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Taste test: Sugar substitute

Artificial sweeteners at a diner table.


Artificial sweeteners at a diner table.

Two of my friends from France own a local restaurant and have asked me several times about the differences in sugar substitutes. They said they are often confused when customers ask for different color packets in place of real sugar. I agreed to ask our panelists for help. Do all of those sugar substitutes on the market taste different, or do consumers just get used to a certain brand? Our dedicated tasters sampled 14 varieties of zero-calorie sugar substitutes found at local grocery stores. They sampled them straight out of the packets as well as added the powders to brewed black tea to see how they dissolved in hot beverages. Because we had so many brands to try, we split the tastings in half. This week's column features the judges' top three picks from the first seven tastings. Next week's column will include the three imitation sweeteners panelists liked best out of the other seven brands. Each packet sampled was supposed to taste like the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of sugar. The imitation sweeteners were primarily made with aspartame, saccharin, sucralose or stevia leaf extract.

Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent


(out of 100)
Winn-Dixie 57Great Value 49Splenda 42

Winn-Dixie's brand of sweetener, made from stevia leaf extract, had the texture of granulated sugar, according to one panelist. "It feels and tastes like real sugar on the tongue," she said. "In a cup of tea, this will fake anyone out." Another said, "This is sweet and smooth, almost like the real thing. It tastes like a whisper of sweetness or a peck on the cheek from an old paramour." Walmart's sucralose-based sweetener was described by one judge as "cotton candy flavored." The same judge said he doesn't like sweets but would consider adding this brand of sugar substitute to his backpack for a future hike. Another said it was smooth and "almost gentle, like a pat on the head from your third-grade teacher when you properly guess the name of the first president of the United States." A different taster said the powder looked like a dry snow drift and had a completely sweet flavor without a chemical taste. This sugar substitute, the brand name for sucralose, usually comes in a little yellow packet. It also can be used in baking because the product doesn't break down when heated. Our judges appreciated the flavor better when it was dissolved in hot tea. On its own, the powder had a very metallic finish and a bitter aftertaste. "It definitely tastes fake," said one judge. "This is like that scene in Star Wars where the stars are pin points, then they elongate as the starship moves into hyperdrive," said another panelist. "It's way, way too sweet — almost bitter."

they buy?
Two of the four judges said yes.Two of the four judges said yes.Two of the four judges said yes.
Shopping information$1.79 for a 3.5-ounce box of

100 packets.
$1.25 for a 1.75-ounce box of

50 packets from Walmart.
$2.24 for a 1.75-ounce box of

50 packets from Walmart..

Also Sampled: SweetLeaf ($3.79 for a 1.25-ounce box of 35 packets, 12 points); Monk Fruit in the Raw ($2.88 for a 1.12-ounce box of 40 packets from Walmart, 41 points); Great Value Stevia ($3.96 for a 5.6-ounce box of 80 packets from Walmart, 38 points); and Pyure ($5.48 for a 2.8-ounce box of 80 packets from Walmart, 27 points).

Panelists: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; John Hehn, foodie and owner of All Brite Lighting & Power Design Inc.; and Janet Keeler, assistant professor of journalism at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. All products were tasted blind.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to

Serving size1 packet1 packet1 packet
Fat/Fiber0g / 0g0g / 0g0g / 0g
Sugars/Sodium0g / 0mg0g / 0mg0g / 0mg
Carbs/Protein0g / 0g0g / 0g0g / 0g

Taste test: Sugar substitute 01/30/17 [Last modified: Monday, January 30, 2017 10:49am]
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