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Food & Drink

Sugar vs. Artificial Sweetener: Which Wins In A Taste Test?

Can your taste buds tell the difference?
Artificial sweeteners are displayed, on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, in New York. Artificial sweeteners may set the stage for diabetes in some people by hampering the way their bodies handle sugar, according to results of a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Artificial sweeteners are displayed, on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, in New York. Artificial sweeteners may set the stage for diabetes in some people by hampering the way their bodies handle sugar, according to results of a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

Artificial sweeteners are one of those eternally controversial topics in the food world. Some people swear by them, some people condemn them and new studies are constantly being released about their effects. On top of all the debate, new sugar substitutes seem to be coming out every year. Not the biggest fans of substitutes in general here at HuffPost Taste -- we opt for butter over margarine and real or no meat over the fake stuff -- we usually choose natural sugar over artificial sweetener. That said, we're certainly not strangers to sugar substitutes, and are always curious about the potential merits, faults and most importantly, taste of artificial sweeteners.

Your brain may know the difference between artificial sweeteners and sugar -- but do your taste buds? And which sweetener do they prefer? Some people may choose sweeteners based on the calorie content. While a zero-calorie sweetener might appeal to certain people, others will stay far away. If only taste and not calories were a factor, however, which sweetener would these people choose? We rounded up our most discerning HuffPost editors and put their taste buds to the test.

We tested 10 sweeteners, including real sugar and sugar in the raw, by adding the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar into eight ounces of black tea. We steeped one pot of tea and divided it into 10 cups, so that every sweetener was working its magic in the same exact substance. We then asked our editors to rate the taste on a scale of 1 to 10. We tested only powdered sugars, so we left out liquid varieties like agave or honey.

We also asked the editors to share which sweetener, if any, they typically use in their beverages. None of the reviewers use artificial sweeteners to sweeten their drinks -- they typically prefer sugar, honey or unsweetened beverages.

It turns out, according to our reviewers, real sugar tastes better than any artificial sweetener. It also appears that people hate erythritol, the key ingredient in the two least favorite sweeteners. Finally, we learned that Sweet 'N Low has cream of tartar in it. We'll leave you with that puzzling fun fact.

Here's how artificial sweeteners and real sugar stacked up, according to our blind taste test.

As always, this taste test is in no way influenced or sponsored by the brands included.

10
Zero (LOSER)
Alison Spiegel
Made with: erythritol "This makes tea taste like chemicals. Never again." "It's like licking a battery." "Bahhhh."
9
Truvia
Amazon
Made with: erythritol, stevia leaf extract, natural flavors "Very strong vanilla overtones. Not crazy about it." "I just licked tin foil?" "This is an ok sweetener. Pretty bland, nothing spectacular." "Gross!"
8
Sweet Leaf
Alison Spiegel
Made with: SweetLeaf Stevia extract and Inulin soluble fiber "Just a hint of artificial, could totally substitute this in a drink." "Whoa. Tastes like 1988. Overkill." "Powerful in all the wrong ways." "This is gross, absurdly sweet and also very bitter." "Nope."
7
Splenda
Amazon
Made with: dextrose, maltodextrin, sucralose "I can taste the paper of whatever packet this came in." "Doesn't taste overly artificial, but definitely doesn't taste like sugar." "Super bland but something is off." "This tastes fake but not aggressively so." "CARD BOARD." "Nope."
6
Sweet 'N Low
Amazon
Made with: dextrose, saccharin, cream of tartar, calcium silicate "Blech. So sweet, tastes too powerful." "Super strong but doesn't leave a bad taste in my mouth." "So sweet that I know it can't be real, but not terribly metallic." "Fake, sickly sweet, bitter. Not good." "Not bad, kind of natural." "OMG my teeth! Get me a dentist!"
5
Stevia In The Raw (Tied With Equal)
Made with: dextrose, stevia leaf extract "Tastes like sugar, then a blast of aspartame :(." "This is nice but has a bit of a bitter aftertaste. Would sweeten again." "This has a stale, clearly artificial sugar/sweetener taste.""Immediate artificial aftertaste. Not bad, just fake."
4
Equal
Amazon
Made with: Dextrose with maltodextrin, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium "Mediocre sweetness." "Gah! This is very sweet!" "Has a slightly honey taste." "Powerfully sweet, obviously artificial after about three seconds on the tongue." "This is ok, pretty bland, nothing spectacular." "Gross!"
3
Sweet Mate
Dollar Tree
Made with: dextrose, stevia extract, cellulose powder, natural flavors "Hey, for artificial, it ain't bad." "Tastes just like regular sugar." "Bland, bland, bland." "Very faint taste." "Not into it. Tastes blatantly fake." "This could be real? But it's not delicious so it's probably not.
2
Sugar In The Raw
Amazon
Made with: Turbinado sugar "This doesn't make me react in a negative way. This is real and delicious." "Pretteh, pretteh good. Not too sweet." "Not very powerful, but not artificial tasting." "Really smooth, not too sweet." "This is delicious, not too sweet but perfectly sugary." "Brown sugar?"
1
Granulated Sugar (WINNER)
Amazon
Made with: sugar! "Not sweet." "Can't even taste the sugar." "Not overpoweringly sweet or artificial tasting, but leaves a chalky taste on your tongue." "Sugar, is that you? Whatever you are, you're pleasing." "That's the stuff. 100 % happiness."

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Arizona Raspberry Iced Tea
Amazon.com
These recognizable-anywhere cans are bad news: They contain 23.5 ounces, nearly three times the suggested serving size for the tea inside. With 90 calories per 8 ounces, finishing an entire can adds up to almost 270. Photo from Amazon.com
Starbucks Bottled Mocha Frappuccino
Amazon.com
The 9.5-ounce Starbucks to go contains 180 calories. Photo from Amazon.com
Jamba Juice Smoothies
Granted, Jamba Juice All Fruit smoothies are made with much better-for-you ingredients than a can of cola. However, it's still easy to mindlessly sip your calories when a 16-ounce size clocks in at least 210 calories. Flickr photo by libookperson
Minute Maid Lemonade
Amazon.com
A 12-ounce can of the summer favorite clocks in at 150 calories, more than a can of Coke and the same as a can of Pepsi. Photo from Amazon.com
Snapple Apple Fruit Drink
Amazon.com
There are 100 calories in every 8 ounces of this fruity pick, but the bottle is deceiving, since it packs 16 ounces. Photo from Amazon.com
Sunkist Orange Soda
Amazon.com
There are 170 calories per 12-ounce can of this sweet drink. Photo from Amazon.com
Dr. Pepper
Amazon.com
A 12-ounce can clocks in at 150 calories, more than a can of Coke and the same as a can of Pepsi. Photo from Amazon.com
Dunkin' Donuts Strawberry Coolatta
Even the small size of this frozen concoction from the coffee chain is a diet danger, with 230 calories in 16 ounces. Flickr photo by ReneS
Monster Energy Drink
Amazon.com
There are only 100 calories in 8 ounces of this pick-me-up, but who only drinks half a can? The whole thing will set you back 200 calories. Photo from Amazon.com
Nesquik Lowfat Chocolate Milk
Amazon.com
An 8-ounce bottle of this sweet sip adds up to 170 calories. Beware of larger sizes that encourage bigger portions. Photo from Amazon.com
Barq's Root Beer
Amazon.com
Each 12-ounce can contains 160 calories. Photo from Amazon.com
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