Clean Label Sweeteners

Sweeteners are under particular scrutiny right now. This is partially due to the multi-decade long review of added sugars in processed foods, but also because of the FDA 2018 updates to the nutrition facts panel. Click here to learn more about the impact of added sugar in foods. 


“We’ve seen a huge increase in customer requests for natural, clean label sweeteners over the past few years.” ~Jason Williams, Director of National Sales at Batory Foods


It’s important to keep the following factors in mind when working with natural sweeteners: aroma, flavor, texture, functionality, pricing, shelf life, sustainability, and scale-ability/sourcing (to name a few).

Here is a list of a few natural, clean label sweetener options for food and beverage manufacturers, chefs, and home cooks to consider when formulating clean label products or recipes:



Agave is commonly known as the plant that tequila is made from. It has been used as a food ingredient in Mexico for thousands of years. The nectar made from the plant is traditionally referred to as aguamiel or “honey water”. It is about 1 1/2 times sweeter than regular sugar.




Muscovado is a very dark, slightly coarse, “sticky” partially to fully unrefined brown sugar — compared to most brown sugars. It has a high molasses content, therefore bold molasses flavor.

A sugar of many names, it is also known as “Barbados sugar”, “molasses sugar”, azúcar mascabado (Spanish), and açúcar mascavado (Portuguese). Muscovado literally means “a low quality sugar that was poorly drained of its molasses sugar production”, stemming from sugar markets from the late 18th century.

Note: An “on trend” sweetener, pastry chefs and mixologists are currently using muscovado sugar for its novel bitter/sweet flavor, that brings unique flavor depth to beverages and baked goods.



We all know that honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by bees — made using the nectar of flowering plants. Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose. It has the same relative sweetness as table sugar (AKA white granulated sugar).


Cane Sugar

Cane sugar —  or “sucrose” — is a common, naturally occurring saccharide found in many plants.


A Cook’s Illustrated article explains it well: “Natural cane sugar is made from sugar cane, while conventional white granulated sugar may be made from either cane or sugar beets. Since both plants produce molecules of sucrose that are identical, this is not a significant distinction. Also, the “natural” tag is a bit of an oversell: Natural cane sugar is only slightly less processed than regular white sugar. That said, it retains a bit of a blond color, and some tasters found that it had slightly more depth of flavor compared with regular granulated sugar when they tasted both plain.”



Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is simply cane sugar that contains molasses. The molasses gives it a distinctive brown color, caramelized/nutty/slight bitter flavor.





Demerara is named after a once-colonized area of Guyana that was the first to began producing and selling the sugar in large volume. Demerara is typically extracted from sugar cane, rather than sugar beets. The minimal processing gives demerara sugar a distinct flavor and crunchy texture.

Note: Demerara is commonly used in Old-Fashioned cocktails.



Turbinado sugar is also popularly called “sugar in the raw.” Turbinado sugar comes from pure cane sugar extract —made by steaming unrefined, raw sugar AKA “turbinated”.




What’s the difference between demerara and turbinado sugar?

They are both “raw” sugars. 

Demerara is coarser than turbinado — with perfectly uniform crystals and a slightly more pronounced molasses, nutty-toffee-like flavor.

Turbinado is steam-cleaned — a portion of the bitter molasses flavor is removed in the steaming process — therefore it lacks some “brown” flavor, and has smaller-sized sugar crystals that are not uniform.