Are Natural Sweeteners More Sustainable?

Are Natural Sweeteners More Sustainable?

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Everyone is aware of sugar is dangerous on your well being and your tooth. It’s not great for the environment both. The neatest thing to do is to chop down, however a weight loss plan devoid of sweetness isn’t going to make anybody pleased. Switching to a pure sweetener could be a healthier choice however are they extra sustainable? We took a take a look at the environmental footprint of 4 of the preferred choices to see which one is the sweetest deal for the planet.


Stevia is a well-liked pure sweetener as a result of it’s powerfully candy with none energy. Native to South America, stevia is now grown on a number of continents, with China the biggest producer. The manufacturing strategies utilized in China, the place sustainable agriculture shouldn’t be widespread, are usually not nicely documented. Paraguay is the distant second-largest producer of stevia. There it has historically been grown by indigenous farmers, who’ve largely been overlooked of the $492 billion/year trade in an easy case of biopiracy. Sweden’s Real Stevia Company is one provider that sources stevia from Paraguayan smallholders and processes it in Paraguay.

Stevia is a relatively low-impact crop, requiring much less land and fewer inputs than sugarcane or corn. Stevia extract is minimally processed in comparison with refined sugarcane. (But purchaser beware – there are additionally manufacturers of refined and even synthetic stevia in the marketplace. Read labels rigorously.) A carbon and water footprint assessment from one of many largest stevia producers discovered the carbon footprint of stevia was 79% decrease than excessive fructose corn syrup, 55% decrease than beet sugar, and 29% decrease than cane sugar per unit of sweetness. According to Cargill, which produces many stevia merchandise, EverSweet® stevia sweetener has the bottom influence rating on land use, local weather change, ozone depletion, and ecotoxicity amongst their sweetener merchandise.

Stevia leaves next to powdered stevia sweetener
Stevia is a comparatively low-impact crop, however be careful for refined stevia and even synthetic stevia sweeteners.


Honey has the potential to be the bottom influence — even web optimistic — pure sweetener as a result of you may produce your own at home. Not solely will your honey be produced with out processing, however elevating bees will encourage you to garden more sustainably, and the bees will present the essential ecosystem service of pollination for you and your neighbors.

Not able to change into an apiarist? Commercial honey is a little more complicated. Beekeepers continuously transport their hives lengthy distances to pollinate agricultural crops. This follow has important environmental and financial advantages. But it generates a lot of the carbon emissions from honey manufacturing. Honey production in the U.S. generates between 0.17 and 0.48 kg CO2-equivalent per kilogram of processed honey. Surprisingly, the most important honey producers have the bottom emissions by quantity. In a unique examine, honey produced in Argentina generated roughly 2.5 kg CO2eq/kg honey earlier than export. In the UK, at the least one business beekeeper is certified carbon neutral.

Although honey will be licensed natural, the worth of natural certification poses a sticky question. Even when the crops pollinated by business honeybees are natural, it’s inconceivable to ensure that bees solely go to the organically grown flowers. For most crops, organic is extra essential than local for sustainability. In the case of honey, the transparency and minimal processing of domestically produced varieties could also be extra significant than natural certification.

Pure honey undergoes little or no processing. Some honey is pasteurized, however not like dairy merchandise, warmth shouldn’t be required for meals security. Raw honey requires much less vitality and is arguably healthier. Especially since there have been reports of adulteration and contamination in imported honey, shopping for native (or at the least home) uncooked honey is the subsequent greenest choice to beekeeping.

Maple Syrup

Unless you reside within the Northeast, yard syrup manufacturing shouldn’t be an choice. And even if you happen to do, producing maple syrup is much more time-consuming than yard beekeeping. But like honey, maple syrup is a minimally processed, all-natural sweetener whose manufacturing can have environmental advantages.

Although maple syrup is a relatively sustainable product when it comes to land use and pesticides, it does generate carbon emissions. Processing maple sap into syrup is energy-intensive. Hours of boiling in an evaporator requires about 30 gallons of oil to supply one gallon of maple syrup. Traditionally, maple syrup is heated with wooden, which additionally produces unhealthy smoke. Because it’s a heavy liquid that’s often trucked reasonably than shipped throughout North America, the transportation emissions are additionally excessive.

However, the demand for maple syrup is an incentive to conserve carbon-storing woodlands that will in any other case be misplaced to improvement or extra intensive agriculture. In the top, maple syrup could also be a carbon-positive trade regardless of its emissions.

Maple syrup in glass bottle
It takes loads of vitality to course of maple syrup, however demand for this pure sweetener additionally gives a monetary incentive to protect woodlands. Image by piviso from Pixabay


Mexico is the one supply for agave nectar and syrup, which will be constituted of many various species of the native agave plant. The vegetation stay for greater than 5 years earlier than flowering and dying. Agave nectar is harvested from the flower; the sap is purified into syrup, which is commonly bought as nectar within the U.S.

When grown for sweetener reasonably than mescal, agave is commonly grown in giant monoculture farms, with their attendant environmental impacts. However, it’s nonetheless a comparatively low-impact crop. It doesn’t require a lot water and in some instances is even harvested by hand reasonably than gas-powered equipment. Agave has an estimated carbon footprint of 0.1 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of sugar.

When allowed to develop to full maturity, agave vegetation support populations of bats. The endangered long-nosed bat is a crucial desert pollinator that feeds on agave flowers. Buying organic and fair trade agave nectar can eradicate most of the most typical detrimental impacts of business agave manufacturing.

Farmer harvesting agave by hand
In some instances, agave continues to be harvested by hand. Photo by Rudy Prather on Unsplash

A Sweet Choice

Compared to the sugars added to most business meals, the environmental impacts of those pure sweeteners haven’t been nicely studied. Certain sorts of honey and maple syrup could also be higher decisions than stevia or agave. But from the data out there, they every appear to be a extra sustainable alternative than cane sugar or excessive fructose corn syrup. They might even have environmental advantages. Feel snug selecting a pure sweetener primarily based on taste, availability, or baking efficiency. Whichever pure sweetener you select, natural, honest commerce, and native manufacturers are, as all the time, your best option.