Fruits in baking

Using fruit purée as a sweetener
Doug Picklyk
May 18, 2016
Written by
Apples are a popular alternative to refined sugar in the baking industry.
Apples are a popular alternative to refined sugar in the baking industry. Photo: Thinkstock
Sugar is under attack. In Canada, business leaders and politicians are advocating for more revealing sugar labels on foods. In the U.S., the recent 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans now recommends consumers get less than 10 per cent of calories per day from added sugars. It’s the addition of liquid or granulated refined sugar in the form of sucrose that is being targeted. The heightened awareness is being led by health concerns.


Caution surrounding refined sugar is a consumer trend bakeries are seeing first-hand. “A lot of people are going to nutritionists and naturopaths and they come in saying, ‘I’m not allowed to have sugar anymore,’” says Donna van Veghel-Wood, owner of Baked at Frankie’s in Uxbridge, Ont., a gluten-free bakery that’s been operating for eight years.

Mike LeRoy, co-owner of Trillium Bakery in Ottawa has also witnessed more customers with Type 2 diabetes coming into the bakery these days seeking alternative forms of sugar. Founded by his mother, Jocelyn, 37 years ago, Trillium is known for its gluten-free, dairy-free and diabetic-friendly items.

When seeking an alternative to refined sugar both of these bakeries turn to fruit, and there is a long list of fruits that can be puréed including: bananas, apples, pears, pineapples, dates, figs, mangoes, papaya and pumpkin.

Karen Proper, technical manager of product and process development with NSF-GFTC in Guelph, Ont., says apple purée is the popular choice as a refined sugar substitute in the food industry, and it has been used as a substitute in baking not only for refined sugar, but also for eggs and fat.

“Apple purée possesses significantly less calories than sugar and is a good source of fiber, vitamins and nutrients including Vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin and potassium,” Proper says.

With regards to caloric content, she points out that where one cup of apple purée contains 102 calories, the same amount of sugar contains 774 calories. She also adds the apple’s mild taste and light colour makes it versatile for use in many baking applications.

Proper also points to date purée as another popular choice that includes the added bonus of calcium, iron, potassium and fiber.

“Date purée has been used both as a sugar and as a fat substitute, however its strong flavour and dark colour makes it less versatile than apple purée.”

At Trillium, LeRoy uses banana in many products, along with dates and apricots, and he finds applesauce works well for fat-free products, as it binds and keeps products moist if you’re not adding any oil.

Van Veghel-Wood always uses a mix of banana and apple. “I don’t want too much apple or banana taste,” she says, noting she’ll typically add one small banana and half an apple to three cups of flour in her muffin mix.

For high-volume commercial bakers, Proper suggests sourcing ready-made fruit purées from ingredient suppliers as the ideal choice for a number of reasons, including quality and consistency, as well as simplifying internal manufacturing processes.

“We buy the actual fruit,” says LeRoy. “I get overripe bananas from suppliers. We’ll peel them all, place them in containers in the fridge and they’ll last for a week. For apricots and dates, being dried fruits, we’ll soak them to add some water, cook them, purée them and they’ll be good in the fridge for a week or two.” He also recommends freezing the purée and taking it out the day before you want to use it.

While there are benefits to incorporating fruit purées, Proper says it is important to note they cannot always be substituted for sugar in a recipe because of sugar’s role in the chemical processes of baking.

She lists a number of key functions of sugar that a purée can’t perform, including stabilizing egg whites, contributing a golden brown colour, adding bulk to dough and batters, contributing to the “fine crumb” texture, serving as the food for yeast in yeast-leavened breads, aerating butter during the creaming step in cakes and binding water to increase shelf life.

Freshness is an area that van Veghel-Wood notes as a limitation she’s experienced using fruit purées in her products.

“There’s no shelf life at all,” she says.

Sugar’s role as a preservative didn’t connect for her until she started using fruit as a substitute. “I would bake a chocolate cake with fruit purée and the texture was wonderful coming out of the oven, but if it sat for half a day, we wouldn’t want to offer it any more.”

For LeRoy, with the exception of items like muffins, which are baked fresh daily, all of his designated sugar-free items are kept in the fridge to extend their freshness.

It’s because of these limitations that many substitutes for commercial baking, including fruit purées, are typically combined with traditional sugar, Proper says.

“Only a portion of the sugar within the formulation (generally one-third to one-half) should be considered for replacement by fruit purées,” she suggests. “The additional amount of liquid these purées contribute must also be considered and the formulation should be adjusted accordingly.”

For any packaged goods with labels, the common name of the fruit purée (and if applicable, all of its components), would need to be listed in descending order by weight, she says.

At Trillium, they’ve been playing with fruits and going further than just using them as a sugar substitute for years. For diabetic-friendly cakes, they’ll purée apricots and use that as a topping. “It’s not the cheapest way to finish a cake,” LeRoy says, but it’s popular.

Regarding proportions of fruit purée to use within formulations, it will depend on what else is in the recipe, he has found. While he suggests the general rule is one cup of purée to replace one cup of sugar, if you’re not using eggs you might need to use more of a binding-type of fruit.

“It took us a lot of years to come up with some sugar-free recipes that also don’t have eggs or dairy in them,” LeRoy says. “It’s trial and error, but generally speaking, if you’re keeping eggs and dairy in the recipe, you’re okay to substitute the fruit purée amount for the sugar.”

There is no question for LeRoy and van Veghel-Wood that demand for alternative ways to sweeten baked goods is on the rise, and the proof can be seen in the shops. When Baked at Frankie’s gets an order for no-sugar-added muffins, any remainders end up on the shelf, van Veghel-Wood says. “And they always sell out.” 


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