Thoughts on Sugar

In our quest to eat wholesome, unprocessed foods, we eventually had to examine our choice of sweeteners. If you have ever walked down the baking aisle in your grocery store, you’ll notice numerous options for sweeteners. You’ll find white sugar, brown sugar, sugar in the raw, Truvia, Splenda, and the list goes on and on. Their packages make grand promises of low-calorie, no-calorie, all-natural, and some, oddly enough, sugar-free. Obviously, no sweetener is really great for you.

White sugar is clearly refined and processed (anything as white as white sugar has got to go through an insane refinement process) and my common sense concludes that if it has been refined, then it has probably been stripped of any nutrients that the original product may have contained in its raw form. Since we’ve decided to reduce the amount of processed foods from our diet, we decided that white sugar had to go. It’s been a few months now since we made that decision (we decided to get rid of our white sugar around the same time we decided to get rid of white flour).

We never used any of the other alternative sweeteners found in our mainstream grocery store. I’ve always been wary of low-fat products even before our wholesome living lifestyle switch. I suppose I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that if a product is labeled “reduced fat” then there usually has to be something else substituted in to make the product taste similar to the authentic product. So we have never had any of those sweeteners in our home and I am not going to address them here.

So, what do we use? Well, we decided to go as natural as possible. We primarily rely on raw (unprocessed) honey, local maple syrup and, for baking, Rapadura, which is an unrefined sugar. Since it is unrefined, Rapadura contains many of the minerals and vitamins found in sugar cane. We use either honey or maple syrup in our coffee in the morning. Now that I have tried it, I prefer honey or maple syrup over white sugar. It is quite delicious.

Honey and maple syrup can be substituted for sugar in baking recipes up to a point. I do not like to substitute in any more than 3/4 a cup. If the recipe calls for more than 3/4 of a cup of sugar, then I add in Rapadura to make up the difference. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, I add in 3/4 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of Rapadura. You can substitute in Rapadura for white sugar in the exact amounts if you’d prefer. Since honey (and maple syrup) are both liquids, I also reduce the baking temperature by 25 to 50 degrees depending on the recipe. Here is an example. I made chocolate chip cookies the other day and I was supposed to bake them for 8 minutes at 375 degrees, but instead I baked them for 10 minutes at 325 degrees.

Once I figure out all the substitutions and temperature changes for each of my favorite recipes, I am rewriting my recipes as “natural” versions and saving those to use so I won’t have to redo/refigure out each recipe all over again when I want to bake something. So far I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate zucchini bread, and blueberry muffins with great success. I have used honey or maple syrup as the sweetener (with a tad bit of Rapadura as needed) and whole wheat flour in each of those recipes.

Here is a chart that I found helpful when we were considering what types of sweeteners to use in our home:

How sugars compare

Amounts based on 100 grams

White sugar Raw brown sugar Evaporated cane juice Sucanat Rapadura Honey

Sugars

Sucrose (g) 99.6 96-97 96-100 88.3 88-91 1-6
Glucose (g) 0 0-1 0-1 n.a. 2-6 34-41
Fructose (g) 0 0-1 0-1 0.9 3-6 28-35

Minerals

Potassium (mg) 3-5 15-150 17-40 570 600-1,000 47
Magnesium (mg) 0 13-23 3-6 8.7 40-100 6
Calcium (mg) 10-15 75-95 20-40 114 80-110 5
Phosphorus (mg) 0.3 3-4 3-7 37 50-100 18

Vitamins

A (IU) 0 0 <20 <20 120-1,200 0
B1 (mg) 0 0.01 n.a. 0.007 0.023-0.1 0.003
B2 (mg) 0 0.006 n.a. 0.55 0.06-0.15 0.05
B6 (mg) 0 0.01 n.a. 0.27 0.02-0.05 0
Niacin (mg) 0 0.03 <0.5 0.7 0.03-0.19 0.1
Pantothenic (mg)

0 0.02 0.01-0.05 0.33 0.34-1.18 0

Chart courtesy of Honest Weight Food Coop (Accessed August 24, 2010 at http://www.hwfc.com/CoopScoop/Apr03/manager.html)
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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Sugar

  1. Have you tried Stevia? I grew stevia last year. I like it for some things.

    Like you, I use maple syrup and honey. I haven’t tried rapadura, yet. I also use molasses and found that dates and raisins are great for sweetening up a recipe.

    It’s amazing how so many store-bought things are way too sweet for me now.

