How can I sweeten a cake without sugar?

Sugar is a major component in most cakes, providing sweetness and acting as a structure builder. However, there are reasons you may want to bake a cake without white sugar. You may be looking to reduce calories, avoid blood sugar spikes, or create a dessert for someone with diabetes or other health conditions. The good news is there are plenty of great options for sweetening cakes without sugar! In this article, we will explore multiple methods and ingredients to add sweetness and moisture to cakes prepared without refined or alternative sugars.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why would I want to make a cake without sugar?

There are a few key reasons you may want to omit sugar from your cake recipes:

  • You or someone you are baking for has diabetes or suffers from chronic high blood sugar. Sweets and desserts prepared without sugar can help keep blood glucose levels in check.
  • You are looking to reduce calories. Sugars like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup pack around 16 calories per teaspoon. Cutting them out saves calories.
  • You want to follow a specific diet like keto, paleo or a Candida diet that restricts sugar intake.
  • You or someone you bake for is trying to break free from sugar cravings and addictive behavior related to sweets.
  • You want a healthier cake option that won’t spike blood sugar levels as dramatically.

Whatever your reasons, there are many options for creating flavorful cakes without any added sugars.

What can I use instead of sugar in cakes?

Here are some of the most popular alternatives for sweetening cakes without white sugar:

  • Stevia – This natural, plant-derived sweetener is zero-calorie and does not raise blood glucose levels. Use powdered stevia in place of sugar at a ratio of 1 teaspoon stevia to 1 cup sugar.
  • Monk fruit or monk fruit extract – Monk fruit sweetener offers sweetness without calories or carbohydrates. Replace sugar 1:1 with monk fruit.
  • Erythritol – A sugar alcohol that provides 70% of the sweetness of sugar with only 0.24 calories per gram. Use a 1:1 ratio for substituting erythritol for sugar.
  • Xylitol – Another sugar alcohol, xylitol has 40% fewer calories than sugar and does not spike blood sugar. Use a 1:1 ratio like erythritol.
  • Yacon syrup – This sweet syrup comes from the yacon plant. It is low glycemic and provides about 1/3 the calories of sugar.
  • Pureed fruits – Fruit purees lend moisture and sweetness. Applesauce and mashed banana work well.

Combining a low-calorie granulated sugar substitute like monk fruit with fruit purees can help achieve the sweetness and moisture sugar provides in baking.

How can I add moisture to cakes without sugar?

Sugar adds moisture and tenderness to cakes, so removing it can result in dry texture. Here are some ingredients that add moisture:

  • Fruit purees (applesauce, mashed banana, pumpkin, etc.)
  • Non-dairy milk (almond milk, coconut milk, etc.)
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Honey or maple syrup
  • Additional eggs or egg whites
  • Vegetable oil

When adapting a cake recipe, try swapping out about 1/4 to 1/3 of the sugar for fruit puree or milk. You may need to slightly reduce other liquids in the recipe. Adding an extra egg or two can also help achieve a moist texture.

How can I improve the flavor of cakes without sugar?

Removing sugar from cakes can make them bland. Here are some ways to pack flavor into sugar-free cakes:

  • Increase vanilla extract to enhance overall flavor.
  • Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cocoa powder, espresso powder or other baking spices.
  • Fold in a cup or two of chocolate chips, nuts, coconut or dried fruit.
  • Top with sweetened whipped cream, lemon curd, chocolate ganache or fruit sauce.
  • Brush cake layers with honey or maple syrup for added sweetness.
  • Substitute part of the flour with almond flour or coconut flour.

Getting creative with bold flavors and textures can help cakes shine, even without the usual sweeteners.

Methods for Sweetening Cakes Without Sugar

Now let’s dive into specific methods and ingredient tweaks you can use to up the sweet factor in cakes while keeping added sugars to a minimum.

Method 1: Replace Sugar with Low-Glycemic Sweeteners

The most direct way to sweeten without sugar is to substitute it for lower calorie sweeteners that don’t spike blood sugar dramatically. Here are the most commonly used:


Stevia extracts like Stevia In The Raw provide intense sweetness without calories or carbs. Stevia does have a slight aftertaste, so combining it with other ingredients like cinnamon and vanilla can help mask the flavor. Use powdered stevia leaf in a 1:1 ratio to replace sugar.

