Traditional recipes

What's the Best-Tasting Artificial Sweetener for Your Coffee?

What's the Best-Tasting Artificial Sweetener for Your Coffee?

There are many mantras in the world of coffee, one of them being that a truly excellent cup of coffee does not require cream or sugar. But if you're like the majority of Americans, you might need a little something sweet in your coffee (or tea!) to kick-start your morning. And that leads us to the wacky world of artificial sweeteners. With choices ranging from your grandma's Sweet'N Low to your cool mom's Truvia to the cancer-causing (maybe) aspartame to the good-for-you Stevia, how are you to know what to put in your coffee?

Click here for The Artificial and Natural Sweetener Taste Test Slideshow

You'd be surprised to know that the little box of sweeteners at your coffee shop goes back to the 1870s, when saccharin was first discovered. It wasn't until World Wars I and II, when sugar was rationed, that the use of saccharin grew overnight. But the backlash against saccharin grew strong in 1960, when studies linked it to cancer in rats. After the FDA came out to ban the use of saccharin in the '70s (and placed moratoriums on the ban to allow for more research), the definitive conclusion is that saccharin is generally safe for consumption (and is now FDA-approved).

[slideshow: Then the light shone on aspartame, discovered in 1965. Aspartame is the sweetener that has become paired with the word "cancer" (seriously, hypochondriacs, don't Google aspartame). ABC News says more than 6,000 products now use aspartame, including diet beverages, dairy products, and desserts. It was linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches, memory loss, and depression in some studies, but the evidence didn't quite add up to support the claims. (WebMD notes that the only medical condition that could be triggered by aspartame is a "genetic condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU), a disorder of amino acid metabolism.")

Now, there are five artificial sweeteners on the market that are FDA-approved: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. And then there's Stevia, the natural, low-calorie sweetener that's also been thrown into the mix in recent years. It's nearly impossible to eat, or drink, something without these artificial sweeteners these days — and they have a real impact on your eating habits.

Said David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital to Harvard Health Blog, artificial sweeteners trick our brains into eating more (i.e. "I’m drinking diet soda, so it’s OK to have cake"). But how we taste artificial sweeteners, and sugar, has become the true danger of artificial sweeteners. "Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. A miniscule amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes," explained Ludwig.

And in our own taste test, that's what we noticed — it took much more sugar to add up to the sweetness of just a little bit of artificial sweetener. And the more sweetness your brain detects, the less you may be inclined to reach for a less sweetened food or drink, like fruit or (God forbid) water. However, it should be said that artificial and natural sweeteners do have some positives — especially for those watching their weight or looking to lower blood sugar levels (particular important for diabetics).

We decided to test-drive the pink, yellow, and blue packets you see at your local coffee shops ourselves. We tested six different sweeteners, three artificial, and three natural — and, of course, threw granulated white sugar into the mix to see if it could be detected among the bunch. We tasted them on their own, and in coffee, to rank our favorites in terms of taste, aftertaste, and overall sweetness. The results? Let's just say, the black coffee drinkers in the group felt validated in continuing to drink their coffee black.

The brands we tested:

Truvia
Sweet'N Low
Stevia Extract In the Raw
Splenda
Monk fruit In the Raw
Sugar
Equal

Click ahead to find the results of our taste test, in ascending order — and find out what's really in your sweetener.


Sugar vs. Artificial Sweetener: Which Wins In A Taste Test?

Artificial sweeteners are one of those eternally controversial topics in the food world. Some people swear by them, some people condemn them and new studies are constantly being released about their effects. On top of all the debate, new sugar substitutes seem to be coming out every year. Not the biggest fans of substitutes in general here at HuffPost Taste -- we opt for butter over margarine and real or no meat over the fake stuff -- we usually choose natural sugar over artificial sweetener. That said, we're certainly not strangers to sugar substitutes, and are always curious about the potential merits, faults and most importantly, taste of artificial sweeteners.

Your brain may know the difference between artificial sweeteners and sugar -- but do your taste buds? And which sweetener do they prefer? Some people may choose sweeteners based on the calorie content. While a zero-calorie sweetener might appeal to certain people, others will stay far away. If only taste and not calories were a factor, however, which sweetener would these people choose? We rounded up our most discerning HuffPost editors and put their taste buds to the test.

