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How to reduce sugar in a baking recipe without wrecking the entire dish? Or, a savoury banana bread recipe?

I like eating baked goods, but I'm not a big fan of sweet stuff. I've made loads of savoury cakes and muffins and so forth, but I wonder what would happen if I just took a recipe for, say, banana bread and cut out the sugar completely. Would the bread fall flat/ not rise or something? How important is sugar to the rising process?

Specifically, I want to make a yoghurt banana bread (http://www.dailygarnish.com/2011/06/b... is the recipe I used) but it's very very sweet. I'd like to cut out the sugar completely, but I'm not sure what I should replace it with. I can only find recipes with sugar-replacements, but no savoury ones. So it would be great if someone could help me with either replacing the sugar with something else (like another egg or more flour or butter?) or if anyone has another banana bread recipe that is good and uses no sugar. I don't need the recipe to use yoghurt, I'm fine with eating butter.

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  1. I am a former pastry chef who dislikes sugar. I always start out reducing the sugar by 1/4 in any recipe except for ice cream and sorbet, where the sugar is needed for the correct texture. Sugar aids in browning for baked goods, but not that much is needed. In my experience, I often reduce it down to 1/2 that any recipe calls for, but never eliminate it entirely.

    I loathe sugar substitutes, but if your question reflects a physical aversion to sugar such as diabetes, I suggest using palm sugar, which is very low on the glycemic index. I buy it at the Asian grocer, and it needs to be finely chopped or grated, but if your baking is only occasional, it is worth the effort. I actually use it every day as I bake for a house with residents with mental illness and am forbidden to use refined sugar. With some skill with a chef's knife, I learned to shave it quickly, and it tastes sweeter than cane sugar, at least to my palate, so I use much less of it than I would use refined cane sugar.

    As a side note, light brown sugar, which is refined cane with molasses re-introduced, tastes sweeter than white sugar, and I use much, much less of that than white sugar when baking at home as a substitute. For example, in a chocolate torte that suggests one cup white sugar, I will use 1/3 cup light brown instead. Sorry, I don't have a recipe for sugarless banana bread per se.

    7 Replies
    1. re: pitterpatter

      pitterpatter, those are great tips. I, too, don't have much of a sweet tooth and appreciate barely-sweet desserts.

      What do you say about honey? I've not experimented much, but I did do a chocolate cake using honey in the amount of 1/2 the weight of refined sugar, and enjoyed the result.

      1. re: lidia

        I also use honey at work, though I personally loathe it. Honey is so sweet I find it can dominate whatever else is going on. One thing to know: sugar will obscure other flavors if not used in moderation. Ever have a chocolate cake that doesn't taste like chocolate? It has too much sugar.

        My go-to, 5-minutes-into-the-oven recipe for the residents I cook for, is the whole grain muffin recipe in the Joy of Cooking. I can't describe all of the permutations I take this through, but I always use honey as the recipe calls for, and usually substitute the wheat flour with barley, millet, or spelt, as we are on a rotating grain schedule and can use wheat only once per week. (Yes, I know spelt is a type of wheat, though lower in gluten) Anyway, the formula is 2 cups of flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 egg, 1 c. milk (can't use dairy, so I use almond or rice milk), a dollop of honey and a dollop of melted butter (I use Earth Balance substitute). I always add some spice, like a huge shake of cinnamon, then whatever fruit I have on hand, and bake it in a dish or make an upside-down cake rather than fuss with the muffin tins. Also, I always make 4x this recipe, to feed 20 people, and everyone is happy.

      2. re: pitterpatter

        Wow, thanks for this information. I would love to try some recipes using palm sugar. Does it act in virtually the same way in recipes as cane sugar?

        I, too, routinely cut down the sugar in most all recipes for cakes, cookies, and muffins. I just prefer it less sweet. I find you can go down to about 1/2 the amount of sugar called for with no noticeable effects on the final product, other than it tasting less sweet, and even more in fruit desserts like pies.

