Make Your Own Sugar Substitutes!

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I love desserts. You love desserts. But, sugar wreaks havoc on our bodies, leading to diabetes, disease, cancer, obesity, mood swings, and a host of other health problems. In a study in 2009, the average American was said to consume 22 teaspoons per day of added sugar, with teens coming in at 34. It's a problem. 
But, if you have intense sugar cravings and know you can't kick the habit, learn how to make healthier choices (and no, I do not mean Equal or Splenda). Fruit is one of the most natural sources of sugar. You'd be surprised at how a piece of fruit can really kill those cravings. 
In the kitchen, the thing I get most excited about is baking. Twenty minutes into it, our kitchen looks like a tornado has blown through it, with bits of organic sugar, dates, shredded coconut and mixed batters dotting our once pristine countertops. Alex will sit at the bar, watching me and smile. "I love how much you love this. No one destroys a kitchen like you."
No matter the intention, sometimes it's hard to commit to vegan baking, especially when you are really just using slightly healthier versions of packaged sugar. So, perusing my handy staple, The Complete Guide To Vegan Substitutions, I took it upon myself to try their suggestions. Not only are these sugar substitutions easy, they are just as tasty - if not more so - than using regular sugar. Enjoy! 
DATE SUGAR
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pitted dates for 10 minutes. Grind in food processor. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Best used for cooking applications rather than baking. Add to breakfast and beverages.
POWDERED SUGAR
Using a blender or food processor, blend evaporated cane juice until powdery. If your blender isn't powerful enough, you can add 2 tbs. cornstarch to 1 cup cane juice and blend until powdery. 
MAPLE SYRUP SUBSTITUTE
Whisk 1 tsp. maple extract into 1 cup brown rice syrup or agave nectar for that same flavor of maple syrup! 
CHOCOLATE SAUCE/SYRUP
Combine 1/4 cup liquid sweetener, such as pure maple syrup, agave nectar, or brown rice syrup, with 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, a pinch of salt, and 1 to 2 tsp. brewed coffee, stirring until the sauce is perfectly smooth. Add pure extracts or orange zest for extra flavor. (You can replace the coffee with nondairy milk.) Store in airtight container in fridge. Keeps for a week.
SUGAR SYRUPS
Combine 1 cup Sucanat (sugar cane natural) or any dry sweetener alternative (doesn't work with stevia or xylitol) with 1/2 cup water in saucepan. Bring to a boil and lower heat immediately so it doesn't overflow. Stir and simmer until crystals dissolve. The syrup will thicken as it cools. Add flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla, or other extracts. Add to waffles and pancakes. If you try it with the date sugar, you will need up to 2 cups water and you must blend the mixture until smooth. 
FRUIT PUREES
Combine equal parts of any dried fruit and water in a saucepan. Simmer for 15 minutes. Blend. Dried plums or dates are best! You can mix into unsweetened nondairy yogurts or in oatmeal for a dose of healthy sweetness. 
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