    • Grace says:

      I haven’t tried Stevia. It’s more like a fine powder right? I think someone mentioned to me that you only need to use a little bit of the stevia because it is so concentrated/strong, is that right? I do occasionally use blackstrap molasses as well. Yes, so many things from the store are way too sweet! If I get something from the store and try to eat it now, it hurts my teeth!

  2. Nicole Swinton says:

    I found out rapadura is also high in iron (11% dv in 1 tsp!) Another good reason to consider using it. I’m researching the best bulk price, Grace. Might work well to go in on rapadura together. I’ll let you know what I find 🙂

    Another option is blackstrap molasses: The dark, syrupy “leftovers” from the sugar-refining process, it is 70 percent sucrose. Marginally qualifies as a natural sweetener, and it contains most, if not all, of the redeeming value of the original cane plant–such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and chromium, as well as other micronutrients. Very strong flavor. A source of iron. [ Source: http://www.livrite.com/sweeten.htm ]

    And here is some great info. re. raw honey and rapadura:

    RAW HONEY

    Derived: Raw Honey is derived from the stomach of bees. It has not been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Raw honey is a whitish color and in a paste-like solid form or a thick liquid. It is completely pure and has not been adulterated. Properties of raw honey are antiseptic, antiviral, antibiotic and anti-fungal.

    Benefits:It contains healthy enzymes including amylases, which help to digest starches. The antiseptic nature of this sweetener can help neutralize toxins. It can alleviate pain when applied topically to a burn. It also benefits stomach ulcers and canker sores when eaten. It is good for high blood pressure as it is beneficial for edema or swelling and weight issues. Raw honey can reduce excess mucus in the body and has evidence of its efficacy in treating respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis.

    These are just a few specific examples of the medicinal benefits of raw honey- it is truly a powerful superfood, as was attested to by the ancients. Bee propolis is what was known in biblical times as Myrrh.

    Replacement Value: It is twice as sweet as sugar. One cup of honey replaces two cups of sugar. Also reduce your recipe liquids in consideration of the difference between the liquid and solid forms of the two different sweeteners.

    Ratio: 0.5 : 1.0 Raw Honey to White Sugar

    Chef’s notes : Raw honey reduces the amount of sweetener needed in a recipe and thereby the calories because of its sweetness, so it is beneficial for calorie-sensitive diets. It has some self-digesting properties and carries some other powerful nutrients found in the pollen. It has a mild pleasant taste and many powerful healing attributes so it is a favorite sweetener for desserts and dishes.

    Caution: Because of the presence of bacterial spores in raw honey, it is not suitable for infants as they do not have the ability to break down and neutralize the spores.

    RAPADURA

    Derived : from fresh sugar cane juice which is not purified or processed. The cane juice is dried to create its brown crystalline form.

    Benefits : It is packed with nutrients like protein; vitamins A, C and some B’s; calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorous and chromium which are virtually non-existent in white sugar. As well, its concentration of iron and zinc are 20 times more than the mineral content of white sugar.

    Replacement Value : Rapadura is less sweet than sugar so one and a third cups of rapadura will have the same sweetness of one cup of sugar. It has very strong, complex caramel tones inherent with its molasses content so it is not as neutral as white sugar. They are both granular so need no further recipe modifications.

    Ratio: 1.33: 1 Rapadura to White Sugar

    Chefs notes : Its strong, complex flavor is very good in many ice creams, cakes and cookies without delicate flavors. It’s suited to spice cakes, fruit desserts and flavors that pair well with its caramel tones. The heavy granular form of rapadura can be made more fine with either a blender or a food processor. Blend granules well with the oil or butter in a recipe to break down the heavier texture so that a finer finished product can be achieved.

    [ Source: Raw Chef Michelle, thesuperfoodchef.com ]

    One more cool benefit of eating raw, local honey: http://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/allergies/local-honey-for-allergies2.htm

    • Grace says:

      Thanks for all that great info! I have tried blackstrap molasses, but I don’t like the taste as much as honey or Rapadura. I could be more diligent about trying it in recipes though. It may be one of those things that tastes really good in one recipe, but not another. I’ve found that with a lot of my recipes it takes a little bit of experimenting to get my “original” recipe converted to a wholesome version in a way that still makes it delicious (and sometimes edible- I’ve burned a fair share of cookies trying to find just the right ratios of ingredients and just the right temperatures).

  3. Great post! And thanks for the info on substitution amounts as I am having trouble finding the correct amount of honey or maple syrup to add instead of sugar. Also, where do you get Rapadura? I’ve been looking and looking for it!

    :o)

    • Grace says:

      I’ve found Amazon a great place for buying large quantities of natural products (olive oil, Rapadura, etc.). Happy shopping!

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