Thank you all so much for your congratulations and excitement on the last post! I told Tim, getting engaged feels like this giant burst of love from everyone who’s known you—and even some that haven’t. Thanks for sharing in our joy, every one of you. You are the best part of blogging.

And speaking of the best parts of food blogging, let me tell you about another one: namely, getting exposed to new and interesting ingredients—like Xyla (Xylitol), for example, the alternative sweetener I used in today’s coconut-packed cupcakes.


Before an email from Xylitol USA found its way into my inbox a few weeks ago, I had heard a little bit about this “un-sugar.” I knew it was popular in chewing gums, but, actually, it turns out it’s been used in the dental field for more than sixty years, praised for its plaque- and cavity- fighting abilities, as well as power to fight demineralization of tooth enamel and mouth infections.

Even beyond dental benefits, Xyla has a long list of selling points, according to its sellers: way lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar (it’s like a 3 compared to 100) so it hits your body differently in terms of insulin, anti-aging properties, helps prevent ear infections, fights bacteria, increases absorption of B vitamins, aids in weight loss, inhibits harmful yeast. What’s more, Xylitol is said to be all-natural, derived from certain fibrous vegetables and fruit—or, like what Xylitol USA sells, from birch trees.

On the other hand, some research suggests there are dangers associated with this sweetener: an article in Natural News pointed out that not all Xylitol is created equal, as “one commonly used source is corn imported from China”—which then needs to be highly processed before consumption, making it a far cry from all natural. It’s really pretty interesting to read about Xyla; it’s been getting more and more buzz, with all kinds of mixed opinions floating around.

one cup of xylitol

Since Xylitol USA’s product comes directly from birch trees (a change made as recently as last year), I feel a little more comfortable using it in baking, where it’s supposed to be a one-to-one swap for sugar, behaving, looking, and tasting almost exactly like it.

So when, last week, I was in the mood for a cupcake loaded with coconut (we’re talking coconut milk, coconut oil, shredded coconut; coconut in the cake, coconut in the frosting), I pulled out the Xylitol to give it a shot as the sweetener to make it happen.

three eggs

Just to make sure I was giving you a fair assessment, I had at least seven people taste these cupcakes, quizzing them on level of sweetness, weird after-tastes, anything that stood out to them. The verdict? Xyla is a definite win.

One person thought the cupcakes had a very slight metal taste; a few of us thought they were powerfully sweet (but then, not eating regular sugar can affect your sensitivity to these things); but overall, these cupcakes were deemed delicious desserts. I will also add that since I used whole-grain spelt flour, they had a dense quality that’s hard to get away from with alternative flours.

coconut cupcakes

So would I use Xylitol again? Maybe. It’s hard to find in stores, so the Internet would be the only way to get it ( is actually offering a discount code for Food Loves Writing readers: 10% off with code FIRST).

cupcakes in container

I liked the way it tasted and I liked the fact that it’s a natural substitute for sugar—especially one that is so much lower on the glycemic index. Nonetheless, I’d like to do some more research before feeling confident.

So what about you: Have you ever used Xylitol? Know anything about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, as well as any interesting research you find!

Coconut Cupcakes
Cake adapted from Ina Garten; frosting, from The Neelys
Makes 15 to 18 cupcakes

Although I did use Xylitol here, the cupcakes could easily be made with other sweeteners, from sugar to Sucanat to some big-time adaptations with honey. Dense and coconutty, they pair really well with the cream cheese frosting, especially when it’s covered with coconut flakes.

1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pans
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 cup sugar (I used Xylitol)
3 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting the pans (I used whole-grain spelt)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour cupcake tins and set aside.

Using a mixer, cream the butter, coconut oil and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once or twice during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. If the mixture looks curdled, don’t be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the coconut milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the shredded coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the cupcake tins. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Coconut Frosting Ingredients:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup xylitol (original recipe would use 3 cups confectioners sugar)
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes, for garnish

Using a mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until light and smooth. Add vanilla extract and slowly add the sugar until thoroughly incorporated. Frost cupcakes and sprinkle with coconut flakes.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. MaryAnn

    I’m wondering if anyone had an digestive issues with the Xyla? Since I had my gall bladder removed I’ve had very low tolerance for any artificial type of sweetners (especially Splenda which was the one I used most often). It’s made me a bit wary of trying new things like this. Just wondering if anyone got the ‘burps’ :-)

  2. Shannalee

    Hey, MaryAnn – When made from birch trees, Xyla is totally natural, so it’s different from an artificial sweetener. I’d be interested to hear how other people have felt with it, too, though!

  3. bianca

    Thanks for the info; I have been trying to cut back on sugar. Having tried stevia and hating it; I might have to order me up some Xyla- plus Xyla is really fun to say!

  4. rachel

    interesting. i do love coconut. when i chew gum that uses xylitol it numbs my mouth! LOL

  5. Susan

    I had never heard of it before now, but it sounds interesting. And those cupcakes look amazing.

  6. TJ

    I have tried gum with xylitol, on my dentist’s strong recommendation, but I never thought to attempt cooking with it. I use all kinds of natural substitutes for sugar, so I’ll definitely be looking into this.

  7. Molly

    Last night I stood in front of my burgeoning pantry and wondered why on earth I had five cans of coconut milk and seemingly endless bags of dried coconut. Clearly, it was so I could make these cupcakes! I’m a little nervous when it comes to sugar substitutes, as natural as they can be, so I will most likely be trying this one with sugar.

  8. Amaranthian

    This is really interesting. I always assumed it was artificial, probably due to the chemically-sounding name. I’m wary of sugar substitutes since I blindly jumped on the agave nectar bandwagon, but I’ll definitely be looking into this one. Thank you!

  9. Shannalee

    Bianca, Ha!

    Rachel, Really? I’ve never heard of it doing that!

    Susan, Thanks!

    TJ, Cool, hope you enjoy!

    Molly, Ha! I’d love to hear how they turned out!

    Amaranthian, Me too. If you get to try this, let me know what you think!

  10. redmenace

    Engaged? Yay! Marriage is wonderful and having a wedding is so much fun. I’m delighted for you. Bursting! xoxoxo

  11. Mary

    These cupcakes look great! I am a little leery of using the Xylitol, but might be willing to give it a try. Mostly concerned about taste, but also, would want to be certain, if I could, that it truly was “natural.” I don’t really care for artifical sweeteners.

  12. Janice

    Aww, congrats on getting engaged! That’s exciting news. I’m planning my wedding next May!

  13. The Healthy Apple

    These look beautiful; congrats on your engagement! Very exciting…So happy for you!

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