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What Fruits and Vegetables Can Be Used to Sweeten Things?

 
master steward
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When we did our 3/6/20 shopping spree, I forgot to buy sugar.  Actually, I didn't buy it because I thought I had a 25 lb bag.  When I looked the bag says Morton, not sugar.

So I do have some honey that can be used for various things like baking, cereal, etc.

Are there any fruits and vegetables that can be used in place of sugar?
 
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I almost always sweeten with fruit. Raisins and dates are the most common (raisins can have some hint of flavor that could affect the outcome of some things).

Bananas of course, the more ripe the sweeter, and sweet apples(sauce).

As I've baked this way more, I've found I like the natural sweet flavor more than the overly sweet sugar or sweetener flavor. And that's from someone with a true sweet tooth.

Some people use apple juice, although I don't.
 
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I like the above post's ideas about sweet fruits. To add to the list, other notoriously sugary fruits are: pineapple, oranges, and grapes. I live a sugarfree lifestyle, so i use fruit as a nice treat and desert (to sweeten instead of sugar). When I make blended drinks i personally rely on grapes to sweeten. They do an excellent job and I find that grapes keep for longer than 'most' fruit- good point for COVID 19, i think. I also dont mind eating them slightly raisiny, tho.
Keep in mind, the more ripe the fruit, the more condensed and stronger the sugary taste will be :)

Cheers!!
 
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The classic mirepoix start to many French dishes (soups, stews, stocks and sauces) is onion, carrot and celery in ratios of 2-1-1.  The onion and carrot add a tremendous amount of sweetness.  You chop the three ingredients and slowly cook them to sweeten them—not too hot, as the goal isn't to caramelize the veggies.
 
Sonja Draven
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Those are great ideas, all! You've added to my list of things to try.

White sweet potatoes are naturally quite sweet too.

So many wonderful foods!
 
Anne Miller
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Sonja, I agree these are great suggestions! Thanks, everyone!  And most of these are things that I have.

I see a lot of experimenting in my future!

Has anyone tried beets?  I read that they can be grated to use instead of sugar.
 
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If you still have any squash from last year stored whole and uncooked, it's probably very sweet by now. They tend to get sweeter the longer they're stored.
 
Sonja Draven
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Anne, I think it depends greatly on the type of beet.
 
pollinator
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The lighter the colour, the sweeter the beet, I've always found, and within the same variety already a large difference can appear.

But the veggies that immediately came to my mind are Stevia, which I'm not growing myself, but it's supposed to be really sweet, and it's around at plant nurseries where I live, and I'm also thinking of Glycyrrhiza glabra, for which I don't know an English name - Google suggests liquorice, so maybe that, I know it's an ingredient in liquorice sweets. Also that I see at nurseries where I live, not commonly, just like Stevia isn't common, but it's available here for the more devoted gardener.
 
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I picked up a pack of sweet sorghum seeds to try this spring. Apparently the juice from the canes can be used to produce a sweet syrup.
https://agronomy.unl.edu/sweetsorghum

I also found a pack of stevia seeds at one of the garden centers, so plan to sow those this year, as well.

The only other thing I've used is the juice from boiling peaches. It definitely sweetens things up; but the peach flavor is strong in the juice.
 
Sonja Draven
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Kc Simmons wrote:I picked up a pack of sweet sorghum seeds to try this spring. Apparently the juice from the canes can be used to produce a sweet syrup.
https://agronomy.unl.edu/sweetsorghum

I also found a pack of stevia seeds at one of the garden centers, so plan to sow those this year, as well.

The only other thing I've used is the juice from boiling peaches. It definitely sweetens things up; but the peach flavor is strong in the juice.


Yes, sorghum syrup tastes a bit like mild molasses. It's pretty good. I hope it grows well for you!
 
pollinator
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A little bit of stevia goes a long way, so you may be ok with just a few plants on your windowsill.  It's also recommended to start seeds inside as they need warm conditions, and the germination rate isn't great.

Sugar beets are their own type of beet (wow, they're ugly!) with a few suppliers around.  They're the major source of regular white sugar anywhere it's too cold to grow sugar cane.

And skirret is called "sugar root" in German, so I gather they're very sweet.  I don't know as the rabbits keep devouring mine.  (sigh)
 
pollinator
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If you cook down fruit juices long enough they will be like a syrup or thick honey.  I like to cook apple cider down until it is a gel thicker than honey...about 1/2 cup yield per quart
 
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in Korean cooking, a grated Asian pear is often used instead of sugar in sauces. An apple works too (and I've often used that in baked goods to substitute both oil and sugar). Squash is an excellent idea.

(good luck starting the stevia. I grow it, but have always had trouble germinating it. If I get a chance this week I will start a thread on growing it, it's a great plant.)
 