Monk Fruit or Monk Fruit Extract

Monk fruit gets its sweetness from natural compounds called mogrosides rather than sugar. Pure monk fruit extract can be substituted 1:1 for sugar in recipes. Look for monk fruit extract without added fillers.


Erythritol is a sugar alcohol derived from corn that provides about 70% the sweetness of sugar, with only 0.24 calories per gram. It also does not spike blood glucose levels. Replace sugar 1:1 with erythritol.


Another sugar alcohol, xylitol is as sweet as sugar but contains 40% fewer calories and does not raise blood sugar. Use it in a 1:1 ratio for sugar. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs so avoid using it if you will be around dogs.

Yacon Syrup

Yacon syrup comes from the yacon plant. It has a molasses-like taste and texture. Yacon syrup contains about 1/3 the calories of sugar and is low glycemic. Use about 3 tablespoons per 1 cup of sugar.

These low-calorie sweeteners provide options for mimicking sugar’s sweetness without the blood sugar spike. Be mindful that large amounts may cause digestive upset. Moderation is key.

Method 2: Incorporate Fruit Purees

Fruit purees add moisture, fiber, and natural sweetness to cakes. Applesauce, mashed bananas, pumpkin puree, and pureed dates are all great options.

When adapting a recipe, substitute 1/4 to 1/3 of the sugar for fruit puree, adding a low-glycemic granulated sweetener like monk fruit or erythritol to make up the remaining sweetness. You may need to reduce other wet ingredients slightly to account for the added moisture from fruit.

Banana works especially well in dense cakes like pound cake or banana bread. Pumpkin puree is excellent for spice cakes. Unsweetened applesauce can be used universally in most cake types.

Be sure to use unsweetened fruit purees. You want the natural sweetness of the fruit without added sugar. Drain canned fruit like pineapple well before pureeing to remove excess sugars.

Fruit purees infuse cakes with fiber, vitamins, and sweetness from natural fructose while cutting back on empty added sugar calories.

Method 3: Incorporate Non-Dairy Milk

Non-dairy milks can lend moisture, creaminess, and mild sweetness to cakes made without dairy or sugar. Almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk and soy milk all work beautifully.

Substitute up to 1/2 cup of milk for an equivalent amount of water or other liquids in a cake recipe. The fat in richer milks like coconut helps replicate the moistness lost when omitting sugar.

For thicker milk, reduce other liquids further, by 2 to 4 tablespoons per 1/4 cup milk added. You can also add a tablespoon of cornstarch or arrowroot powder to the milk before mixing into batter to create a thicker texture.

Non-dairy milk gives cakes a boost of natural sweetness, along with vegetarian friendly protein and calcium.

Method 4: Use Additional Eggs

Eggs provide structure, richness and moisture in baked goods. Adding an extra egg or two can improve the texture of low-sugar cakes.

When adapting recipes, add 1 to 2 extra eggs in place of 1/4 cup milk or water per egg added. The yolks add fat to help mimic sugar’s moistness, while the whites provide more structure.

If you want to max out the egg flavor, separate yolks and whites. Beat egg whites to soft peaks then gently fold into batter at the end for a lighter cake. Extra yolks alone mixed into batter work well for denser cakes like pound cake.

Eggs lend protein, vitamins, and antioxidant carotenoids along with moisture. People with egg allergies or dietary restrictions should avoid this method.

Method 5: Replace Dry Ingredients with Lower Carb Alternatives

Subbing a portion of regular flour with lower carb flours and meals amplifies sweetness and flavor in reduced sugar bakes. Try these swaps:

– Replace up to 1/4 of the flour with almond flour or coconut flour
– Use almond meal or hazelnut meal for up to 1/3 of the flour
– Swap 2 to 4 tablespoons of flour for cocoa powder or cacao powder

The nutty richness of almond and coconut work well in cakes, lending a hint of natural sweetness. Cocoa powder boosts chocolate flavor to make cakes taste sweeter without adding sugar.

You may need to slightly increase liquids when using dense nut meals and coconut flour. But the flavor payoff is worth a bit of tweaking.

