I meet a lot of people in the online food communities looking for sugar-free or reduced sugar cooking and canning alternatives … something–in case you haven’t noticed–I tend to do a lot of. There’s a good reason for that. Like so many other people these days, I have a diabetic husband who’s insulin-dependent … and then I’m a diabetic in remission myself, thanks to gastric-bypass surgery. We both have a few extra pounds as well, so I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to limit our sugar intake.
Because of that, I often find myself giving out advice on lowering the sugar content of people’s canned goods in onesies and twosies … which means it’s probably time to devote a blog post to the subject
As far as I’m concerned, Splenda® was a godsend. In the pantheon of artificial sweeteners, it’s my favorite hands-down! Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could use stevia instead. It’s heartbreaking that I can’t. Personally, I think it’s the best tasting non-sugar sweetener out there. Unfortunately though, I’m also sensitive (or even allergic) to it. It gives me blinding headaches within 5-10 minutes of ingesting a tiny amount. That means I have to avoid it like the plague. I have a similar problem with saccharine. It gives me horrible dragon breath. And I’m not talking about your basic case of garden-variety halitosis here … I’m talking full-blown, haz-mat suit-wearing, green and slimy dragon breath, the kind that slaps people from 20 feet away. And as far as I’m concerned, Nutrasweet® (aka: aspartame®) is sweet … but mostly it just tastes like chemicals. I’ll drink it if there’s nothing else available, but it’s absolutely my last choice in a standard sweetener bowl … even after real sugar! There are several other artificial sweeteners on the market these days, too–xylitol, maltitol, others–and I do use some of them on occasion … but I’ll talk about them each in detail the next time I do.
Most of the time, however, I use Splenda® for all of our sweetening needs … so that means a lot of my canning is Splenda®-kissed
I decided to take a quick look at its history, and Splenda® hit the American market in 1999. Wow! Was it only 1999? It seems like it’s EVERYWHERE these days … probably because it is! According to Wikipedia, Splenda® (a.k.a. sucralose) was outselling Nutrasweet® four-to-one by 2006. Imagine where they are now!
In no small part, I believe its popularity springs from its clean, natural taste. Yes, you can still detect a hint of non-real-sugar taste in things you use it in–especially if you have a sensitive tongue–but it’s mild compared to its cousins saccharine and Nutrasweet®.
Splenda® comes in several useful forms. For example, my husband and I both keep Splenda® Minis (what we call gerbil feeders) with us full-time, and those little tablet dispensers make sweetening coffee or tea on-the-go incredibly easy. If the restaurant doesn’t have Splenda®, I always have my own
Alternately, I have a friend who highly recommends liquid Splenda®, especially for canning. The reason why she prefers it is that most powdered Splenda® is cut with maltodextrin, a starch-based carbohydrate that brings sneaky calories and carbs along with it … calories and carbs they don’t tell you about on the Splenda® packaging. You see, they have to mix some kind of carrier into the sucralose powder in order to give it a greater volume. Why? Because the amount of sucralose you’d need to equal the sweetness of one teaspoon of sugar would be so infinitesimally small that it becomes a measuring, packaging, and delivery nightmare. If they tried to package the powder solo, most people would use way too much in everything … and hate the taste/product because of it. Therefore, the company that manufactures Splenda® mixes their sucralose with maltodextrin in order to make it easier to measure and deliver into foods.
That maltodextrin brings 3.5 calories per teaspoonful.
“Wait?” you say. “I thought Splenda® was NO calorie?”
Yes, that’s what they say … but the reality is, packaging rules in the U.S. state that a food can be marketed as “no calorie” if it has less than five calories in a normal serving. Splenda® is marketed as “no calorie” … and the sucralose itself in a normal one teaspoon-sized serving is “no calorie.” However, that maltodextrin that’s mixed into it has 3.5 calories. And 3.5 < 5 … so they can legally market it as no calorie. But that means a one cup of Splenda® measure-for-measure has 24 grams of carbohydrate … and 96 calories! For some people–diabetics especially–that can be significant!
Thanks to my friend’s prompting, I’m getting ready to order some of the liquid version to experiment with … but my cooking experience to-date has been mostly with Splenda® Granulated, the measure-for-measure stuff. I buy it in name-brand bags, and I also buy the generic version at WalMart as well. It’s called Altern, part of their Great Value brand line, and I’ve seen no real difference between it and the name brand … except that I can buy it for $2-3 less a bag than the Splenda®-branded version. That gets significant when you use as much Splenda® as I do, especially for canning.
