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Feb 21, 2012 01:29 AM

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 ( 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.

    8 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

          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.

          2. re: pitterpatter

            I just tried this and it is wonderful. I have a squash bread recipe that I doubled and when I looked at the amount of sugar I knew it was going to be too sweet. So I just used half and it is perfect! Thanks bunches. (P.S. I know this is an old post but it was so helpful I had to let you know).

          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 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 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).