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Ice Cream: Healthier Sweetener Options for this Homemade Treat

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Image by Ambernectar 13

I am a lover of all things ice cream. I dream about it…and I dream about making different flavors (hence the Butternut Ice Cream post). It’s my favorite dessert of all time – and my Cuisinart gets LOTS of use around here. But, I started wondering if there were other things that I could sweeten my ice cream with – besides turbinado sugar ( (we don’t like sucanat in ice cream). I’ll just go ahead and tell you the truth – I want to be able to eat more ice cream, so if I feel like it’s HEALTHY then I can eat more…right? Yes. Amen. So, I tried three different “healthy” sweeteners to see which ranked the highest: honey, liquid stevia, and maple syrup.

NOTE: I eat more ice cream in the winter than in the summer. Yes, I realize that is weirdo. Here is my reasoning – I don’t have to eat it super fast in the winter because I’m not worried about it melting – so I enjoy it long and slow. But I also eat a lot in the summer too…and I eat it fast and don’t share so that it won’t melt into nothingness.


I tried my same base recipe for all three tests (I’ll give it at the bottom). First, I went with honey.  Normally I use ¾ cup of turbinado in my ice cream, so since honey is stronger I used a bit less…but not too much less because I sorta wanted the honey flavor to shine through – I went with 2/3 cup of raw honey.

In a saucepan warm 1 cup of whole milk just a tad…not too hot, just to knock the cold off of it so that the honey will dissolve quicker. Add the honey and stir until combined. Throw in a pinch of salt, one tablespoon of vanilla, and 2 cups heavy cream. Stir. Refrigerate for 2-24 hours and then churn.

This was really good…and I was worried. I’m not a huge fan of the taste of honey, but this was very light. In fact, my sister couldn’t even taste it. It got thumbs up from my whole family – and we finished it in only 24 hours. *Burp*


Next, I decided to go with stevia – liquid Sweet Leaf (that only brand we care for). The bottle says to use 5-8 drops for 8 ounces of liquid. Since I use 3 cups total of liquid, I first tried 24 drops. I mixed the stevia, milk, salt, vanilla, and cream together. I tasted the cream mixture (everyone does that, right?) to see how it was – not sweet enough. So I ended up using 30 drops.

I churned the ice cream and was sadly disappointed. The texture wasn’t like real ice cream – it was more like ice milk. I didn’t like it AT ALL. I felt like I wasted the cream…but Barry said it wasn’t the worst thing he’d ever eaten. It wasn’t creamy and it wasn’t sweet enough. Two thumbs down. I won’t try this again.

I lost my mind and put this batch in the fridge instead of the freezer – uhhhh, oops? So, no more stevia ice cream. And it had the WEIRDEST texture in the morning – like liquid motor oil. I try not to think about the fact that I lost two cups of heavy cream. RIP cream. *Sniff*

Maple Syrup

I saved the maple syrup for last because I had a feeling it would be best – I mean, maple syrup is like ketchup – it makes everything taste better. Highlands Sugarworks is the organic maple syrup that I buy from Amazon. I used 2/3 cup just like with the honey.  It will dissolve just fine with cold milk, so mix together all your ingredients and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. Churn.

Holy cow Batman. Holy cow. This is the way ice cream was meant to be! When it was done, I found myself in the kitchen licking the beater and groaning with delight – Barry was in the living room and I know he wonders what I was doing…but probably not since he knew I was churning ice cream. This was the best batch of ice cream I’ve ever made – ever.  If it’s possible, maple syrup gets 10 thumbs up.

I just might have dropped a chunk of this in the floor. And I just might have picked it up and eaten it. And I just might have licked my fingers. And I just might have given myself more than Barry. And I just might have hidden it in the back of the freezer – but I’m not so dumb as to think that Barry will forget it’s in there. Bummer.


So, I’ve deduced that honey and maple syrup are GREAT ice cream sweeteners! Don’t waste your time or cream on the stevia. Maple syrup is now our sweetener of choice. Also, Newman’s Own Organic Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies might also make a great topping…or so I’ve heard. *Cough*

*This post is linked at Simple Lives Thursday on GNOWFGLINS, at Fat Tuesday on Real Food Forager, at Hearth and Soul Blog Hop at Penniless Parenting, at Tuesdays at the Table on All The Small Stuff, at Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead, at Works for Me Wednesday on We Are That Family, at Homemaking Hints at Heavenly Homemakers, at Real Food 101 at Ruth’s Real Food, and at Pennywise Platter on The Nourishing Gourmet.

Comment Policy: I love hearing your thoughts and input on what I write. Since I write about what works at my house, what pleases my handsome hubby and darling children; I'm sure we'll disagree sometimes. In those cases, do what's right for you and yours. As with any form of communication, please only post comments that move the discussion in a positive direction.

