Saturday, September 30, 2006

Oh... How sweet! Or is it?

As you might have guessed, today's post is about giving tea as a romantic gift. Or not. Actually, it's about sweeteners, and what sweeteners one ought to use in their tea. We will talk about several different artificial sweeteners, and several different natural ones.

The idea of sweetening tea can a sensitive topic. Many tea-related topics can be sensitive topics. People are sensitive about their tea. Some people firmly believe that tea ought not to be sweetened (I prefer not to sweeten my teas), so as to enjoy the natural flavor of the brew. Others believe that tea should only be sweetened with honey. Others that one should take the low-calorie approach and go with something like aspartame, sorbitol, or sucralose (splenda). But whatever you think, you probably have a good reason for it. For the sake of this article, we are going to assume that you are one of those that likes to sweeten your tea.

I am going to go over some of the reasons that people use various sweeteners.

Many people like to use honey to sweeten their teas, whatever kind of tea it is. Honey can be processed differently in the system that other sugars, because it is already partially digested. Another reason that many like to use honey to sweeten their teas is because honey has it's own interesting flavor, which many feel complements the flavor of their beverage. Also, honey may be slightly less caloric than other sugars.

Granular Sugar (beet or cane, including sugar cubes)

There are a number of reasons why people choose to use granular sugar in their beverages. The most popular of these reasons is because it's what is available. Most people have a bunch of this sitting around their homes. Also, many believe it to be the safest sweetener, although this may or may not be true. There are several different forms of granular sugar, including raw sugar (unprocessed dehydrated cane extract), turbinado, or the bagged white sugar that is all so common. Another popular reason that many people use granular sugar is that is *doesn't* add a flavor of it's own to the beverage.

Agave Nectar, Brown Rice Syrup, etc.

Many people interested in natural foods tend to go for sweeteners such as Agave Nectar or Brown Rice Syrup because they believe them to be cleaner, safer, better forms of sugar. Some of these can be sweeter than table sugar, and some have their own flavor profiles which can be enjoyed in beverages.


Aspartame is the sweetener of choice for many diabetics, although it has decreased in popularity in recent years. The most popular reasons to use it is that it is non-caloric and doesn't absorb into your blood stream as a sugar (although many recent studies are finding that your body does, in fact, process it into sugar). One caveat about aspartame, however, is that it is processed by your liver into a form of formaldehyde (embalming fluid), which then becomes toxic.

Sorbitol and Xylitol

Largely, these are used for the same reasons that Aspartame would be used. They are low-calorie, and diabetic friendly. They also do not promote tooth decay. Another interesting reason that some choose to use these over artificial sweeteners is that they are sugar alcohols, and hence, a natural occuring thing. One caveat here is that sorbitol and like substances have laxative properties which can make your tea experience quite an adventure.


Splenda (sucralose) is a fairly new sweetener on the scene. It is actually a restructured sugar molecule that the body cannot process. While many tout it for it's sweeter-than-sugar taste and it's high usability, this product is starting to gain the caution of the wary consumer. It, like sacharin and aspartame and other artificial sweeters, has been found to cause health problems. Also, since molecular restructuring is not at all a natural process, many choose to stay away from this. Not to mention the aftertaste...



Stevia, also called sweatleaf is a naturally occuring plant sugar of plant origin. It is many times sweeter than standard sugar, is extremely low calorie, and is safe for the use of diabetics. Many choose to use this because of it's natural origin. Others choose to use it because of it's low caloric value and high sweetness. Also, most people report that stevia has little or no aftertaste and is a suitable alternative to sugar. It also contains micronutrients and some interesting health properties. I would consider this the best alternative to caloric sugars. Leaves of stevia can actually be brewed *with* the tea to sweeten it, making it un-necessary to add anything.

Traditionally, it is most common to use table sugar in your tea (in the form of a sugar cube, or "lump,") but many people cannot or will not do that.

I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about which sweetener you choose. If you cannot or choose not to be a traditionalist, then my reccomendation would be to choose a nectar or syrup, or my personal favorite alternative sweeter, stevia.

Thanks once again for reading, and have a great day!

Cup o' Tea,