If you Google Splenda®, you’ll find a lot of websites BLASTING IT! Certain groups of people are convinced that it’s some kind of evil chemical that causes all sorts of horrible problems, much like the outcry about aspartame (Nutrasweet®) over the last few years. In part, that’s because some people always insist that anything chemical or artificial is BAD, period! End of discussion! They refuse to listen to anything to the contrary, so–of course–they think Splenda® is the worst creation yet. Others followed have suit as well, erring on the side of caution.
Me? I’m not a scientist, but I’ve had some scientific training. After an honors-filled/college-prep high school education–heavy on the sciences–I also spent a year as a biology major early in my college career. When I finally went back to school, I also spent some time focused on electronics, engineering, and computers after that … before I finally decided that writing was my real passion.
Because of that science background, I can at least read/comprehend a lot of the science that’s been published about Splenda® (as compared to the propaganda) … and I’ve never seen anything that makes me that concerned about using it. Yes, it’s a chemical compound I’m putting in my body … but in this modern world, we ALL put a lot of chemicals into our bodies on a regular basis. Even if we’re careful to eat only the best chemical-free foods we can find … and only drink heavily-filtered water … we’re still exposed to environmental chemicals every-single-day that are far worse than spooning a little Splenda® into your coffee. It’s just a part of modern life. And yes, occasionally you’ll see someone who claims they’ve found some sort of scientific link to something bad in their research … but if you read deeper into their findings, most of the studies have a tiny or poorly-formed test group, and their so-called findings are based on more speculation and inference than actual observable/repeatable science.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation lists information about Splenda® in their F.A.Q. I’ve also had a few years of experience canning with it, so I’m going to add some from my own perspective as I explain further.
The only thing I do special with Splenda® is that I try not to subject it to too much direct heat. Heat can alter some chemicals in ways that aren’t good for them … or us … and–from what I understand–the science on what happens to Splenda® when you heat it into the upper ranges of kitchen temperatures and keep it there over a long duration has some discrepancies, which has led its detractors to jump up and down about it. So–to err on the side of caution–I tend to avoid extremely high temperatures with Splenda®, especially when there’s any sort of duration involved.
That’s usually pretty easy to do in canning. For example, when I make sweet pickles/relishes, raw-packed fruits, etc. … things that go into a Boiling Water Bath canner … I don’t cook or prepare them with Splenda® in advance. I simply measure the Splenda® straight into the jar–on the top/bottom/the middle of my food–and then I add hot juice/water/brine in on top. In comparison, when you’re using sugar in your brines and syrups … you must boil the sugar in the liquid in order to make sure it’s properly dissolved. If you don’t, you could end up with crunchy crystals of sugar in your canned goods … and–to paraphrase from my favorite TV chef–that’s not excellent chow. But you don’t have that problem with Splenda®. It dissolves instantly in liquid–even cold liquid–so there’s no need to heat it like sugar.
Yes, when you put your Splenda®-sweetened foods in your BWB … you do subject them to heat and duration. You can’t help that. You’ve got to process your food for a certain amount of time and temperature in order to make it safe to store and eat. But–while the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends that you only add Nutrasweet (aspartame) and saccharine AFTER you open your canned products, only sweetening them right before you eat them–they’ve found that Splenda® is safe to process with some heat.
However–like I said–you really don’t want to cook it too long/hot. That means it’s safe and easy to use in things like freezer jam–which you don’t generally heat–or in pectin-based, quick-cook jams and jellies … IF you add the Splenda® at the very end, stirring it in right before you start to jar your fruit spread. That also means you can’t use it in the beginning with long-cooking preserves and conserves. If you’re going to cook your fruit low and slow in order to activate the natural pectins and to reduce the overall volume of your fruit by cooking some of the water out of it, then leave the Splenda® out–again–until right before you jar it.
NOTE: If you’re cooking preserves or conserves, you’ll need to cook them down to the point where they’re just a little bit thicker than you want for a final product. The reason for that is because–when the Splenda® melts, and despite the fact that it’s a powder–it seems to add just a little bit of liquid to your overall product. It’s not much, but it can make a difference … especially in a larger batch. I’m not sure exactly how/why it adds liquid … but it does. It’s probably got something to do with the fact that it’s a second-cousin to sugar … and sugar–as most chefs will tell you–is treated as a liquid in the kitchen–not a dry ingredient–because it liquefies upon contact with any other liquid.
When it comes to no-sugar added fruit spreads…………
……okay, we’re moving into Lane’s pet peeve area here
*dragging out my soapbox*
You should NEVER, EVER call something “sugar-free” if it contains fruit or fruit juice. That’s false advertising, the kind that could hurt people who aren’t supposed to be eating sugar! The truth is, fruit and fruit juice contain fructose … which is SUGAR! Fructose may be fruit sugar … not crunchy white sucrose (table sugar) … but it’s still SUGAR!! In fact, anything that ends in the suffix -ose is most-likely a SUGAR!! And this includes one that most people don’t ever think/know about: lactose, a.k.a. milk sugar. Lactose is another one of the big secret sugars that most people aren’t aware of. Like, did you know that one cup of milk contains twelve grams of sugar! That’s 3/4ths as many net sugar grams as a Hershey’s Special Dark Bar with Almonds. If I was going to put that much sugar into my body in one sitting … guess which one I’d rather have?
This is why I get FURIOUS when I see advertisers saying “our product is SUGAR-FREE!” … and then when you read the label/ingredients, you discover that it is absolutely cram FULL of sugar in the form of fructose and lactose. People! Just because you don’t add table sugar/sucrose to your food … it does NOT mean that it’s “sugar-free”: not if it contains milk or fruit. If there’s milk or fruit in your food … then it contains SUGAR! PERIOD!! So if you tell someone your food is “sugar-free” when it contains milk or fruit … then you’re either uninformed … disingenuous … or telling an outright lie like most manufacturers do. And it’s insidious when manufacturers do that, especially when they market that garbage to DIABETICS and other people who–because of their health problems–have no business shoving that much sugar into themselves. It’s positively criminal!
So if you make foods that contain milk and fruit (and/or fruit juice), but no sucrose … please don’t tell your friends and family that it’s “sugar-free.” Tell them it’s “no-sugar added.” That means no sucrose, but it also implies that there are probably other sugars onboard. They may be natural, unrefined sugars, each with a lower glycemic index than sucrose … but they’re still there. That’s the correct way to say it … so that you give people who need to know if they’re eating sugar or not the right information, so that they can make informed decisions.
Okay … I’m done
Chuckling and kicking the soap box back under my computer!
It takes a combination of sugar, pectin and acid to gel most fruit spreads, and some fruits–mangoes, apples, pears, peaches, and others … just to name a few–often have enough natural pectin and sugar in themselves to gel without adding anything but acid. Some have enough pectin and acid–like citrus fruits–but you need to add a little sugar. With those sorts of fruits, you can make natural preserves, cooking your fruit low and slow until it releases its natural pectin, gradually condenses by evaporation, and caramelizes some of the sugar in it until it finally gels on its own. The longer you cook it, however, the more it changes the taste of your fruit spread, taking it from something that tastes more like fresh fruit … to something that tastes like heavily-cooked fruit. That may or may-not be something that suits you.
Alternately, you’ll need to add sugar, acid and pectin to most other fruits in order to make them gel the normal way. However, Splenda® is NOT an adequate chemical substitute for sugar in that equation. That means that if you want to use Splenda® as your sweetener–and you don’t want the cooked fruit taste of long-cooked preserves–then you’ll need to use some other chemical combination to make your fruit spread gel.
One possibility is using a commercially-prepared no-sugar or low-sugar pectin, like Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin, Ball No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin, or Pomonas Universal Pectin. If you’re making freezer jam, Ball Fruit Jell Freezer Jam Pectin also works well in a no- or low-sugar environment. Another alternative is using ClearJel Starch to create your fruit spread. ClearJel isn’t a pectin. It’s a modified cornstarch that–unlike regular cornstarch–has been approved for use in canning. All of these work well (in various ways) in a low- or no-sugar environment. Just follow their individual instructions, and–remember–fruit spreads are more science than art. They–especially when you’re using the Sure-Jell and Ball pectins–rely on that precise chemical reaction to gel, so you can’t get creative with your ingredients with them. However, Pomonas Universal, and ClearJel are more forgiving when it comes to substitutions. Rather than go into the individual properties of each here, I’ll post more on each one specifically in time. In the interim, just be sure to read the instructions for each one carefully before using it.
When it comes to canning pickles and other acidified foods, your job gets even easier. I’ve always had excellent luck substituting Splenda® for sugar in every recipe I’ve tried so far. Granted, I tend to like my sweet pickled things a little less sweet than most recipes create … so I tend to add my Splenda® to taste, rather than just substituting it cup-for-cup for the sugar in a recipe. Experiment and find what works for you! Also, as long as you use good, fresh vinegar (of at least 5% acidity) and follow proper BWB procedures for acidified foods, you should never have a shelf-life problem with your Splenda®-sweetened pickles, etc. In fact, we’re still eating pickles and relishes I made two and three years ago … without a single bit of diminished flavor or quality. If anything, they’ve gotten better with age
That covers canning. Stay tuned, and I’ll post soon about cooking and baking with Splenda®, too!