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Artificial sweetener (Recipe: asparagus, nectarine and tomato salad) {vegan}


Some pantry ingredients make life worth living.

Others make life livable.

In the first group: chocolate, balsamic vinegar, parmigiano-reggiano.

In the second group: Fresca, fat-free yogurt, artificial sweetener.

A gourmet ingredient it is not, but in a household of dieters and diabetics, artificial sweetener is our reality.

Though I prefer natural sugar substitutes whenever possible -- I always have agave nectar and honey in my pantry, and occasionally stevia, too -- we have artificial sweetener in the cupboard, all the time, and I use it when our diabetic kids and friends come to visit.

I know what you're thinking. But, but, but....

And you're right. Almost everything about sugar substitutes, both artificial and natural, is debatable and controversial.

Three artificial sweeteners approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are most familiar, recognizable by the color of the packets found on every coffee shop table: pink (saccharin, sold as Sweet 'N Low); blue (aspartame, sold as Equal); and yellow (sucralose, sold as Splenda).


To calorie counters, the "big three" are pretty much the same: 0-4 calories per teaspoon, compared with 16 per teaspoon for granulated sugar. For diabetics, the issue is the effect of sweeteners on blood sugar, and each sugar substitute, natural or artificial, causes a different reaction. (If you are diabetic, please consult your doctor or diabetes educator before adding any of these products to your diet.)

One sweetener does not fit all, nor does one sugar substitute fulfill every culinary need. Sweet 'N Low and Splenda can be used for cooking, and Splenda is best for baking, though the texture of sugar substitutes cannot replace the texture of granulated white or brown sugar, and recipes need to be adjusted.

For sauces and salad dressings, where the goal is to add a sweet flavor without adding sugar or honey or calories, artificial sweeteners can be a good choice; they dissolve well and, if used in small amounts, do not impart an artificial flavor to the food.

I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but sometimes a bit of sweetness takes the edge off an acidic dressing or tomato sauce. Honey or agave nectar will add sweetness and viscosity; artificial sweeteners add sweetness, but no texture -- and negligible calories -- and give surprisingly good results in dishes like flourless, sugar-free peanut butter cookies, low fat sugar-free sesame banana muffins, baklava, or a tiramisu parfait.

Store artificial sweeteners in the pantry indefinitely, in an airtight container.

What's your reality: artificial sweetener, natural sugar substitutes, or the real thing?


Asparagus, nectarine and tomato salad

When a diabetic friend came for dinner, I made this salad, and nobody could taste anything artificial about it. If you can't find pomegranate molasses, which aren't molasses at all, you can make your own. And feel free to substitute agave, honey, or even sugar for the artificial sweetener. Serves 6 as a side dish; can be halved or doubled.


2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 packet artificial sweetener (or 1 tsp agave nectar or honey)
Pinch of black pepper
1 tsp orange zest
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
2 nectarines, pitted, cut into wedges
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2-3 large strawberries, trimmed, cut in half or thirds


In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine pomegranate molasses, vinegar, sweetener, pepper, orange zest and olive oil. Close the jar, and shake to emulsify the dressing. Taste, and adjust seasoning.

Bring a small pot with one inch of water to a boil. Add the asparagus, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the asparagus are just slightly tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove from the pot, and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Dry the asparagus and add to a mixing bowl along with the nectarines, tomatoes and strawberries. Toss with the dressing, and serve.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Chipotle-balsamic salad dressing
Mango-mint gazpacho
Grilled peaches with balsamic and granola

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

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I'm grateful, I can use the real thing. I know that cooking for special diets can be challenging. And the combo of sweet and savory in your salad looks great!

On a related note, I've heard that 1/2 and 1/2 is considered better for coffee than sugar, even though it has more calories, because of a gylcemic effect or something like that... Do you know what that's about?