About Stacy

Stacy is the author of Crock On: A Semi-Whole Foods Slow Cooker Cookbook and Keep Crockin': A Poorganic Slow Cooker Cookbook, and a stay-at-home and homeschooling mom to her three children, Annie (June 2009), Andy (August 2012) and Eli (September 2014). After an “awakening” in March 2011, her family switched to a more natural, whole foods diet. She likes to blog about how to live on less than you make and how to eat good food while doing it. Her passion is teaching others how to save money and she tag teams with her husband in this endeavor. At Stacy Makes Cents you’ll find information on how to save money in the kitchen, how to have fun with your kids, and how to be thrifty in all areas of life. Her passion is teaching others how to live debt free. Make sure to follow her on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest and more to keep up with her daily antics.

  • Brandy

    I’m beginning to think that there’s nothing maple syrup can’t do. I love it so.

    • Stacy

      Preach it!

  • Yolanda

    THANK YOU…..

    • Stacy

      You’re very welcome. :-)

  • Bethie

    Hi, I too love homemade ice cream, but I hate to burst your bubble, the sweeteners you used are no less caloric nor any healthier than f you used high fructose corn syrup, straight can sugar, beet sugar or any other type of real sugar. Sugar is sugar is sugar, and the body recognizes it all the same way. Sorry, but my dad is a science professor (all the good ones like Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, etc) and sugar is sugar.

    Enjoy your tasty treat, just do so in moderation. And remember, dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and the more you get the better you feel, so load up on the good dark chocolate…ever tried broken up Godiva dark chocolate truffles in your homemade ice cream? I do believe God puts his fingers in when it’s churning!!! It’s that good! All the best, Beth

    • Stacy

      Thanks for the comment Beth, but I have to disagree with you to a certain extent. Yes, honey and maple syrup might be the same in calorie content but honey IS better for you than high fructose corn syrup….it’s not processed and it comes straight from the source. Our family tries to embrace the lifestyle of eating things as closely as possible to the way God made them.
      God mentions honey several times in His Word as a blessing and something good. So, for me that means it’s okay to eat it. Do we eat it every day with every single meal? Nope. All things in moderation.
      I am sorta confused about your comment equaling honey and maple syrup to HFCS…they’re not even remotely close. I feel much better about feeding my family a bowl of homemade ice cream with honey…I have to say it IS better than running to the store and letting them eat Hershey’s ice cream that’s chock full of HfCS and who knows what else.
      I haven’t tried truffles in my ice cream, but that’s an excellent suggestion! Usually if truffles enter this house, they enter my mouth before they have a chance to make it anywhere else. LOL

    • lisa

      for Bethie: I think saying “sugar is sugar” is like saying “air is air. It doesn’t matter if you breathe smog and toxin filled air or crisp clean mountain air. Your body processes the oxygen out of it.” Oh, but there is so much more to it than that!

      • Stacy

        That’s a really great analogy. :-) Thanks Lisa!

  • Shannon

    I never thought of using honey or maple syrup to sweeten my ice cream. I might have to try it. We just bought a Yonana to make ice cream out of bananas and frozen berries and we are loving that around here right now. I think I’ll need to try honey ice cream though because I love honey!

    • Stacy

      It’s super delicious! So, you’re making sorbet? I think mine does that too, but I haven’t tried it yet – we’re stuck on ice cream. lol

      • Shannon

        Well I have the same ice cream maker as you, but this new “machine” the Yonana takes bananas and other fruit and makes it into the same consistency as ice cream. I gave up refined sugar for lent and wanted some ice cream! :)

        • Stacy

          Oh dear. I so wish I hadn’t heard about this… I think I need one. LOL

  • Katherine

    Hi, my name’s Katherine and I have a problem…

    Stacy, you may just love ice cream as much as I do!

    • Stacy

      I’m blaming it all on this baby! After he/she comes, I’ll have to come up with a different excuse. lol

  • Rebekah

    I bet you could use the honey, some cinnamon, and maybe some cinnamon baked tortilla crisps to make fried ice cream style ice cream. Yummmmm ……

    • Stacy

      Ohhhhhhhhhhh, you DID just go there, didn’t you? *Slobber*

  • Rebecca

    *goes out and stocks up on maple syrup*
    *remembers I do not own an ice cream machine and buys one of those as well*

    I have been resisting buying an ice cream machine because I did not want to consume that much sugar on a regular basis. (And believe me it will be regular!) I had wondered about using a natural sweetener, but didn’t want to make an investment on a machine only to have the natural sweetened ice cream be gross. Two cups of heavy cream does not bother me nearly as much as the sugar! As for your comment to the poster above, I agree with you, Stacy, I would much rather feed my family honey or maple syrup then the “white poison” or HFCS. But she is right to say moderation is the key in everything! (I wish ice cream was an exception!) Thank you for this post!!

