I received a question about the characteristics of Splenda®, how it works in cooking, and why I use it in some of my recipes. In Carb Wars, I devoted several pages to the different kinds of sugar substitutes and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Since the subject may be of general interest, I will attempt to address it here.
Splenda has been used for 20 plus years in some countries and doesn’t seem to have any harmful effects, at least not yet. It adds a few chlorine molecules to the diet, but we’ve been drinking chlorinated water for a long time and most people seem to be willing to accept that.
In writing a cookbook, you have to use products that are readily available and reasonably inexpensive. There may be better options out there, ones that are made with soluble fibers, for example, but they are still very expensive and only available by mail order. I have about 20 different sweeteners sitting on my kitchen counter right now that I plan to start testing, but that’s another book. The fact is that until people become convinced that sugar and not fat is the problem, the manufacturers have little motivation to do the research and development for good substitutes. I hope we can change that.
About Splenda: Splenda is the brand name for sucralose. It is a sweetener that is made from sugar (sucrose) by altering it so that it is not broken down by our digestive enzymes. Sugar is converted into sucralose by substituting three chlorine atoms for three hydroxyl groups on the sugar molecule.
Is it a natural product? Not really, but it has been used for many years in Canada and some other countries. It was approved for sale in US in 1998 and is not required to carry any warning labels. It is even considered safe for nursing mothers and pregnant women. It comes in two forms, one in yellow packets for tea or coffee, and one in granular form that is fluffed up with bulking agents so it can be substituted, measure for measure, for sugar. It can be used for cooking like regular sugar since it holds up to heat, but the volume is much smaller since sucrolose is 600 times as sweet as sugar. It takes some work to make foods made with Splenda taste as good as those made with sugar, especially the plain ones like pastry cream and vanilla ice cream.
I solved the problem in my recipes by adding a small amount of another sweeteners to those recipes. When you have a blend, the disadvantages of one will counteract the disadvantages of the other. (That’s why so many soft drinks contain a combination of Ace K and Splenda.) As for the baking problems, Splenda has so little volume that it has no effect on baked goods. It is 600 times as sweet as regular sugar. The problem is that it does not contribute the other qualities of sugar, like bulking, browning, caramelizing, retaining moisture, and so on. You have to compensate for that by adding other things that do have those properties.
The makers of Splenda suggest using powdered milk to add bulk and promote browning. I use whey protein powder instead to eliminate the lactose (milk sugar) in the powdered milk. Another useful product is Not/Sugar. One tablespoon of Not/Sugar per cup of sugar replaced in a recipe will improve the texture of cakes and cookies. I have also had success using Splenda in combination with polydextrose, which is glucose, but in such long chains that our digestive enzymes won’t break it down. It adds bulk, and it browns and caramelizes like ordinary sugar, but the body treats it like soluble fiber.
Polydextrose preferentially feeds the “good” bacteria in the digestive tract so it is actually beneficial. It is only slightly sweet, so you must also use a high intensity sweetener with it. There is one called Poly D Plus that has sucralose already in it. It has the advantage that it doesn’t require any other bulking agent so you can avoid the sugar added to Splenda® and some of the other sugar substitutes to add volume.So the bottom line is, I recommend Splenda for cooking until something better comes along. I will continue to test other options and let you know when I have more to report.