I too am concerned about many of these "substitute" foods, regardless of FDA "approval". They may save us a few calories, but at what cost? We are immersed in a culture where calories are everything, but the human body is far more complex. Only now is information starting to come out about the adverse effects of Splenda, Soy (unfermented), Saccharin, etc. These things likely wreak havoc on our bodies chemically. Eat the real stuff if you have to, but do it in moderation. I would rather see an article on foods you can eat that have no added sugars, but still satisfy the "sweet tooth".

Great post! I'd imagine you're going to get plenty of lectures about how bad artificial sweetener is for you, but how about a lecture (from me) about how bad sugar is? There's no debate that It's loaded with empty calories and no nutritional value, and we see evidence all over America about how too much of it makes you fat. For me personally, when I eat sugar it not only sets off cravings for more sugar, but it also causes mood swings and makes my energy level go up and down. When I don't eat sugar I am healthier, feel better, and am happier. If a little artificial sweetener can help me avoid sugar, for me it's worth it!

Love the combination of ingredients here, great salad too.

I'm curious, have you tried Stevia? It's a natural sweetener, 300 times sweeter than sugar. I've read that it is fine for diabetics but I have no experience with it, yet.

Our primary use of artificial sweeteners is in drinks, and Fresca is without a doubt the best soda! Every time I try a sugar-sweetened drink, it tastes like syrup to me.
My sister's husband is diabetic, and she uses sugar alcohols a lot, which (as I understand it) aren't lower in calories than sugar but are metabolized better for diabetics. She makes a lemon sorbet that is wonderful!

I have a prime sweet tooth - and since I'm a baker, I tend towards sugar for the structure it gives cake. And as a friend of mine once said, "you might as well go first class."

ahh fresca! How do I miss thee!
I don't use any artificial sweetener's if I can avoid them. nor do I use much regular sugar. but I think the key for all sides of the issue is everything in moderation.

(ps I finally caught up to current reading!)

I don't love artificial sweeteners. I think we're much better off choosing a natural option, consuming six more calories and having less dessert (although I don't practice what I preach when it comes to less dessert).

I also think it's odd how certain products were created for people with medical dietary restrictions (artificial sweeteners, Gluten-Free pasta, etc) are more commonly used as dieting tools than for their intended purpose. It supports the American ideal of getting as much as you can for as few, in this case, calories, as possible. Or maybe it's the Americans with those ideals (not everyone) that have made it that way.

Great Post! I'm always for the natural stuff... although nowadays I try and cut back a bit on the sugar. The recipe looks great!

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments both for and against the use of artificial sweeteners. In our household, we use everything -- sugar, agave, honey, stevia, Splenda -- but some in our family have options, and others don't. Making informed choices, and being open to compromise and experimentation -- and occasional abstinence -- are what works for us.

I do not believe in "better living through chemistry". The fact that they have been approved is scary to me. Splenda is a chlorine product, and "sucralose" is a made up word by the industry, intended to sound like it is in the sugar family. I am horrified that it is marketed to children.

Ha, I have that same blue and white bowl! [I actually have an entire set of those dishes.] Funny to see someone else with one.

I'm allergic to honey, and dislike the taste of most sugar substitutes, so I have to stick with regular sugar the majority of the time. I don't know what I'd do if I developed diabetes!

In our house it's sugar (usually demerrara), xylitol (fewer calories, benefits for dental and ear health, used over 100 years, won't feed yeast, safe in moderation) or saccharine (again, over 100 years history). Stevia is very safe but the newly released forms are questionable because they are processed in new and untested ways. Liquids have their place (like maple syrup for baked pears) but are usually too messy! In the end we make our choices, don't we?

It's scary what is being approved. A few years I read that aspartame is safe for human consumption however it causes cancer in rats if given in high enough doses? I don't know if this is accurate but how scary! I think I'd rather take my chances with pure sugar rather than relay on what the FDA thinks is ok. Of course I'd rather look at a natural substitution like honey or something else.

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