        1. re: visciole

          The palm sugar that I use is unrefined and tastes much like refined, light brown sugar. It has weird melting properties - it sort of clumps together, and comes in a one-pound, round block, which is why I have learned to shave it with a knife. In baking, it is indistinguishable from granulated sugar, at least to my palate. Any small pieces that I am too lazy to further chop seem to disappear in the baked product, so I don't get too hyper about shaving it perfectly. I use it in carrot cake at least once per month and every other baked thing that does not require honey or maple syrup, and have never noticed any concern.

          1. re: pitterpatter

            Thanks, I am definitely going to give it a go.

            I dislike using white sugar but I do love baked goods, and, like you, don't care much for honey. (Molasses is da bomb, though.)

            I agree absolutely about so many baked goods these days having no taste except sweet. Things like bran muffins, corn bread, fruit pies, etc. all routinely taste overpoweringly like sugar, and not like corn or apples or whatever. Meh.

        2. re: pitterpatter

          What about this
          http://www.squidoo.com/sweet-cicely

          I haven't tried it myself, but when I read about it I was intrigued.

          1. re: NYChristopher

            Thank you! Never heard of this. It will certainly be growing in my next garden.

        3. For the recipe you mentioned (the banana bread), you might want to consider that not all Greek yogurts are the same. Some will be more sour, some more neutral. A relatively neutral yogurt will allow you to reduce the sugar more without creating a "sour"-tasting bread.

          My experience in baking with bananas is that the fruit often provides a surprising amount of sweetness - especially if they're really ripe. It may taste fine with only the bananas providing sweetness. (I often bake banana muffins successfully without any sugar or substitute.)

          If you're concerned about browning (with pitterpatter brings up), try coating just the outsides with some sugar: butter and dust the pan with sugar, and sprinkle some on top. Just a thought.

          2 Replies
          1. re: bellywizard

            When you bake without sugar, do you just use the original recipe without any changes to it? (except for cutting out the sugar, obviously)

            1. re: bellywizard

              Bellywizard hits it with the "really ripe" comment. Let me take it a bit further.

              So ripe that they collapse on themselves and can just be squeezed out of the peel. The banana flavor is so much stronger in a very good way. Sweetness? who needs it when the assumed sweetness of banana is so pervasive?

              1. A comprehensive cookbook like Joy of Cooking has savory (unsweetened) quick breads.

                This recipe has a 1:2 volume ratio of sugar to flour. I regularly make a pumpkin bread where I've reduced the sugar ratio to 1:3. So for a start you certainly could reduce the total sugar to 1/2c, and take it down by a 1/4c on successive batches.

                1. This technique has no doubt been addressed here, but this is what I do - since I'm a chart maker. One recipe (a cheesecake) called for 1- 2/3 cups of sugar. I made it 5 times. All other ingredients remained the same. The last 2 times I used 1/2 cup sugar.

                  Next time I'm going to use a combination of raw coconut crystals, liquid non-alcoholic stevia drops, and 1/4 cup or less sugar. Then I'll go from there.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Rella

                    I just googled, and came up with several recipes without sugar.

                    1. re: wyogal

                      I've seen several recipes without sugar, but all of them seem to be with sugar substitutes. I'm not looking to cut calories, I just want a savoury recipe.

                      1. re: mollyw

                        I posted 3 recipes without sugar substitutes. No sugar. Just regular ingredients. One used unsweetened orange juice, another used raisins, and the third seemed the most savory of all (and, by the way, just what you asked for). apparently those links to recipes weren't what you were looking for.
                        Oh well.

                        1. re: wyogal

                          Oh man I didn't notice it was you. I'm going to give the food.com recipe a go tonight. Sorry, didn't need to me rude. Thanks ever so much, though.

                          1. re: mollyw

                            You are welcome. I was just trying to help with recipes I found online. The cooks.com one looks interesting. (3rd link) The comments vary from really good as-is, to people adding artificial sweeteners (yuck, can't stand them, I refuse to use them).

                  2. I mention in another thread Harold McGee's Keys to Good Cooking where he discusses the roles of ingredients in cakes. In the simplest sense, flour and eggs provide structure, sugar and fat provide moisture and tenderness. Baking power (or the soda equivalents) provide the lift (along with steam). Quick breads (and muffins) are a variant on cakes, with more emphasis on the moistness than the lightness. Fruit and vegetable purees (mashed bananas) seem to function like the sugar and fat. In fact one grocery store fat replacement is a mix of apple and prune purees.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: paulj

                      That's really useful to know, actually.

