to be done before it really is. Whether you’re using a bread machine or just baking in the oven, make sure that your bread is truly done before taking it out to cool.
3. Brown Rice Syrup
For sweet yeast breads, brown rice syrup is a great sugar or corn syrup substitute. In fact, if a recipe calls for corn syrup, you can substitute in brown rice syrup at a 1:1 ratio.
Brown rice syrup is almost entirely made of glucose, which is not as detrimental to your metabolic health as fructose.
The nice thing about brown rice syrup is that it’s much milder than other liquid sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup.
The only drawback with brown rice syrup is that it can be expensive compared to some of the other alternatives out there. But if you’re looking for a milder sugar substitute, brown rice syrup is a great option.
If you’re swapping sugar for brown rice syrup, you may need to either cut back on the liquids in the recipe or add extra flour.
Fruit makes for an excellent natural sweetener and sugar substitute. You can add the whole fruit (like apple sauce or a mashed banana), or you can add fruit juice to the recipe (use a juicer to make delicious fruit juice).
Regardless of whether you use whole fruit or juice, you’ll need to adjust your recipe to account for the extra moisture. If you try swapping 1 cup of sugar for 1 cup of whole fruit or juice, you’ll be disappointed with the results. You’ll need to either add extra flour or reduce the amount of liquids in the recipe to account for the fruit.
Some of the most popular fruits used as sweeteners include:
Keep in mind that adding fruit will add a distinct flavor to your bread, so it may not be an ideal choice if you’re baking something savory.
These four sugar alternatives can make your breads just a little bit healthier while still giving you that nice rise for a tall, fluffy loaf. While granular sugar alternatives, like muscovado, can be used on a 1:1 basis, you may need to adjust the liquid and flour in your recipe if you’re using a liquid alternative.
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