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Taste Test

Bake With Low-Calorie Sugar Substitutes, and It'll Cost You

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By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

In the baking universe, comparing sugar substitutes to the real thing may be asking too much of them.

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The substitutes allow some people who can't use sugar to enjoy sweet baked goods; fewer people choose to use the substitutes just to reduce calories. Cup for cup, they are considerably more expensive than sugar.

On Tuesday, the Health section looked at the science and nutrition of low-calorie sugar substitutes. Lean Plate Club columnist Sally Squires asked the Food section to evaluate some products, available to home cooks, that are specifically designed to help create baked goods.

Before we began testing, we sent a set of them to Marcy Goldman, a baker and cookbook author in Montreal.

For her, there is no substitute. "Sugar is a carrier of flavor," she says. "A concertmaster. It introduces moisture to a cake as a humectant sweetener."

Even though some of the substitutes recommend equal-measure usage to sugar, they don't act as sugar does, providing the same moisture, browning or flavor, Goldman says. A few that offer brown sugar blends or substitutes do provide more flavor, we found, especially in chocolate chip cookie recipes.

We decided to let the manufacturers put their best foot forward and tested seven brands, using the cake, cookie and quick-bread recipes that were developed for their products.

In general, those that generated a cool aftertaste on the tongue produced that same aftertaste in the baked goods. We detected some aftertaste in almost all the baked goods, in fact. The sugar substitutes with a powdery consistency did not aerate butter as well as sugar does in that usual first step of beating to form a light and fluffy base. Maltodextrin, a thickening agent, can cause a heaviness or sponginess in the batter or dough.

It seems that, even using the equal-measure substitutes, much trial-and-error baking would be required to achieve the right sweetness and texture for baked goods that rise.

Here are our assessments of the products we tested, in order of preference:

BEST

ยท WHEY LOW GRANULAR (an all-natural blend of fructose, sucrose and lactose; 4 calories per teaspoon; 2 pounds, $9.99 to $10.99, available at Roots Markets in Olney and Clarksville or order online at http://www.wheylow.com).

On its own: powdery and cotton-candy sweet on the tongue, with a slightly sour smell.


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