Over the years, I’ve learned that the secret to low- and no-sugar cooking comes down to a few essential elements. In developing recipes for Half the Sugar, All the Love, I found myself going back again and again to the same reliable standbys that truly worked.
You probably have these common ingredients in your kitchen already, but if you don’t, they’re easy to find. These Trader Joe’s pantry staples are the ones I stock up on to make my favorite low- or no-sugar recipes without sacrificing flavor.
Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are the keys to cooking with less added sugar. Ripe, fresh fruits like dark speckled bananas, pears, and pineapple, along with vegetables like sweet potatoes, add natural sweetness without added sugar.
Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can make it even easier to cook with less sugar. I keep a stash of TJ’s Frozen Pineapple Tidbits in my freezer for making dishes like Pineapple Teriyaki Short Ribs (one of my faves from my book!) and several cans of sweet potato and pumpkin in my dry pantry for making these decadent Double Chocolate Brownies.
These caramel-y little fruits are the gems of low-sugar cooking. They’re packed with natural sweetness, and each date contains 1.6 grams of fiber.
That fiber is the key difference between added sugars, like brown sugar and honey, and naturally occurring sugars like the sugar found in dates. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar in your body, making it easier to process, and helps you feel full.
That’s why TJ’s Pitted Medjool Dates are a pantry staple in my kitchen. They’re the secret ingredient that adds quintessential flavor to the Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies in Half the Sugar, All the Love.
Nut and seed butters provide creamy sweetness without added sugar. TJ’s Creamy Unsalted Peanut Butter and TJ’s Unsweetened Almond Butter can be used for everything from no-bake energy bites and desserts, like my favorite Chocolate Peanut Butter Snack Cake, to savory sauces like the Hoisin Sauce in the Chicken Lettuce Wraps.
For the times I need a nut-free alternative, I keep TJ’s Unsweetened Sunflower Seed Spread on hand. TJ’s Tahini can be a great swap for nut-based spreads too.
To keep low-sugar baked goods moist and tender without loading up on saturated fats, you’ll need to have Trader Joe’s Plain Greek Yogurt in your fridge.
Recipes like this super-moist No Sugar Banana Bread rely on the magical combination of Greek yogurt and Medjool dates to add moisture and natural sweetness without loading up on saturated fats and added sugar.
Bittersweet chocolate lends a wonderful richness and depth of flavor to recipes and has less added sugar than its semisweet counterpart.
Trader Joe’s Pound Plus 72% Cocoa Dark Chocolate is an easy swap, and one that’s a regular in the baking section of my pantry. That rich dark chocolate is the delicious coating on these low-sugar Chocolate Truffles.
Trader Joe’s has an ample selection of spices, and basics like TJ’s Ground Cinnamon and TJ’s Pumpkin Pie Spice can provide the suggestion of sweetness without added sugar in your favorite recipes.
Vanilla extract is another essential element for your spice drawer — just be sure to choose one that doesn’t contain added sugar.
I use these spices liberally in my low-sugar recipes to enhance flavor.
Toasting nuts is a small step that pays off when you need to amplify flavor without added sugar. Nuts also add texture, which helps round out low-sugar recipes.
TJ’s Toasted Pecan Pieces are a quick and easy addition to recipes like this Pecan Pie No Sugar Granola. It’s a smart idea to have TJ’s Premium Walnut Halves and TJ’s Raw Almonds at the ready as well.
Want more? Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day by Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha Patel, MD, MSPH is packed with more than 100 recipes to help you enjoy your favorite foods with more fruits and vegetables and less added sugar.