Substituting Sweeteners & Fats

Substituting different sweeteners in recipes

Most recipes that use white sugar can be adapted to use other sugars, both solid & liquid. For solid sugars it is usually a direct substitution based on weight; for example 150 g of castor sugar with 150 g of muscovado sugar. Do not substitute based on cup measures.  1/2 cup of castor sugar may weigh 125 g whereas 1/2 cup of muscovado sugar may weigh anywhere from 90 to 115 g or more depending on how firmly you press the sugar into the cup measure. If you wanted to substitute another sweet solid something other than a sugar for example dates into a recipe as your only source of sweetness then you need to have a conversion factor.

Dates are approximately 63% sugar (Monosaccharides). Other sources like the Australian Food Composition database have a value of 66%.  

For simplicity in working out the conversion factor I will say that dates are approximately 66% sugar or 2/3. To determine the weight of dates needed we need to do a little calculation. 

100 g castor sugar = 100%/66% x 100 g of dates = 100/2/3 g of dates = 100 g x 3/2 of dates = 150 g of dates. In this case the conversion factor is 1.5.

As dates are also 1/3 something other than sugar that also needs to be taken into consideration. For example dates are nearly 10% fibre, 150 g of dates will contain 15 g of fibre. Would this amount have an impact on the final product? It really depends on what the product is. I have made cookies that only contained dates as the sweetener and macadamia nuts as the fat. The fibre was not a problem. If I was trying to make meringues on the other hand - well, I just can't see it happening.

Meringues are one of the simplest products to make containing sugar. Basically they are sugar & egg white. The pile of meringues pictured below were made using different sugars (solid), refined and unrefined. They tasted differently depending on the type of sugar used. Needless to say the meringues made with molasses sugar had a very strong flavour. Afterwards I made some meringues using molasses (liquid). They were very light and the flavour was very strong and surprisingly salty. 


Of course there will be more of an adjustment when the substituting sugar is a liquid. If you want to substitute maple syrup for castor sugar & would like a similar level of sweetness then you need to work out a conversion factor. It is the same type of calculation that was used to determine the conversion factor for dates. The sugar content of maple syrup is 88% (Disaccharides).

100 g of castor sugar = 100%/88% x 100g of maple syrup = ~115 g (the real answer is 113.6 - it would be impractical to be this precise and certainly unnecessary). For maple syrup the conversion factor is 1.15.

Once the conversion factor and therefore the amount of syrup that is required for a particular recipe has been determined then an adjustment to the amount of liquid in the recipe can be made. Decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe in proportion with the amount of syrup you will put in;

for example if 250 ml (= 250 g) of water is used and you have added 150 g of syrup then decrease the amount of water to 100 ml (g).

Using a liquid sweetener is a little more difficult if there is no liquid in the recipe but it's not impossible. Sponges usually have no added liquid, the only liquid comes from the eggs used. The sponges (photo below) contain different sweeteners, both solid and liquid. Those made with the liquid sweeteners (agave - 2nd layer from the top right hand side and rice malt syrup - top layer) have sunk a little. If I were to make these again I would increase the amount of starch used. 


Major reconstruction is required if the recipe contains a solid sweetener, no eggs as well as no liquid & no butter and you want to use a liquid sweetener (I can't at the moment think of a recipe but I'm sure there is one). In this case the starches and flours you would use need to be changed/adjusted. 

It is not a direct substitution if using products containing erythritol (see sugar alcohols - polyols) for example Natvia or Norbu as they are different in both sweetness & taste. In addition their cooking properties are different. I attempted to make a number of things out of Natvia. Some worked, some didn't - it was trial & error. However, it really doesn't take too long in working out what you can & can't make. If I become a diabetic again due to medication I would probably use Norbu in baking to satisfy any sweet cravings.     


Substituting different fats/oils in recipes

A lot of recipes have butter in them. I love the taste of butter however, both butter and cocoa butter contain more than 60% saturated fats whereas the majority of plant and nut oils contain less than 30% (See Comparison of Fats & Oils). You can substitute plant oil or whole nuts instead of a fat in a recipe. Due to the diverse nature of fats the resulting product might be similar to the original but will not be the same. There are a few things that need to be considered when substituting fat in a recipe.

  • Does the product depend on the fat for its final shape? For example chocolate can be shaped because cocoa butter will be solid at room temperature – substituting oil (liquid at room temperature) for cocoa butter will not result in a product of the same shape.
  • Does the recipe make use of butter as an emulsified solid fat? For example butter cream icing.
  • Is anything else being substituted in the recipe that will impact on the amount of fat required? For example wheat flour with gluten free. Different flours have different abilities to absorb fat; depending on the fat used the product may seem to be “drier”.
  • Are nuts going to be the only source of fat (apart from eggs) in the product? Nuts are rich in fat but they also contain proteins, fibre and carbohydrates, these other components may change the texture of the final product. Although peanuts are approximately 50% fat, they also contain 25% protein, 9% carbohydrate and 8% fibre.
  • Does the product depend on the “mouthfeel” of butter or cocoa butter? Mouthfeel will differ with fats and oils. There is a vast difference in the mouthfeel of an oil (oily) and the emulsified product of that particular oil (creamy).
  • At what temperature will the product be served? Does it need to be solid or liquid at room temperature?
  • What will you be using to make the product? Stab blender? Stand mixer? Thermomix? By hand? There may be differences in the final product if you use different devices.