We tested 10 sweeteners, including real sugar and sugar in the raw, by adding the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar into eight ounces of black tea. We steeped one pot of tea and divided it into 10 cups, so that every sweetener was working its magic in the same exact substance. We then asked our editors to rate the taste on a scale of 1 to 10. We tested only powdered sugars, so we left out liquid varieties like agave or honey.

We also asked the editors to share which sweetener, if any, they typically use in their beverages. None of the reviewers use artificial sweeteners to sweeten their drinks -- they typically prefer sugar, honey or unsweetened beverages.

It turns out, according to our reviewers, real sugar tastes better than any artificial sweetener. It also appears that people hate erythritol, the key ingredient in the two least favorite sweeteners. Finally, we learned that Sweet 'N Low has cream of tartar in it. We'll leave you with that puzzling fun fact.

Here's how artificial sweeteners and real sugar stacked up, according to our blind taste test.

As always, this taste test is in no way influenced or sponsored by the brands included.


Want a Healthy Coffee Creamer? Avoid These At All Costs!

Have you looked at the nutrition label on the back of your favorite coffee creamer recently? If not, that’s a great place to start in your quest for a healthy coffee creamer.

While it’s important to know what healthy ingredients to look for, it’s also essential to know which ingredients aren’t doing your body any good.

Here are the top four toxic ingredients to avoid:

1. Sugar

Sugar can show up in sneaky places, your coffee creamer being one of them!

Popular coffee creamers, such as Coffee Mate, can include up to 5 grams of added sugar in a serving, which is not an ideal way to start your day.

Not only can sugar consumption put you on that horrible energy rollercoaster, but in the long run, it can lead to heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke, and weight gain, so it’s a smart choice to avoid it altogether in your coffee creamer.

2. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, such as Aspartame and Sucralose, are commonly added as a way to offset the amount of sugar in creamer. However, these substitutes can actually be more harmful to you than plain sugar!

Add artificial sweeteners to your morning cup of coffee and you’ll likely experience migraines, bloating, and even stomach distress (meaning, more trips to the bathroom!). Some studies even show that regular consumption can cause weight gain. Consume these chemicals over a longer period of time and you run the risk of long-term troubling health problems such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

3. Ingredients that Sound More Like Chemicals Than Food

You know the saying, “don’t eat anything your grandma wouldn’t recognize as food?” Well, it’s not a bad philosophy to live by and can be applied when searching for a healthy creamer!

Flip over to the label of your coffee creamer and it can quickly become apparent that it’s made up of several chemicals and artificial ingredients, rather than milk and cream alone.

Ingredients such as dipotassium phosphate, sodium sterol lactylate, and mono- and diglycerides are red flags when it comes to your health. These strange sounding ingredients translate to thickeners, buffering agents, and trans fat, which can lead to an array of health problems ranging from inflammation, to digestive issues, and even kidney failure.

4. Carrageenan

Carrageenan is a toxic thickening agent found in many foods, including your favorite organic coffee creamer. Although carrageenan is derived from (a seemingly healthy) red seaweed, it undergoes processing that produces an acidic solution which is toxic to health.

Numerous studies have shown that carrageen consumption can trigger inflammation and gastrointestinal ulcerations, as well as contribute to colon cancer. In fact, the evidence is so strong that Europe has banned carrageenan in many products!


Use in Cooking and Baking

Because many sugar substitutes are much sweeter than sugar, it takes a smaller amount to achieve the desired sweetness. Therefore, when cooking or baking, your recipe may need to be adjusted if you're swapping white table sugar for a sweeter alternative.

While the sweetener package may have specific instructions for cooking and baking, this may come down to trial and error (try to use less than you think at first and adjust accordingly after tasting), or you can search for specific recipes that use sugar substitutes or natural sweeteners in place of white sugar.

A few other things to be aware of when cooking and baking with alternative sweeteners:

  • Your baked goods may be lighter in color as natural sugar browns more deeply when baked and artificial sweeteners don't brown as nicely.
  • Cooking time may need to be adjusted.
  • There may be a texture or aftertaste you're not used to.
  • The volume of cakes or cookies may be slightly decreased as you're using much less sweetener.

The Five Best-Tasting No-Cal Stevia Sweeteners

The first time you learn about the existence of a totally natural sweetener with no carbs or calories, it feels like a long-awaited miracle. And then, shortly thereafter, comes the catch: Stevia may be zero-calorie, but it's nowhere near as delicious as real sugar. Actually, it can taste downright awful if you choose the wrong brand.