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beets, there are even varieties called sugar beets
 
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Going from what Eric said, I've also cooked down grapes, blackberries, and watermelon (all separate, of course) and baked with the syrup/compote. Roasting fruit enhances the flavor and sweetness, and grilling adds another level of flavor. Roasted strawberries and grilled pineapple are both fantastic.

Roasting shredded coconut or nuts brings out their sweetness, too.
 
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If you poke a hole in a maple tree and boil down the sap it gets really sweet.  Probably not realistic for your situation but we use maple syrup for many sweetening needs.
 
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I like to use stevia as an extract, steeped in alcohol but it can be tooo sweet sometimes. I use licorice root also but mostly in spicy sweet things where that strong flavor fits. They to me have a similar flavor.. just opposite. Either licorice flavor with a little sweet or a lot of sweet with a little licorice flavor. Stevia to me has a weird licorice type aftertaste that I don't mind but friends and family aren't fond of. Using just a tiny bit of real sweetener sugar or honey or something seems to cut that flavor in drinks and such enough no one notices I've snuck it in so I can get a lot of sweet in a minuscule amount of actual sugar. Useless for baked good though that need the sugars for form or texture.

Also I personally think mixing my dark honey and dark maple syrups I use together gives things a little caramel flavor, yum.    
 
pollinator
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Starting at 16:46, they show how to make ApfelKult (? not sure of the spelling and Google isn't helping), which is a thick apple syrup.  Basically what Eric said about cooking down apple cider.

 
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Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, is very beloved by pollinators, and the leaves taste sweet to me, in a licorice kind of way.  Great with fruit.  It's a member of the mint family, without the conquer-the-world tendencies.
 
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Cinnamon makes everything taste sweet.  It is also a matter of getting used to less or no sugar, which is healthier in the long run.  We make Ostenbrot with no sweetener, just a tiny bit of dried fruit (raisins, papaya or such).  It is a traditional holiday German bread, made with yeast, dried fruit, and anise seed.  
 
pollinator
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I can verify what someone here posted about licorice.  A little bit of grated/shredded licorice root in an herbal tea mix makes it taste sweet without any added sugar.  However, it also makes it taste exceedingly like licorice!  It is a very overpowering flavor, so I always use it in small quantities.

Posters have mentioned making fruit juice syrups.  You can do this with most any juice, I would imagine.  It is a less-well-known tradition here in the South to cook watermelon juice down into a syrup.  Certainly date syrups and pomegranate syrups are widely used in Middle Eastern cuisines, no added sugar needed.
 
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Pineapples & coconuts. Pineapples you can grow in zone two on pots, but coconuts will in zone 10 so most of us can not do that.
Apples can sweeten some thing like winter squash, but cane sugar is one of the best or sugar beets which I know nothing about.
Again sugar cane has to be overed wintered in a green house above zone 8b, I am in zone 8a & I may try it after i have all the perennials that will live outside here.
Maple tree are the best, but there are about 5 or so trees that you can use, some are nut trees, but you can not get both syrups & nuts from the same tree.
So I want the nuts & timber from black walnuts, not syrup. You however can do as you see fit with your trees.
It is not a fruit, but I have to name the QUEEN of sweeteners HONEY from honey bees, got to bee the best sweetener out there & it came from plants, just not the fruit.
Sweet potatoes will sweeten up a bland winter squash when mashed up together.
 
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I also drink licorice in tea when I want something sweet but I dont actually want something sweet. Its quite nice :D

Maple syrup is a staple in our house. Depends on where you are in the world, but here in the centre-east portions of Canada maple syrup is a pretty normal substance that I highly suspect is found in most houses.  It is not as sweet as honey, and has a lovely flavour. You can also buy maple sugar, but *that* is quite pricy. Ive used maple syrup in place of sugar in cakes and muffins/cupcakes.

Honey, of course, is another one I use often.

For vegetables, carrots are pretty sweet. Squash can also be sweet, like pumpkins and butternuts. My mother in law traditionally makes a fatless, sugarless cake that is made with shredded carrots, ground walnuts, and finely chopped dates or figs. Beer goes into it. Its quite soft and sweet for a cake made without any added sugar  :) Her mother used to make it.

Balsamic vinegar can also be cooked down into a sweet syrup, although that is probably not economical at all. (I know I am not doing that with my bottle!).

Since I live in an urban area filled with people from everywhere, I was actually introduced to coconut sugar and date sugar some years back.

