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