We're here to save you from awfulness: We made it our mission to find out once and for all the best-tasting brands of stevia that come as close as possible to real sugar. Here are our top five favorites:

5. Stevia in the Raw Zero-Calorie Sweetener

4. Truvia
Perhaps the most popular brand (and the one available at cafes at most Whole Foods), Truvia looks and tastes most like granulated sugar if you were to dip your finger into a packet. But the brand also has a strong artificial-fruit aftertaste&mdashalmost like cotton candy&mdashwhen mixed into beverages or poured in cereal, yogurt, and other foods. That may be because the first ingredient listed is erythritol, a sugar alcohol that has a distinctly fruity flavor on its own.
Best for: If you're a stevia virgin&mdashdue to its similarity in look and texture to sugar, this is the ideal gateway sweetener. Sold at most major supermarkets.

3. NOW Foods Organic Better Stevia Extract Powder

2. SweetLeaf Natural Stevia Sweetener
This isn't quite as sweet as our winning brand&mdashthe first ingredient here is inulin fiber, a tasteless volumizing agent&mdashso it's a good choice if you like a mild sweetness. It's got a very slight bitter aftertaste, but it's not a deal-breaker. Sold at specialty health stores and most supermarkets.
Best for: If you've used stevia in the past and are looking for a brand that you can find in nearly every mainstream store.


Sweet Relief?

During her hilarious routine “Goodbye, Saccharin,” the late, great Gilda Radner once explained, “Statistics prove that most guys prefer skinny girls with cancer over healthy girls with bulging thighs.” Radner nailed two key American health obsessions in that one line—cancer and weight—both of which are tied up in our attitudes toward sugar and the various substitute products for it on the market.

I admit it: I’m a real-sugar snob, mostly because I do a lot of baking. Sugar in baking has textural relevance it makes foods moist, tender, more caramelized or brown (“done” looking), and provides structure and volume. Nevertheless, I was intrigued when I recently heard about Splenda. This is a new sugar substitute that my many friends on the Zone and Atkins diets have been loudly advocating. Made from sucralose, a calorie-free chemical that happens to contain sugar but is not absorbed by the body, it is sort of like olestra but without the “passive oil loss.” (And, as the health notes on the Splenda Web site explain cheerily, it also offers “no active transport … across the blood-brain barrier.”) Splenda is the next great white hope in the crowded artificial sweetener niche.

As a pseudo home economist, I wondered what the difference was between the taste of sugar—the stuff that God gave his children—and its substitutes—tested on lab rats to satisfy the sweet tooth of the weight-conscious. (Well, that’s not totally fair they’re also for diabetics and others who must regulate their blood’s sugar content.) If the new sugar substitutes are healthier than the old, why not switch if you can’t notice a difference in taste? Maybe it’s high time for me to get off my high horse.

The Contestants and the Science

Splenda: The new sucralose-based sweetener. Contains no calories.
Health notes: Even though it’s made from sucrose, sucralose is not broken down by the body (very, very little of it is absorbed, and that tiny amount is excreted the natural way) as a result, the Food and Drug Administration has approved it for all people, including those with diabetes. It has been submitted to rigorous tests and has proven to be nontoxic, noncarcinogenic, and noncarbohydrate.

Equal: Controversial because it contains aspartame. Equal has been on the market since 1981 and contains no calories.
Health notes: Aspartame has been the subject of major health debates and the rumored cause of all sorts of cancers (especially brain cancer), though it was approved by the FDA and continues to be sold. The American Cancer Society takes great pains to explain all of the many scientific tests aspartame has been subjected to, none of which conclusively proves that it causes cancer. However, it is true that an increase in reported incidences of brain cancer occurred at the time aspartame was introduced to the market, though no one has been able to successfully draw a link between these two events. One thing is sure: Aspartame is harmful to people who have phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder sufferers from this cannot metabolize one of the acids in aspartame and should not consume it.

The Centers for Disease Control were pelted with consumer health complaints after aspartame was introduced but found them to be minor and issued a statement saying that “although it may be that certain individuals have an unusual sensitivity to the product, these data do not provide evidence for the existence of serious, widespread, adverse health consequences attendant to the use of aspartame.” The ACS says, “Current evidence does not demonstrate any link between aspartame ingestion and increased cancer risk.” Plenty of people disagree with the CDC click here to find out more about them.