    • Stacy

      “All things in moderation, including moderation.” :-) That’s my favorite quote by Oscar Wilde.
      And honey, if you have to blame your ice cream buying extravaganza on me, you just go right ahead. lol I’ll be happy to take the fall for ya…and your family will love me after that anyway. 😉

  • Meghan @ Whole Natural Life

    Like you, I’ve also tried to tweak ice cream recipes so that I can enjoy ice cream more often without feeling guilty. We’ve found that using a combination of honey and stevia works well. For some reason using a little bit of honey with the stevia is worlds better than the stevia on its own.

    The texture is not the same as regular ice cream, but I’ve been making low-sugar ice cream for years now so I guess I’m just used to it. I still think it’s delicious.

    • Stacy

      I never thought to combine the two….but we didn’t care for just the plain stevia. The maple syrup is our favorite, but a little pricey. :-)

  • Anne @ Quick and Easy Cheap and Healthy


    • Stacy


  • Christy, The Simple Homemaker

    Thanks for being the guinea pig! Next time you need ice cream testers, let us know!

    To Bethie above:

    My hubs is a trained science guy, too, from Marquette University, and we have had this same discussion, and researched it ad nauseum. 😉 I will agree that the body recognizes a sugar molecule as a sugar molecule and will respond in kind. That said, you cannot discount the fact that with unprocessed honey and minimally processed maple syrup, you are consuming nutrients that are not available in HFCS. Also, when something is consumed within the matrix in which it was originally made (by God and the bees or trees, not by the chemists), it is not a straight shot of sugar; in other words it delivers “stuff” along with the sugar to aid a healthy body in processing it internally, and to reduce the spike/crash effect sugar otherwise has on the blood sugar. So, scientifically, yes, sugar is sugar in its basic molecular structure, but nutritionally, honey and maple syrup are better.

    That said, I’m currently avoiding ALL sugar AND dairy for my nursing baby with allergy problems, so…sadly…no ice cream for me. :(

    • Stacy

      Christy, thanks for explaining that so well. :-) It makes total sense.

      And also, I will eat all of your ice cream and tell you all about it. You’re welcome. I make sacrifices for my friends.

  • Emily

    If you get a chance to see the Good Eats episode “Churn, Baby, Churn”, Alton Brown talks about the science behind using some form of sugar in ice cream, although he uses white sugar. The chemical makeup of sugar (and the similarity of honey and maple syrup) makes ice cream creamy – without it, it really becomes frozen cream, which is why the stevia did not work, and why using any type of non-sugar based sweetener will not make a good ice cream.
    I’ve been using that same recipe for my last few batches, and was just getting ready to experiment with maple syrup and honey. Thanks for doing it for us! Looking forward to trying it out. One of my favorite ice cream toppings is honey and cinnamon.

    • Stacy

      Honey and cinnamon were made to be together – it’s love at first bite. :-) And thanks for that explanation! It makes perfect sense to me!

  • Heather :) :) :)

    I really like using raw honey as a sweetener for just about everything. It’s the only “sugar” that I use.. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

    • Stacy

      I’m eager for the bees to start doing their thing again around here. :-)

  • Angela

    Thank you for sharing this. I made it with the maple syrup. This was a HUGE HIT with the entire family, even the less crunchy ones! :)

    • Stacy

      Maple syrup might be the best sweet of all time. :-)

  • Amanda

    I’m so asking for an icecream maker for my birthday!

    • Stacy

      GIRL, you will love it!!!!

  • Becca C

    Oooh sweet! After the baby gets here, your new excuse will be that you’re nursing and need those 300 extra calories! 😉

    • Stacy

      You’re a stinkin’ genius.

  • Alea @ Premeditated Leftovers

    Great ideas! I have been cutting back on refined sugar in our diet, but haven’t tried making ice-cream yet.

    • Stacy

      And once you start, you won’t stop….it’s AWESOME!!

  • Mary @ Fit and Fed

    Interesting comment from Emily! My current natural sugar fave is blonde coconut sugar, it’s low glycemic and has a nice caramel flavor. But I’m certainly not going to argue with maple syrup! I use sugar when I’m making something like a chocolate dessert that requires it. I also like making fruit-based sorbets that use frozen banana for the sweetener. Sometimes I don’t want the banana flavor and then I’ll use something else like agave. There are a lot of possibilities, it’s just fun to experiment, and yes, I think almost anything you make yourself will end up healthier than if you bought it at the store. Price-wise, to buy an ice cream that included only the whole ingredients you would use at home would be much more expensive.

    • Stacy

      I need to venture into sorbet! Barry loves it, but I’m not a fan. :-)

  • laura

    you might consider that a granulated stevia would work better in ice cream than the liquid… just my thoughts. i’m researching and there seem to be some lovely stevia recipes on line.

    • Stacy

      I do have the powdered version as well – I might have to give that a shot when I’m not so worried about losing the cream. :-)

  • Stacy

    You should never tell on yourself!!