Although sugar and tea have long been companions, the rise in health issues like obesity and diabetes has caused many to give up this classic sweetener.
However, with the increasing variety of potential sweeteners, it can be difficult to discern the right amount or even the best option. Here’s a cheat-sheet to help you navigate the murky waters of artificial (and natural) sweeteners for your tea. First up, let’s start out with a quick look at artificial sweeteners, then we’ll move on to natural sweeteners (and zero-calorie natural sweeteners!)
Most artificial products are a great deal sweeter than sugar but are safe for diabetics as they have been altered to be processed differently from sugars. However, these zero calorie sweeteners come with a bitter aftertaste. The main artificial non-caloric sweeteners include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, or Equal, Sweet’n’Low, and Splenda as they are better known. One packet generally translates into 2 teaspoons of sugar, and all pair best with teas that have a similarly strong taste profile
White sugar is the most common natural sweetener, but it requires a long extraction process from sugarcane or sugar beet that includes chemical refining and bleaching. Other sweeteners have been gaining traction among tea drinkers, even including less refined but richer raw sugar.
- Honey effectively removes bitterness and brings out floral notes; however, it should be not be boiled to remain effective and should be added in moderation as it is usually very sweet.
- Agave syrup has half as much sugar as honey or table sugar for a similar kick of sweetness. It can be used in small amounts and is especially well-suited to subtler white and oolong teas.
- Maple syrup has fewer calories than honey but similar sweetness; both it and more mildly sweet brown rice syrup best complement nutty and fruity teas.
- Coconut oil adds a lightly sweet, earthy flavor but should be added in small amounts.
- Coconut sugar offers a similar sweetness as table sugar but with a lower glycemic rating.
- Blackstrap molasses adds a toasty, bitter flavor so should be used with bold, powerful teas.
- Sugar syrup provides a liquefied variation on white sugar for use in cold drinks, in particular.
All have lower glycemic indices than table sugar, though coconut sugar and molasses have added benefits in terms of high vitamin and mineral contents. Unlike artificial sweeteners, each tea drinker will have to test how much to add to their tea in order to craft the perfect cup of tea.
Natural non-caloric sweeteners
The smallest sub-group of sweeteners includes low-calorie, natural sweeteners created from sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol that result from corn or sugarcane fermentation. With an average of 2 calories per gram, these are about half as sweet as sugar, do not produce spikes in blood glucose, and they support dental health.
While each packet equals roughly 2 teaspoons of table sugar, sugar alcohols do have the potential to create a mild laxative effect. In contrast, extracts of plants like stevia and monkfruit, which are much sweeter than table sugar, provide more refined sweeteners. In tablet, powder, or syrup, stevia in particular creates a smooth but slightly bitter, liquorice flavor profile that pairs well with bold-tasting teas. As with natural sweeteners, start small to see what suits your tea.