                    2. The most common savory quick bread is cornbread. The sweetness level varies from cake like to none. And people add things like corn and creamed corn. Obviously I'm not suggesting you make cornbread with banana puree, but it gives you an idea of what is structurally possible.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: paulj

                        Oooh, good idea. I'll look at cornbread recipes as they go from sweet to no-sugar and see how they change ingredients. Maybe that'll give me some ideas.

                        1. re: mollyw

                          One thing that complicates the cornbread comparison is that there is a strong regional tradition of no-sugar when using all cornmeal. Where as those using both flour and cornmeal are more flexible in the amount of sugar (e.g. none - 2T - 1/2c sugar per 1c flour, 1c corn).

                      2. I don't have a recipe or idea as to how much of the sugar to eliminate in the recipe (and that seems to have been adequately discussed up-thread), but this thread's title immediately made me wonder about making a banana bread that was somehow laced with peanut butter and crispy bits of real bacon.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ElsieDee

                          This one is not sugar free, but thought you'd enjoy it, ElsieDee. Amazing what one can find by searching.
                          http://www.eat8020.com/2011/07/20-can...
                          http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,174,1...

                          Just googled banana bread with peanut butter and bacon, there are lots of recipes.

                        2. For breads that don't involve yeast, sugar is not especially important to the recipe. I'd try cutting the sugar way back, and add a bit more flour, and see what happens.

                          Also, it occurred to me that maybe a banana brown bread recipe might exist, and I found this: http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs...

                          (I know you can use thinned yoghurt in other brown bread recipes instead of buttermilk; this one would probably work as well, but I seriously just found that via googling and have not made it.)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: antimony

                            I began making my own bread because most whole grain breads have quite a lot of sugar in them, which I just don't like. Most recipes I read said you need sugar to make the yeast work right, but I now make whole grain bread all the time with no sugar at all, and it comes out great.

                            1. re: visciole

                              You absolutely do not need sugar in most yeast breads. The yeast feeds on the flour.

                          2. For quick breads, I found that reducing the sugar by 1/2 still gives an acceptable sweet product.

                            1. The last time I made banana bread, I cut out the sugar completely, doubled the bananas and subbed yogurt for oil - I think I also left out egg, but I don't remember. It was really good, very moist and banana-y, without being too sweet and nobody guessed that it was nearly fat and sugar free.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: LisaPA

                                Oh thanks, I'll double the bananas like you said. If I leave the sugar out, I think that'll be fine then.

                                1. re: LisaPA

                                  Thank you! Just what I was looking for.......

                                  NO SUGAR or worse...SUGAR SUBSTITUTES!

                                2. Hi Molly, I am currently looking for the exact thing! Were you able to come up with any good recipes? I have no problem with butter, in fact would prefer it over vegetable oil. I also plan to substitute flour with almond flour and or coconut flour. Thanks! (I hate super-sweet desserts...bananas are sweet enough!)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: samanabanana

                                    Remember coconut flour isn't a flour like almond or wheat and is really really dry, so you may have to play with proportion of coconut flour to grain/nut flours.Tinker with your recipes over time. Obvious choice for flours: whole wheat (or King Arthur white whole wheat) for a-p flour, reduce and replace flour with almond or other nut flour, try other flours like teff, buckwheat etc.

                                    I recommend reducing sugar by half and replacing the white sugar with date or coconut sugar, readily available for use now. Adding some applesauce or pureed banana works well to replace the moisture lost by reducing sugar. I use the unsweetened snack packs of applesauce for this. Or you could try baby food puree as a handy and readily available substitute for the sugar. If half sugar works, take it down another notch and keep doing this until the project fails or you reach a point where you are happy with the texture/taste/appearance.

                                    I have some recipe books that were my great-grandmothers, circa 1905. Muffin recipes called for 2 T of sugar. Huge change from today.