Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sweetener 101: Easing Into Steviafying with Banana Pudding

Stevia is intimidating. My first experience with it made lemonade taste like drinking sugar-saturated lemon rind extract.. a bitter-sweet (in a negative way, not a poignant one) experience that left me with the notion that Stevia is not for human consumption. That was  a few years ago, and somehow between that time and today, I discovered that there are lots of things one can read in order to learn to use ingredients correctly... finally, a guilt-free banana pudding that tastes like a decadent treat was born.

Shown parfait-style, layered with toasted walnuts and thickened coconut milk.

After realizing that sweeteners are often the highest calorie component in otherwise healthy recipes, I decided to give Stevia another shot. With zero calories and none of the effects of sugar (cravings, dental decay, heart disease, diabetes, etc.) Stevia extract can reduce the amount of the delightful, destructive, and undoubtedly unnecessary chemical called sugar we use in cooking and baking, while still maintaining the original level of sweetness. As a plant extract that has actually been used for centuries, controversy has arisen as to whether Stevia's publicity and availability has been suppressed solely because of the competition it would create for sugar companies, which has come at the cost of human health... and based off of the upward trend in consumption of sugar, now is the time to start cutting back: the average of 114 pounds of sweetener consumed per person each year in 1967 has shot up to 142 pounds per person since 2003. 

Calorically, sweeteners stack up as follows:

Sweetener/Calories per Cup-

Stevia Extract/0
Turbinado Sugar/736             
Granulated Sugar/736
Brown Sugar/829
Maple Syrup/832
Agave Nectar/960
Honey/1024
Brown Rice Syrup/1200

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Liquid sweeteners actually have a higher sweetening power than sugar, so for instance, 1 C sugar would be substituted with 3/4 C Maple syrup, Agave, or Honey, making them lower calorie sweeteners when used correctly. The recipe below uses a combination of only 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup, bananas as a healthy sweetener, and Stevia as a calorie free sweetener to compose a dessert that serves four. This delicious dish was a hit with everyone - probably because each serving can be customized to be as healthy (or not as healthy) as desired. Enjoy!


 Banana Pudding:
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1.5 tbsp maple syrup 
- 1/8 teaspoon pure Stevia extract powder
- 1 ½ C vanilla almond milk 
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp rum
- 2 bananas, sliced
- ¼ C toasted walnuts, crushed

Combine cornstarch, maple syrup, Stevia and almond milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until mixture is thick and boiling, then remove from heat and add vanilla extract and rum. Divide pudding between four bowls or fancy glasses, then add sliced bananas and top with walnuts. Chill and serve (there's no shame in sticking them in the freezer for 20 minutes to speed the chilling process). Makes 4 at 200 calories each.

P.S. - You could always reward yourself for creating a healthy dessert by smothering it with chocolate and granola..
<3



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