Best Hard Cider Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes

The sugar alcohol known as xylitol is the best sugar substitute to use in making hard ciderXylitol is not consumed by yeast which means it can be added to the batch without taking steps to kill or remove the yeast first.

Many people find that adding between 3 and 9 Tbs per gallon before bottling hits the mark, but you can adjust according to your own taste.  Since you can always add more to each individual serving when serving, it’s better to error on the side of adding too little before bottling.

Acceptable Alternatives

A close runner up to xylitol are other sugar alcohols such as erythritol (Truvia is mostly erythritol), sorbitol, or maltitol.  Any natural sugar substitute using Stevia or Monk Fruit as a base is also fine.  I don’t recommend using artificial sweeteners due to a bitter, metallic aftertaste they leave.

Why use sugar substitutes in the first place?

Let’s take a step back and consider why we would even need to use sugar substitutes.  Without intervention, fermenting apple juice results in a very dry hard cider.  If you prefer a very dry cider, you don’t need to concern themselves with adding sugar substitutes.  However, if you do prefer your hard cider at least a little sweet, which most people do, you need to intervene.

You may be thinking to yourself… if I want sweet hard cider, why can’t I just add sugar (or brown sugar, or honey, or apple juice concentrate)?

The problem is that the yeast in the cider will consume the sugar and ferment it (convert it to alcohol and CO2 gas).  The more sugar you add, the more alcohol and CO2 gas you get, but you won’t get more sweetness.

There are several ways you can add sweetness when making hard cider, which are covered in the full cider making guide.  However, the easiest method (and the focus here) is using sugar substitutes.  Because it is the simplest method, it’s also the approach given in the standard recipe for beginners.

Sugar Substitute Options

While there are many, many brands and labels of sugar substitutes, they can be categorized as either sugar alcohols, natural sugar substitutes, or artificial sugar substitutes.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar Alcohols are naturally occurring compounds that are derived from sugars and are commonly used in the food industry as a sweetener due to their lower calorie content (especially in sugar-free candy and gum).

Diabetics love them because they have a much lower effect on blood sugar, and dentists like that they don’t cause tooth decay like sugar.  Many sugar alcohols taste less sweet than sugar and (most importantly for us) they are non-fermentable.

There are many kinds of sugar alcohols (see the wiki page for more information).  The most common and commercially available types are xylitol and erythritol, but there are many other types such as sorbitol and maltitol.

Many cider makers (including me) agree that sugar alcohols are the best option for giving a natural tasting sweetness, without adding a bitter, metallic aftertaste.

More quick facts:

  • All sugar alcohols (except erythritol) have a laxative effect, especially when used in large quantities.
  • Xylitol is very toxic to dogs, even in small doses.
  • Sugar alcohols have a wide range of brand names and aren’t typically in standard grocery stores. You can find them in health stores, specialty grocery stores (such as Whole Foods) or through online retails like Amazon.
  • Although many people associate Truvia with Stevia, Truvia is over 99% erythritol and under 1% Stevia. For everything besides marketing purposes, Truvia is a sugar alcohol, not a natural sugar substitute.

Natural Sugar Substitutes

Natural sugar substitutes such as Stevia and monk fruit are derived from natural sources and are considered healthier alternatives to artificial sweeteners.
  • Stevia is a sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant.  Stevia typically comes in green packets and comes branded as Pure Via, Pyure, SweetLeaf, Stevia in the Raw, and many other names.  Stevia is a relative newcomer to the market, with most versions getting the ‘Generally Regarded As Safe’ approval from the FDA in 2008.  It is known as the ‘natural’ alternative to other sugar substitutes as it’s derived from the stevia plant.
  • Monk fruit sweeteners are derived from the extract of monk fruit.  Monk fruit is about 250 times sweeter than sugar, yet contains zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero sodium, and zero fat.  It’s also a zero on the glycemic index, meaning it has no impact on blood sugar.