Sugar: The real thing, Domino Cane Sugar. Contains 15 calories per teaspoon.
Health notes: Sugar, of course, is the natural carbohydrate found in fruits and vegetables it is separated from sugar cane (and sometimes beets) and sold for commercial use. The Food and Drug Administration’s report, Evaluation of the Health Aspects of Sugars Contained in Carbohydrate Sweeteners, was a comprehensive assessment that affirmed that sugar does not cause diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypoglycemia, childhood hyperactivity, or nutrient deficiencies. Overconsumption of it, however, can cause all of those things. (A diet that consists of 10 percent of total calories coming from sugar is recommended by the FDA.)

Sugar in the Raw: Made from pure Hawaiian cane sugar, these are chunky, granular brown nuggets (thanks to natural molasses flavors in the cane). Contains 15 calories per teaspoon.
Health notes: Sugar in the raw’s health profile resembles that of regular granular sugar, and overconsumption of it has the same hazards.

Sweet ‘N Low: The first name-brand sugar substitute (or “tabletop sweetener”) released in the U.S. market more than 40 years ago. These pink packets of saccharin contain no sugar and no calories.
Health notes: Saccharin was “discovered” in 1879 by scientists at Johns Hopkins University and remained controversial until fairly recently. The most damaging report about saccharin appeared after a 1977 Canadian lab test showed bladder tumors in male rats that had been subjected to large amounts of saccharin. These results were later disputed because it was determined that the animals were fed the human equivalent of hundreds of cans of diet soft drinks per day for a lifetime. After many, many more tests could not link saccharin conclusively with cancer, in May 2000, the National Toxicology Program took saccharin off its Report on Carcinogens. On Dec. 21, 2000, President Clinton signed a bill allowing the removal of saccharin’s warning label.

Sugar Twin: Sugar Twin is a saccharin-based sweetener just like Sweet ‘N’ Low. It bills itself as a cheaper alternative. It contains no calories.
Health notes: See Sweet ‘N Low.

Two tests are required here, one in which sugar substitutes go up against plain old granulated sugar in a daily use (beverage sweetening) and one in which sugar substitutes go up against the real thing in the other main sweetener arena: baking.

Test 1: Iced Tea
I brewed six tall glasses of fresh iced tea and sweetened them with, respectively, sugar, sugar in the raw, Sugar Twin, Sweet ‘N Low, Equal, and Splenda. I wanted to gauge the sweetness, so I used two tablespoons of real sugar. Because many of these sweeteners require adjustments (Sweet ‘N Low, for example, is much sweeter than sugar one pink packet is equal to two teaspoons of sugar), I followed package instructions to equalize the sweetness levels. Then I did a blind taste of each of the products I did not know which tea contained which type of sweetener, and I ranked my preferences:

Test 2: Baking
Can a substitute, with the help of adjustments (say, adding more baking soda into a recipe or by combining the sweetener with molasses—standard diabetic baking book tricks) really compete? It’s not enough to prove that iced tea, which is my main poison, may taste OK with sugar substitutes, so I baked six batches of apple muffins and subjected a bunch of friends at a dinner party to them as I compiled the results of my own blind taste test. I tried the six samples without knowing which muffin contained which sweetener. If you want your friends to chide you endlessly about your profession, I suggest trying this at home. Our results:

From here, we were subjected to a huge drop-off in flavor and texture. Both the sugar in the raw muffins and the Equal muffins were barely edible, the former being flavorless (I think the big granules don’t melt so well in batters and would be better used sprinkled on top of the muffins) and the latter being anemic-looking, not sweet at all.

The Verdict

So, I guess there’s a point to be made about Splenda, and that point is that the stuff really doesn’t taste so bad. And you don’t even digest it! As far as the other sugar substitutes, such as Sweet ‘N Low and Equal, my advice is to pick your (fake) poison: If you must use one, try Splenda in your coffee and Sweet ‘N Low or Sugar Twin in your baking. But I’m just talking taste here. When it comes to health, I think it’s awfully good that there’s an all-clear, so to speak, on saccharin I’m a little more wary of Splenda and Equal, both newer and both with less clear test results. However, in the end I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with these engineered sugar substitutes so long as I can still pick up 5-pound sacks of Domino’s. Even though my taste buds were obviously confused when it came to iced tea, I’m going to remain a sugar snob. Life is short, you know.


