I’m not a big fan of processed foods. So, it seemed strange for me to be using Ideal, even though the sugar substitute is said to be 99 percent natural.
The product is made with xylitol, which, according to the package, is a “natural sweetener found in fruits and vegetables.” Our bodies also produce it “as part of everyday metabolism,” it goes on to say.
The carbohydrate count was 1.5 grams per teaspoon with no grams of sugar, which is good news for those, like myself, with diabetes.
Still, I haven’t been too fond of other sweeteners I’ve tried in the past. I grew up on Tab, so I acquired a taste for saccharine at an early age. I even search out a Diet IBC Root Beer on a rare occasion because it’s sweetened with it.
But I don’t want to cook with it. I don’t even like its flavor in iced tea.
If that’s how I feel about my favorite sugar substitute, you can imagine what I think of the rest.
I get woozy whenever I ingest Aspertame, a feeling that’s followed by something akin to a punch in the kidneys – and I won’t even mention the flavor. Splenda, meanwhile, has an aftertaste that’s shrill and acrid. Stevia in crystalline form is more bitter than sweet, when you taste it by itself; used in something, it has no discernible flavor at all.
So, when Don Godleski, better known as “Chef Ozzie,” came to the stock show to talk up Ideal from Heartland Sweeteners, I admit I was skeptical.
Yet he had some persuasive arguments on his side.
One is that xylitol is said to be better for your teeth than sugar, and dental caries can be an increased problem for diabetics. Tom’s of Maine includes it in its toothpaste.
Another is that it is low on the glycemic index, which means it won’t affect a person’s blood sugar levels. Again, good news.
Chef Ozzie also said that using Ideal instead of sugar in tandem with a training program to get him ready for a mini-marathon have helped him lose 17 pounds. That’s something many of us, diabetic or not, could use.
OK, but what about the ease of cooking with it? And, more importantly, the flavor?
If you’re baking, you use the same amount of Ideal as you would sugar. (This is the version that comes in the larger, 5.3-ounce bags you’ll find at your local H-E-B in the baking section, not the packets meant for sweetening coffee and tea.)
And if you want powdered sugar, toss it into your food processor with a touch of cornstarch, he said.
There are only two things in the kitchen that Chef Ozzie has discovered that one can’t do with Ideal: It won’t feed the yeast in bread recipes and it won’t caramelize.
Yeah, yeah, I can hear you say: What about the taste?
Pretty good when tasted by itself. It certainly had a more natural sweetness than other sugar substitutes I’ve tasted, and it didn’t have the purgative affect that maltitol has.
Though Chef Ozzie whipped up a comforting apple enchilada with plenty of cinnamon and whipped cream on top, I had to try the product myself.
So, I whipped up a batch of scones, using Ideal inside the dough and with an egg brush on top. The process in using the new ingredient was no different from using sugar. The dough became as fluffy as before, and it baked at the same temperature.
A pair of finicky friends could not tell that I was not using sugar, and they devoured every last scone in sight. That’s always a good sign.
I also tried it in a pitcher of lemonade, cooking the xylitol into a simple syrup before adding it to the lemon juice and carbonated water. It didn’t interfere with the lemon flavor, which was just fine with me.
I’m still a little skeptical about some of the claims both Ideal and Chef Ozzie are making. But I will say that I agree we could stand to break ourselves from our sugar addiction.
I’m now putting the question to you. Do you use sugar substitutes? Which ones? Why? Please post your answers below.