How to sweeten DIY e-liquids - Without Sweeteners
(Originally posted May 16, 2017)
Updated June 2020
One of the most discussed and debated topics in vaping has to be DIY, and one of the common threads relates to sweeteners, and what folks are using to sweeten their juice.
Many commercial e-juices tend to be loaded with sweetener, the most common being sucralose. They’re laced with too many spoonfuls of sugar, and contrary to that classic song, that doesn’t always help the medicine go down. (I can sense some of the younger ones scratching their heads)
There is some debate as to the level of harm that commercial sweeteners pose, (much like diketones) and most appear to relate to the use of sucralose. However, my thoughts are mainly centred on why so many e-liquid manufacturers tend to overuse them, especially when there are so many flavour options that can more naturally offer similar results.
Vaping e-liquids with sweeteners probably still falls under the 95% safer rule, so if that’s what you wish to do, fine. But experimenting with alternate flavour options can really improve one’s mixing skills.
The most common concentrates used for adding sweetness tend to be either TFA’s Sweetener, Capella’s Super Sweet or Flavor West Sweetener. I’ve heard that Flavorah’s version may be the safer option as it’s Stevia based, not sucralose.
The Problem with Sweeteners
The other issue with sweeteners is that they can easily mute and or overtake flavours. Of equal concern is that they can create ‘gunk’ that builds up on your coils, making them less efficient, which in turn can mean having to change coils or wicks more frequently.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, most recipes, irrespective of the flavour profile, shouldn’t require sweeteners at all. Many concentrates such as certain fruits and dairy will instil sweetness, offering a more natural, balanced and pleasant flavour.
Below are some examples of concentrates that can be used to add sweetness, and thus replace traditional sweeteners. I can’t give you exact percentages because some palettes require more sugar, some less, and any given recipe or desired mix may demand specific requirements.
However, in any given scenario, irrespective of the flavour profile, start with around 0.25 % and work up from there. Steeping comes into play also, and must be taken into consideration regarding percentages.
At times you may get better results when utilising two or more of these flavours, as always it’s a matter of experimenting. There’s no question that the more you experiment, the greater chance you have of eliminating sweeteners.
This is one of my most commonly used concentrates for sweetening, although it is not a sweetener. They can add sweetness or elevate sweetness, but generally to something that is inherently sweet already. They do add some body and mouthfeel to a mix, as well as a marshmallow flavour depending on percentages and brand.
My top picks would be Purilum and FlavourArt. Purilum may have the upper hand in terms of balancing sweetness, flavour and mouth-feel.
This is a wonderful alternative to sweeteners, and one that can be used in many flavour profiles, especially dairy, bakery and fruits. It’s an excellent pairing for creams, either FA’s Fresh cream (not sweet) FLV cream (slight sweetness) or Capella sweet cream.
My top picks would be Purilum and FlavourArt. For sweetness, Purilum and Capella are your best bet, for some creaminess and malt, try FavourArt.
This is another excellent sweetener and often overlooked. FlavourArt have said it’s among their best sweeteners, although perhaps not its intention. Think of this as a sweet covered almond with sugary nutty notes and a subtle cherry back end; obviously this is an excellent pairing for bakery and desserts.
My top picks would be FlavourArt and Inawera. On the fence as to a favourite but FA gets the nod in terms of authenticity, INW is slightly sweeter.
Caramels are a superb sweetener, pairing with many flavour profiles – mixes. Obviously caramel is excellent for bakery and desserts, but it’s a must try for tobaccos too. And let us not forget apples. Try blending caramel with creams, it’s a match made in heaven.
For straight sweetness I’d recommend Flavorah’s as it’s really an excellent brown sugar, but start out at low percentages. My other suggestion would be FlavourArt.
Apple concentrates are a must for all DIY enthusiasts, and they make for an excellent mild sweetener. Traditional uses are fruit mixes, bakery, dessert and alcohol vapes, but apple is a must try for sweetening tobaccos, if that’s your thing.
This by itself isn’t always sufficient as a sweetener, so try adding some FA pear or something else that fits the profile.
Another excellent option for adding sweetness is FlavourArts Pear. Try mixing with some Apple but don’t go overboard. Pear up to about 1% is a good fit. Obviously great with fruits and bakery and can work well with tobaccos and alcohol vapes too.
The only recommendation I can give is FlavourArt. I have not tried other brands yet.
This is one of the best alternatives to sweeteners and it seems to fit almost anywhere. It’s a must try for dairy, desserts, tobaccos, alcohols and even fusion mixes; fruits can be hit and miss.
The one I recommend is Juice Factory’s Maple Syrup super concentrate. Start out at low percentages and work from there. I actually make a 4% base in PG that I often use.
This is a great sweetener, and as with maple, it seems to fit almost anywhere. It’s a must try for your tobacco vapes and blends nicely with coffees, desserts, bakery and even fruits.
FlavourArt is the one to grab and it’s actual name is Jamaican Special. Try it from 0.5 to 1% and up.
Other than the suggestions above, there are numerous concentrates worth exploring, but I didn’t want this post to drag on too long. More times than not they will lack the same level of sweetness as traditional sweeteners do, especially when you’re only using one, percentages are low, and or steeping has been too short.
Here are some other excellent flavours and additives to consider –
Ice Creams, Custards, Butterscotch, Toffee, Vanilla, Sweet Cherries, Mango, Pineapple, Passionfruit, Grape.
Additives – FlavourArt’s Joy, WoW, Oba Oba, Zeppola. Molinberry Bubble Gum. Ethyl Maltol or EM is often used as a sweetener although it is certainly not one, but it can bring out the sweetness in flavours. The down side is that it mutes flavours, especially when used over 1%. It’s fairly common with tobaccos.
Transition - Perception
Notwithstanding this, trial and error will ultimately present workable solutions. But there’s another aspect that I haven’t touched on yet – Transition.
Many vapers have grown accustomed to overly sweet e-juice, and my experience has shown that when many try an e-liquid that lacks a wagon load of sugar, they immediately think there’s something lacking in the recipe.
One of the reasons sweeteners are so prevalent in e-liquids is due to how we perceive flavour in relation to an aerosol, or vapour. Another is that using sweeteners is a simple solution, albeit that it isn’t necessarily the best option. I’ll be discussing this in more detail down the road.