5. Picnik Vegan Creamer

Best for: Plant-based diets

Multipurpose, MCT oil, unsweetened

She&rsquos plant-based, paleo, keto and shockingly creamy. Cashew milk, coconut cream and MCT oil give the creamer lots of buttery, nutty notes that will hold up beautifully in smoothies or baked goods. It&rsquos got four grams of fat&mdashthree of which are saturated&mdashand some fiber, so it can aid in holding you over between meals. While it isn&rsquot sweet, it cuts through black coffee&rsquos bitterness without any additional sweeteners. But if your usual café order calls for flavor syrup, you may want to add a keto-friendly, zero-calorie sweetener or sugar-free syrup that&rsquoll keep you happy *and* in ketosis. Don&rsquot worry if the creamer separates in your coffee. If you try it and fall in love, save 10 percent on every future order by subscribing instead of making a one-time purchase. You can also incorporate this as a substitute for milk in lots of recipes, awesome for both vegan cooks and those with dairy sensitivities. Vegan keto ranch dressing, anyone?

Total PureWow100 Score: 90/100


Sucralose (Splenda)

Splenda contains the artificial sweetener Sucralose, which is 600 times sweeter than sugar, along with the bulk-adding maltodextrin. The latter enables Splenda to be used as a substitute for sugar in food recipes.

Advantages

  • Sucralose is calorie-free, is not considered a carbohydrate by the body, and has no effect on blood sugar levels.
  • It can be used as a baking ingredient, and doesn’t lose its sweetness with heat. In fact, Splenda is widely regarded as the best sweetener when it comes to baking and cooking.

Disadvantages

  • The bulking agents used in Splenda can add around 12 calories per tablespoon of the mixture – calories which are usually not listed on the packaging.
  • The use of Splenda can change the texture in baking recipes and can also add an ‘artificial’ taste when used as the only sweetener in the recipe.
  • There are claims that preliminary animal based studies have linked the use of Splenda to organ damage.
  • Studies in rats have found sucralose to be associated with reduced levels of beneficial bacteria within the gut. [99]

7. Monk Fruit Extract

Native to Southeast Asia, the monk fruit has been dried and used in herbal medicines for centuries. However, this substance actually contains mogrosides, which are 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar. The FDA has approved dried monk fruit to be used as a tabletop sweetener in smoothies or hot drinks. The best part is that monk fruit extract contains zero calories, zero carbohydrates and zero sugars. It&rsquos also a source of antioxidants. However, monk fruit is generally more expensive than other sweeteners, and some people may find that it has an unpleasant aftertaste.

Image courtesy of Amazon

Best Substitute For Baking

When looking for a sugar substitute to bake with you have to make sure the substitute you want to use is baking friendly because not all of them are. Some become harmful to the body at certain temperatures, and others just don’t taste good.

  • Splenda comes up again when searching for the best baking sugar substitute. It is thought to be the best sugar substitute for baking by many people, and has been proven to be the closest to real sugar as far as taste in baking.
  • Sweet N Low is another favorite artificial sweetener for bakers. It dissolves easily in hot and cold environments, so it is versatile and can be used in any of your favorite recipes. The product does not loose it’s sweetness when heated either, making it ideal for sweetening baked goods before or after cooking them. It is made with saccharin.

Sugar Alcohols

Diet foods and drinks are often sweetened with sugar alcohols, aka polyols, including with xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol or erythritol. Neither sugars nor alcohols, sugar alcohols are carbohydrates naturally present in certain fruits and vegetables with a chemical structure that partially resembles sugar and partially resembles alcohol.

On top of boasting a sweet taste, sugar alcohols perform a variety of useful functions for food manufacturers, including adding bulk and texture. They also have a cooling taste, which is why they are used in items such as gums and mints. And because the bacteria in your mouth cannot digest sugar alcohols, they won't cause cavities making them useful for "sugar-free" candies and gum.

Since sugar alcohols are incompletely absorbed and metabolized by the body, they contribute fewer calories than most sugars — zero to three calories per gram compared to four calories in a gram of sucrose. While most sugar alcohols are less sweet than sucrose, maltitol and xylitol are nearly as sweet. Manufacturers frequently use sugar alcohols in combination with other sweeteners to make foods taste good, so don't assume that a product made with these sweeteners is automatically sugar-free.

So far, there is no indication of serious health risks associated with frequent sugar alcohol consumption, but you still don't want to go overboard. "Many sugar alcohols are incompletely digested, essentially fermenting in our bellies, which can lead to gas, bloating and diarrhea," cautions Kimball. "Erythritol is one of the lower-impact sweeteners when it comes to GI issues and people can often handle it much better than other sugar alcohols including sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol."