Sweet Substitutions: Baking with No-Calorie Stevia

Turn over a new leaf in the quest for lower-calorie baking ingredients and explore the sweetening properties of stevia.

This intense sugar alternative, derived from the leaves of a species of stevia plants native to South America, is virtually calorie-free. Imagine sweet tea that doesn’t put a dent in your calorie allowance, or light fruit salads and gelatin desserts without the sugar high (and subsequent crash).

If you want to use stevia for a low-cal alternative to your favorite brownie or cookie recipe, however, you’ll need a game plan. Replacing sugar with stevia in baking requires experimentation and even different expectations, according to culinary experts, because stevia is 100 times (or more) sweeter than sugar but doesn’t have its other properties.

Sugar vs. Stevia

Sugar adds caramelized flavor, brown color, volume and tenderness to baked goods. Stevia can completely change the taste and texture of your dessert.

People who have dietary restrictions and crave the occasional cookie or cake might find all-stevia-sweetened desserts acceptable. But otherwise, you may not want to use 100 percent stevia in a baked good.

Mix it up

Switching from sugar to stevia doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, however. You can still cut calories and carbohydrates with acceptable baking results if you use a combination of stevia and sugar.

Commercial sugar/stevia baking blends are recommended. Or you can become a DIY food scientist, mixing sugar with powdered stevia until you get the results you want.

Making adjustments

Remember that when you substitute stevia for part or all of the sugar in a recipe, you’re also changing the volume because you need only a fraction of stevia compared with the amount of sugar you’re replacing. With Truvia Baking Blend of sugar and stevia, for example, 1/4 cup of the product is equal in sweetness to ½ cup sugar.

To make up for the difference in volume, try adding a mashed banana or mashed sweet potato.

You’ll also need to use a different test for doneness than you would use for sugar-based goods.

Stevia and health

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a highly purified form of the sweetener for consumption, made from an extract of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, but not whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extracts.