Artificial Sugar Substitutes

Artificial sugar substitutes are very common to sweeten a wide range of food and drinks.  However, you won’t find many experienced cider makers putting it in their batches.  Although some disagree, the consensus is that it adds a bitter aftertaste.  A couple of the biggest names in this category are:

  • Sucralose – The most common branding of sucralose is Splenda, but the yellow-colored packets could also be a generic brand or other lessor-known name.  Sucralose is the most common type of sugar substitute in the world.
  • Aspartame – Identifiable by the blue packaging, aspartame comes in the form of Equal, Nutrasweet, and a variety of generic brands.
  • Saccharin – Saccharin is known by the iconic brand name ‘Sweet ‘N Low’, but there are other types that share the pink packets.

Lactose

Lactose is the sugar found in milk, and is not fermentable, so you can use it to sweeten hard cider.  However, using lactose as a sweetener in hard cider is not very common, because it’s not very sweet.  

One pound of lactose added to five gallons of hard cider is commonly sited as the upper limit before you start getting off tastes.  Any more than that, and it produces a distinct, undesirable flavor.

Wine Conditioner

Another not-so-common alternative for sweetening hard cider is wine conditioner.  Wine conditioner is a non-fermentable sugar, mixed with water and sorbate.  As it’s name suggests, it is more commonly used in wine-making than cider making.

You should only consider using wine conditioner if you are only sweetening the cider slightly, as too much can add too much mouthfeel (slickness on the tongue when you drink it).  Like other sweeteners, be sure to follow the guidance given on the package, and start by adding a little bit and tasting.  

Liquid Concentrate

Liquid concentrates are an excellent alternative.  There are quite a few products that are liquid concentrate forms of sugar substitutes.  A couple things to keep in mind:

  • There are liquid versions of several artificial sweeteners available, but you should stick to the same sugar substitutes that I recommend above.
  • Read the instructions very carefully. These products are very concentrated, so take caution not to use too much.  Either use the conversions provided with the product (more on that below), or add a little bit and taste before adding more.

How Much to Use?

Determining how much sugar substitute to use is a matter of preference.  3 Tbs per gallon is an amount will give a hint of sweetness, but produce a relatively dry cider.  6 Tbs per gallon will result in a hard cider in the semi-sweet range.  9 Tbs per gallon will produce a sweet hard cider.  

However, it is very important to understand that these amounts refer to the level of sweetness in that amount of natural sugar, which may be a different volume of the sugar substitute.  There are 2 styles of sugar substitutes:

  • Sugar substitutes that measure cup-for-cup to sugar. This means that if a recipe calls for 1 cup sugar, you can use 1 cup sugar substitute.  Stated another way, 1 cup of the sugar substitute tastes as sweet as 1 cup sugar.
  • Sugar substitutes that do not measure cup-for-cup to sugar. You’ll have to do some basic math to determine how much to use.  As an example, let’s say you’ve settled on Splenda as the sugar substitute.  You read the package and it says that 1 packet of Splenda is as sweet as 2 tsp of sugar.  The goal is to add 3 Tbs (9 tsp) of sweetness.  That means you’ll need to add 4.5 packets (9 tsp total / 2 tsp per pack) of Splenda per gallon.  Note that 4.5 packets of Splenda is far less than 3 Tbs… if you add 3 Tbs of Splenda from packets to a gallon of hard cider, it will ruin your cider (or so I’ve been told :/ )

Conclusion

One of the easiest ways to add sweetness to hard cider is using sugar substitutes.  Using sugar substitutes in making hard cider involves the individual tastes and preferences of the maker.

There is certainly nothing wrong with using any of the sugar substitutes listed on this page, and using a small amount of any sugar substitute is unlikely to cause a big difference in quality.

However, if you plan on sweetening the hard cider to the level of most commercially available hard ciders, I would encourage sticking to xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, or some version of Stevia. 

If you want to experiment with other options, I encourage you to do so in an individual serving, not for a whole batch.  It’s better to ruin 12-ounces of hard cider than 1 or 5 gallons.  🙂

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