For reference I have included a table on the fat content of Nuts & Creams.

Converting recipes containing suet. Suet is the fat from around the kidneys. It used to be used a lot in Christmas puddings & some of your grandmothers or great grandmothers recipes may contain suet. Nowadays people tend to substitute in butter. Another fat that I think would make a wonderful substitute & it is similar in profile (See Comparison of Fats & Oils) & melting temperature is cocoa butter. Cocoa butter has the added advantage as it is a dairy free plant based option. It is a straight substitution based on weight.    

One of the simplest fat substitutions is probably from butter to oil in a cake. Lets say the cake is a stir all ingredients by hand & pour into a tin type of cake. The butter in the recipe would at least be softened if not melted. The recipe may have 125 g of butter in it. Based on total weight a straight substitution with oil would be 125 g of oil. However, butter is ~80% fat (125 g X 80% = 100 g pure fat) and ~15% water (125 g X 15% = ~19 g water). Is the amount of water present in the butter necessary for the cake? It will really depend on how much liquid is in the recipe. There is a lot of difference between a recipe with 125 ml (1/2 cup) and 20 ml (1 tbs - Australian) of liquid. If the recipe had 20 ml of liquid in it I would substitute the 125 g of butter with 100 g of oil & 20 ml of water.

Another thing to remember is salt. Unless a recipe specifies unsalted butter you may need to include a pinch of salt when you add your butter substitute.  

Substituting butter for dairy free margarine. This is usually a straight substitution but there are a few things that need to considered. Most magarines (70% fat) have a higher water content (~30%) than butter (15%). Depending on the amount of butter in the original recipe you may need to modify the amount of liquid added. Remember low fat margarines (~50% fat) also contain ~50% water. If the recipe needs 250 g of butter (it will contain ~40 ml of water) using 250 g of a low fat margarine will mean you are adding an additional 85 ml of water (50% x 250 = 125, 125 - 40 =85). Furthermore the amount of fat you have added will not be the same. It is ~200 g (butter) or 125 g (margarine). Will changing the amount of fat matter? It will depend on the recipe.  

A slightly different substitution is from butter to nuts. In this case you need to know the fat content of your nut (a small number are listed in Nuts & Creams). Lets take macadamia nuts - they are ~75% fat. This time it is a biscuit recipe that we are converting. The ingredients include 125 g chopped nuts, 125 g butter & 1 tbs of water.

125 g of butter contains 100 g of fat & ~19 g of water

If we want 100 g of fat to come from the macadamia nuts we need 

100 g of fat = 100%/75% g of macadamia nuts = ~133 g of macadamia nuts

We need at least 133 g of macadamia nuts. The 100 g of fat in the butter is fully available to bind with the flour in the recipe. This is not the case for the macadamia nuts. They will need to be finely ground before using them in the recipe. If you can make a completely smooth puree of the nuts - no lumps at all - you will probably only need the 133 g. However, if there are little lumps in the ground macadamia nuts you will need to add more than the 133 g. A bit of trial & error will be required in determining how much more you will need to add.

Macadamia nuts are also ~6% fibre. 133 g X 6% fibre = ~8 g fibre

If I was converting this recipe I would use 150 g of macadamia nuts & puree them with 2 tbs (40 ml) of water - 1 tbs from the recipe & the other from the butter - in my Thermomix. I would add the 125 g of chopped nuts. I would decrease the amount of flour needed by 10 g because of the presence of ~10 g of fibre in the pureed nuts.

Substituting cream with coconut cream. Substituting cream with coconut cream is going to depend on the specific recipe. If you want whipped cream as a garnish for a dessert it might be a bit difficult to have whipped coconut cream. In this case I probably would store the coconut cream in the fridge. When the cream has solidified (& hopefully separated) I would open the can & scoop out the solidified cream at the top of the can. I would use this solidified coconut cream in the place of whipped cream. This of course depends on the colour of the coconut cream, if it is really grayish I wouldn't do it. If you want a dairy free ganache substituting coconut cream for cream is relatively easy. 

The amount of fat in different brands of coconut cream will vary. The value listed in Nuts & Creams should be used as a guideline only. Use the value in the nutritional panel on the back of your product. For example I have a tin of AYAM brand Premium Coconut Cream, this contains 29.3 g of fat/100 ml. Normal thickened cream is ~35 g/100 ml. As these values of fat content are reasonably similar I am going to use a straight substitution when making ganache. 


To make a dairy free ganache with coconut cream you need dairy free dark chocolate ( a bit obvious). The dark chocolate you use may need a little boost of sweetness. If this is the case dissolve some sugar in the coconut cream before adding it to the chocolate. Make the ganache as you normally would.

BTW the coconut cream ganache is on the right the ganache made with cream on the left.