Method 6: Enhance Flavor with Extracts and Sweet Spices

Don’t be shy with extracts and spices in low-sugar cakes. They provide big flavor to make up for the missing sugar. Some to try:

Vanilla – Double or triple vanilla extract. Vanilla enhances chocolate, lemon, and spice flavors

Almond extract – Use along with almond flour and almond milk

Cinnamon – Sprinkle in or add to dry ingredients

Ginger – Delicious paired with applesauce and pumpkin

Nutmeg – Adds warmth and works with cinnamon

Cardamom – Provides sweetness to spice cakes

Lemon or orange extract – Brightens up citrus cakes

Don’t be afraid to experiment with new flavor combos. The bolder the spices and extracts, the less you’ll miss the sugar.

Low-Sugar Cake Recipes

Now that we’ve covered methods and ingredient substitutes for making cakes without refined sugar, let’s look at some recipe ideas! Here are delicious cakes to bake that skip the added sugars:

Banana Cake with Brown Sugar Streusel

This banana cake uses mashed ripe banana for natural moisture and sweetness. A streusel topping made with butter, oats, nuts, and brown sugar adds crunch.

Cake Ingredients:

– 2 cups almond flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1/4 tsp cinnamon
– 1/8 tsp nutmeg
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 3 overripe bananas, mashed
– 2 eggs
– 1/3 cup milk of choice
– 1 tsp vanilla

Brown Sugar Streusel:

– 3 tbsp brown sugar (use coconut sugar for lower glycemic option)
– 3 tbsp oats
– 3 tbsp pecan pieces
– 3 tbsp almond slices
– 2 tbsp butter or coconut oil

Bake in greased 9-inch cake pan at 350F for 35 to 40 minutes. Top with streusel in last 10 minutes of baking.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Frosting

Pumpkin puree gives this spice cake moisture without oil or sugar. Maple syrup sweetens the creamy frosting.

Cake Ingredients:

– 1 3/4 cups flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– 1 tsp ginger
– 1/2 tsp cloves
– 1/4 tsp nutmeg
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup pumpkin puree
– 1/2 cup applesauce
– 2 eggs
– 1/3 cup maple syrup
– 1 tsp vanilla

Maple Frosting:

– 1 cup powdered sugar
– 2 tbsp softened butter
– 3 tbsp maple syrup
– 1/2 tsp vanilla
– 1 to 2 tbsp milk, as needed

Bake cake at 350F for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Yogurt Cake

This tangy, moist lemon cake uses yogurt and eggs in place of added sugars. A touch of honey in the glaze provides floral sweetness.

Cake Ingredients:

– 2 cups flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
– 1/3 cup milk
– 3 eggs
– 2 tbsp lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
– 1/4 cup honey
– 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
– 2 tsp vanilla

Lemon Honey Glaze

– 1/3 cup honey
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 1 tsp lemon zest

Whisk cake ingredients until smooth. Pour into greased 9-inch cake pan. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.

Whisk glaze ingredients and pour over warm cake.

Expert Tips for Great Low-Sugar Cakes

Making stellar cakes without all the sugar takes some skill. Here are expert tips for cake success:

  • Use parchment paper to line cake pans. This prevents sticking and helps cakes hold structure better when sugar is reduced.
  • Grease pans well with butter or nonstick cooking spray so cakes release easily.
  • Rotate pans midway during baking for even rising and browning.
  • Check for doneness early. Low-sugar cakes bake faster, so start checking a few minutes before the recommended bake time.
  • Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting so the structure sets. This helps prevent cracking.
  • Use a serrated knife to slice cakes cleanly. Serrated edges help prevent crushing the crumb.
  • Store frosted cakes in the fridge to help whipped or cream cheese frostings hold up better without all the sugar.

Have fun experimenting with natural sweeteners, flavor boosts, and ingredient swaps to come up with your ideal low-sugar cake recipes. Satisfy sweet cravings without all the excess sugar!

The Bottom Line

You can definitely make moist, delicious cakes without refined or alternative sugars. Quality ingredients like fruit purees, non-dairy milks, egg, spices, extracts, cocoa, and low-glycemic sweeteners can mimic sugar’s effects while cutting empty calories and blood sugar spikes. Adapt favorite recipes using the substitution tips above or try out new low-sugar flavor combos. With a dash of creativity and patience, you can craft sugar-free cakes the whole family will savor.

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