Valentine’s Day is coming up and I am imaging the ill-fated reaction to healthy chocolate treats. But, thankfully I’ve spent the better part of January experimenting with cacao, chocolate as well as some sugar alternatives.
We’ve all read the headlines—“Chocolate is Good for Your Health!” Well, in part it is true. First, let’s distinguish between cacao and cocoa very quickly and how they are used in baking. All chocolate derivations begin from the cacao pod, which contains cacao seeds or beans. The cacao seed, peeled and crushed is what we find in stores as cacao nibs. They are higher in calories than cacao powder because they still contain the cacao butter. Cold-pressed cacao beans with the cacao butter removed turns into cacao powder. Cacao powder is a slightly more bitter than cocoa powder, which has been made from beans that have been roasted.
At first I was a little terrified of sugar alternatives, but I want to distinguish them from their cancer-causing-name-sharing cousins. I don’t use artificial sweeteners—aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine—just to name a few, in cooking or baking or drinking for that matter. There is just too much controversial evidence against them and there are many natural sweeteners and sugar substitutes that offer equally compelling taste.
Dates, honey, maple syrup, stevia, monk fruit, and coconut sugar are just some of the natural sweeteners to use. If you are looking for a lower glycemic sugar, some people turn to sugar alcohols such as erythritol. Sugar alcohols are not digested, and can cause other digestive issues if you already suffer from them, especially when used in large quantities. I like to use a blend of erythritol and stevia for a few “treat” recipes that require the specific consistency of sugar to uphold a recipe, but without the glycemic-load. The Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins paired well with a erythritol and stevia blend to create that crispy muffin top, which to be frank is what really distinguishes a muffin from a cupcake.
And finally, sometimes a recipe just doesn’t work without sugar, so I opt to use much less like in these Vanilla Meringue Cookies.