Sugarless Sweets?? Sugar Substitutes During WWI

During World War I there were sugar shortages, so consumers were encouraged to use alternatives to white sugar. Here’s some excepts from a hundred-year-old article about “sugarless sweets” – though I tend to consider most of the alternatives to be sugars.

Sugarless Sweets: Delicious Desserts Made with No Sugar

The recent sugar shortage has brought home to us the fact that we need not be dependent upon white sugar for sweetening.

Brown Sugar. In substituting brown sugar – when we are lucky enough to obtain it – the same amount should be used as white. A cupful of brown sugar has less actual sweetening power than white sugar, but it makes up in flavor what it lacks in sweetness. 

Maple Sugar. In using maple sugar the same thing is true, and the usual recipe will be as successful as ever, the texture being the same and only the flavor changing – often for the better.

Maple Sirup. Maple sirup is not so sweet as sugar, and when used to replace it should be increased by one-half. Of course in this case allowance must be made for the increase of liquid. Using the amount of liquid called for in the recipe should be halved.

Corn Sirup. The same rule holds good for corn sirup. One and a half again as much sirup may be used, and to make up for a certain flatness of taste, it is desirable to use an extra amount of flavoring. When used in cakes and cookies better results are obtained if sirup is substituted for only half the sugar.

Molasses. In using molasses we find that no change need be made so far as amounts for sweetening purposes are concerned, because, like brown sugar, what it lacks in sweetness must be made up in flavor; but the same allowance must be made for liquid as when using sirup – it should be halved. When molasses is used in cake mixtures, soda should be used instead of baking powder in the proportion of one teaspoonful of soda to one cupful molasses.

Honey. Honey, probably the longest-used sweetening in the world, has not been in common use for cooking purposes recently. It has a distinct favor, which combines well with spices and its sweetening power is about the same as that of sugar. Honey is thicker than sirup, so it therefore adds less liquid, and in replacing sugar only one-fourth of the liquid in the recipe need be left out. As honey is slightly acid, soda in the proportion of half a teaspoonful to one cupful of honey should be used in cake or cookie mixtures.

Fruits. The sweetening qualities of fruits are not always recognized, but when raisins or dates are used the sugar may be appreciably lessoned. If twelve cut-up dates are added to two cupfuls of cooked oatmeal ten minutes before serving, no sugar will be required – unless your family has a very sweet tooth.

With all these sugar-saving sweets at our disposal, we shall certainly not find it difficult to cut down our use of sugar from the pre-wartime amount of four ounces a day to the two-ounce ration which the Food Administration is asking us to make our maximum.

Ladies Home Journal (March, 1918)

32 thoughts on “Sugarless Sweets?? Sugar Substitutes During WWI

    1. “But at least they’re not aspartame.”

      Part of my occasional campaign here, not successful I’d add, to wean my wife off of “diet soda”.

      Sugar is sugar, but at least its not unnatural.

    1. How very true that is.

      They lacked for real goods quite often. Now, we’re lacking in other areas that are harder to discern and appreciate.

  1. The only sugar not on the list, as far as I know, is the sugar we love down here in Texas. When someone like a grandma wants a hug and a kiss, she’ll say, “Come over here and gimme me some sugar!”

    1. Your comment made me smile. When I first started to read it, I thought that you’d say something like sorghum syrup – and I loved the surprise twist at the end.

  2. Indeed, shipping for sugar, which involved transporting it from Cuba at the time, was such a concern that the government issued a poster portraying sweets consumers as baddies:

    1. Great poster – Thanks sharing it. It’s amazing that people were already worrying about sugar sweetened drinks during WWI. It’s interesting how Cuba apparently was the major exporter of sugar to the U.S. back then. Trade patterns (and sources of sugar) have really changed across the past hundred years.

    1. I also found it really interesting how syrup was spelled in the old magazine. As a person who has always lived in the north, I’d say SEERup.

      1. It does sound like a good idea. I just made a flourless walnut cake. The only sweets were dark muscovado sugar, which I could not find and had to substitute dark brown sugar, and amaretto ;). YUMMY!!!!

          1. It’s very good. I used orange zest instead of lemon as the recipe called for. Might try diced dried fruit for the celiac hubster next time, though that sounds awful to me :).

  3. I liked the spelling of syrup! 😄 I’m rather fond of molasses ,it was used a lot at home ..cornbread,pancakes,biscuits and in cookies,also got used to using cane syrup that is made locally.

    1. Molasses is slowly growing on me. I didn’t use to like it, but I’m learning to appreciate its wonderful complexity and nuanced sweetness. I’ve never had cane sugar, but now I’m curious.

    1. I took it to mean per person; but, like you, I thought that two ounces seemed like a lot, And, the article indicated that people were eating four ounces a day and should cut back to two ounces. Four ounces seems like a ridiculously large amount of sugar. Maybe people weren’t eating as healthily as we’d like to think back then.

  4. Oh my sweet! From four ounces to two! I have finally managed to cut my sugar almost to none with great effects on health and weight. When I need some sweet I add a pinch of Stevia, which is a natural, zero calorie sugar substitute now available…but was not known back then.

  5. It really makes one think about what changes and sacrifices needed to be made in those times. Interesting to read how much of each replaces white sugar.

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