Here are three lesser-known natural alternatives to sugar


Yacon syrup is a lesser-known natural sweetener that comes from a South American potato species. — AFP

Known to consumers worldwide as a calorie-free substitute for sugar, aspartame may soon be classified as a possible cancer risk by the World Health Organization (WHO).

This news reopens the debate on the use of this food additive in some 6,000 products, including soft drinks.

Ahead of the health watchdog’s decision, here are three natural alternatives to keep in mind.

> The best-known alternative: Stevia

Unknown to many Europeans some 20 years ago, this plant originally cultivated in the hills of Paraguay, is now firmly established in the habits of consumers, who have learned to identify low-calorie products containing this natural ingredient.

It was only in 2011 that the European Commission gave the green light for its use in consumer foods.

Stevia’s appeal lies in the fact that it is 200 times sweeter than sugar itself, without adding a single calorie to the mix.

Coca-Cola had largely embraced this sweetener, using it in certain soft drink recipes, such as Coca-Cola Life (since discontinued) or Fanta Still.

Stevia can also be found in the form of small cubes or tabs, or as a powder to be sprinkled over yoghurt or stirred into coffee.

> An intriguing option: Allulose

Occurring naturally in raisins and figs, allulose was discovered in the 1940s during research on wheat.

It’s a sugar obtained via extraction, and it can also be extracted from cornstarch or beet sugar.

But unlike the sugar we’re used to, allulose has only 0.4 kilocalories per gramme.

You may or may not be familiar with it depending on where you live, since allulose is not yet authorised in Europe, where it is considered a novel food.

The reason for this is quite simple: researchers want to verify that its consumption poses no danger to human health.

However, the ingredient, which is about 70% as sweet as regular sugar (sucrose), is considered a safe food by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It is also used in Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Singapore.

It has even been credited with helping to control blood sugar levels.

> An up-and-coming alternative: Yacon syrup

Also hailing from South America, this latest find comes from Argentina or Colombia.

And it’s not a plant or a berry we’re talking about, but a kind of potato.

Indeed, there’s more to the yacon than meets the eye, as this root crop could easily pass for a sweet potato.

Sometimes known as a Peruvian ground apple or a pear of the earth, it can be eaten raw or cooked.

In the latter case, it can be juiced or made into a syrup.

This can be used in the same way as maple or agave syrup.

While its ability to sweeten without adding too many calories can be an asset, in terms of taste, yacon offers an interesting new take on sugar alternatives as it has caramelised and slightly sour notes.

It is also recommended for maintaining healthy intestinal flora.

Still relatively little-known, yacon syrup can be found in organic stores or on specialist websites. – AFP Relaxnews

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