Coconut itself is sweet, so you could probably  use shredded coconut in dishes to impart sweetness. Especially if you toasted it first, then pulsed it. (It does have a distinctively coconut flavour though. As well, it is super absorbant)

Date sugar is literally dried dates that have been completely dried out and pulsed until powdered. I actually buy it sometimes in kilo bags now for my inlaws. (Available to us in middle eastern stores) My mother in law likes it. She puts in cakes and in rice pudding. Its lower glycemic index compared to sugar. It doesnt fully dissolve, since it is made of dried date. (My father in law tried sneaking it into his coffee once and it backfired, haha)

Fruit is also nice, as many others have mentioned. I always keep fruit stored in the house. A few cans of tropical pineapple, then at least a few jars of sour cherries (why ARE cherries called sour cherries when they are sweet?) I also keep some berries in the freezer. You can use the juice the fruit is jarred in. I always use the pineapple or sour cherry juice either in a dessert with the fruit, or to make cocktails, lol. Works for me.
 
Matthew Nistico
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Sionainn Cailís wrote:Coconut itself is sweet, so you could probably  use shredded coconut in dishes to impart sweetness. Especially if you toasted it first, then pulsed it. (It does have a distinctively coconut flavour though. As well, it is super absorbant)



I must respectfully disagree.  This could just be a difference of opinion, but I doubt it.  I have had disagreements in the past with at least two people over the "inherent sweetness" of coconut.  They find it strange when they see me adding shredded coconut to savory dishes like veggie fritters.  In each case, it turned out that their only experience or knowledge of coconut was in the moist shredded form found in little bags in the grocery store's bakery isle.  Which is always sweetened coconut!  But my friends didn't realize it; they just assumed coconut tastes like that naturally.

I was of course adding straight, unsweetened coconut to my fritters.  It is not easy to find.  In fact, you're not going to find it in most stores.  And if you ask "where is the unsweetened shredded coconut?" you're unlikely to find a store attendant who understands the difference.  I get mine from a small Middle-Eastern market in the next city over.  It is not at all sweet, not even a tiny bit, but I like to keep some around.  I also keep regular sweetened shredded coconut on hand for different recipes.

FYI, if you are ever tempted to try some straight, unsweetened coconut, and if you actually manage to get your hands on some, I'll warn you that it has a very different texture than the sweetened variety, which is unfortunate.  For some reason, it seems much drier and more powdery than you'd expect.  This makes me suspect that they process the regular sweetened shredded coconut with some substances other than just sugar.  Or perhaps it is just the brand and/or age and/or style of the particular unsweetened coconut I've encountered so far that makes it this way.  I couldn't say for sure.
 
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Just add frost!

Okay, okay, I'm having some contrarian fun.

But frost on carrot and beet tops (hilling the roots heavily so they don't freeze) makes the plant dump its sugars into the roots. After that, they're like candy.

Frozen fruit always ends up sweeter. If I was making country wine with fruit picked on site, I would definitely freeze it first, then ferment.

And everything is sweeter with country wine. So there you go!
 
pollinator
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I eat very little refined sugar, so I was looking forward to sharing my tips. But you guys covered every one!

On a side note...

Matthew Nistico wrote:

I was of course adding straight, unsweetened coconut to my fritters.  It is not easy to find.  In fact, you're not going to find it in most stores.  And if you ask "where is the unsweetened shredded coconut?" you're unlikely to find a store attendant who understands the difference.



I've never lived in the US, and little tidbits like this are fascinating to me. Every store I've ever bought dried coconut from here in Canada has had sweetened and unsweetened coconut stocked right next to each other.  And I've lived mostly in small towns. Such strange little differences!

 
S Tonin
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Matthew Nistico wrote:  For some reason, it seems much drier and more powdery than you'd expect.  This makes me suspect that they process the regular sweetened shredded coconut with some substances other than just sugar.  Or perhaps it is just the brand and/or age and/or style of the particular unsweetened coconut I've encountered so far that makes it this way.  I couldn't say for sure.



Sugar is a humectant (meaning it retains moisture), so it would make sense that sweetened coconut is chewy.  It's the same with ginger; candied ginger is soft enough to chew, but real dried ginger is hard as a rock.

A side note--I think it depends where in the country you are, because in my part of PA we've got sweetened and unsweetened shredded coconut at all the grocery stores right in the baking aisle, plus flaked, sliced, and powdered in the world foods/ ethnic aisle (Laxmi brand).
 
Matthew Nistico
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S Tonin wrote:Sugar is a humectant (meaning it retains moisture), so it would make sense that sweetened coconut is chewy.  It's the same with ginger; candied ginger is soft enough to chew, but real dried ginger is hard as a rock.

A side note--I think it depends where in the country you are, because in my part of PA we've got sweetened and unsweetened shredded coconut at all the grocery stores right in the baking aisle, plus flaked, sliced, and powdered in the world foods/ ethnic aisle (Laxmi brand).



Very interesting to learn that it's just my local stores that carry a limited variety.  And an excellent point about the candied ginger!  I hadn't thought about it like that, but of course you are right.
 
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