5 Sugar Substitutes For Cocktails. Sweet!

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Last week our vegan columnist took a look a sugar alternatives. This week, a cocktailian does the same.

It doesn't take a sweet tooth to know that a little sugar is often necessary, especially when making a cocktail. Most recipes, from Old Fashioneds to Mojitos, call for either white granulated sugar or simple syrup — a mixture of white sugar with water until it dissolves. But switching up your sweetener can not only make for new, exciting flavors, it can also help reduce the overall calorie content and glycemic index of your drink. If that's what you're into. Here are five alternatives to the white stuff:

Simply Simple Sugar Free Simple Syrup: This brand new product, made with the super-sweet herb stevia, has zero calories. Sound too good to be true? Used for centuries in South America and China, the herb is said to be up to 30 times sweeter than sugar. But because the makers of Simply Simple developed this syrup to be just as sweet as sugar, you can stick to any recipe that calls for simple syrup when using it. Available at Kegworks, it's the only stevia-based simple syrup on the market. Because it's flavor is pretty neutral, you can use it with just about any spirit.

Madhava Organic Agave Nectar: Speaking of agave, this sweetener is about as low on the glycemic index as you can get before going totally sugar-free. The nectar comes from the Weber Blue Agave plant native to Mexico — the same plant that is also used to produce premium tequila. So, naturally, it lends itself well to margaritas and other tequila cocktails. The texture of agave nectar is syrupy, like honey, so it needs a solid shake when making, say, a margarita. It's also a little sweeter than sugar, so you can use up to a third less of what a recipe calls for. You can find it in health-food stores and online at Amazon.

High-Grade Maple Syrup: Like schoolchildren and restaurants in certain cities, maple syrup gets graded here in the U.S. Grade A or B is awarded to a quality product, which can range in color form Light Amber to Dark Amber. Depending on what you're making, you might opt for a darker syrup for a deeper, more molasses flavor. Maple syrup doesn't have an especially low glycemic index, nor is it too much lower in calories than sugar, but unlike sugar it is a source of several nutrients, including calcium and zinc. It's a good option for sweetening a brown-liquor cocktail, like an Old Fashioned, or just about anything made with bourbon or dark rum.

Honey: A number of cocktail recipes call for honey syrup, which is made by dissolving equal parts honey into water. You can easily spice up your cocktail by spicing up your syrup, either with baking spices, such as cinnamon or clove, ginger or hot chiles. Honey already scores pretty low on the glycemic index and cutting it with water brings the score down even lower. Use it in a classic recipe like the Bee's Knees (gin, lemon, honey) or in place of simple syrup in your favorite citrusy drink. Think of tea: lemon and honey are a great match. Of course, we recommend swapping tea for whiskey and adding cloves for a Hot Toddy. The season for hot spiked drinks is upon us, after all.

Petite Canne Sugar Cane Syrup: Technically, this stuff contains more sugar than the cubes you drop into your coffee each morning. But this pure sugar cane syrup — is in, unrefined — and tastes like a different animal. Made from the same cane from Martinique that is used for the Caribbean island's famed rhum agricole, this sweetener has a lightly caramelized flavor and works particularly well with rum. If you've ever tasted Mexican Coke, you know the beauty of a pure sugar cane. It has a lower glycemic index than table sugar, but not as low as, say, agave. Petite Canne is available online at retailers like Kegworks and Cocktail Kingdom.