|Pictured in back row, left to right: Raw Honey, Coconut Nectar, Liquid Stevia, and Yacon Syrup. Pictured in bowls clockwise from top: Coconut Crystals, Maple Sugar, Maple Syrup, and Sucanat.|
C12H22O11 is also known as sugar, and the average American consumes 115 pounds of this sweet stuff annually! This number seems staggering, but when you read labels carefully you will find that sugars are in just about everything lining the shelves of our supermarket; soup, nuts, catsup, bottled salad dressings, breakfast cereals, and even most mayonnaise and mustard. Since it is impractical to avoid all sugars (this is especially true if you have children), think about your options the next time you reach for that canister of refined white sugar in your pantry. The following natural sweeteners provide some healthful benefits and will still satisfy your sweet tooth, naturally!
Organic Blackstrap Molasses (Unsulphered) – The thick dark syrup we call blackstrap molasses is the liquid byproduct of refining sugar cane into table sugar. It is made from the third boiling of the sugar syrup and is the concentrated byproduct left over after the sugar’s sucrose has been crystallized. This sweetener is steeped in history, and has been imported into the United States from the Caribbean Islands since the time of the early colonists. Less expensive than refined sugar, it was the sweetener of choice until the late 19th Century. Blackstrap molasses is often overlooked; however, it is a healthful option containing 16 calories per teaspoon. Molasses is an excellent source of manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, and a good source of Vitamin B6 and selenium. Blackstrap molasses can be sulphured or unsulphured. Sulphur is added to act as a preservative during the sugar crystallization process, but since many people are sensitive to sulphur I suggest looking for blackstrap molasses that is unsulphured. Use molasses in gingerbread, spice cookies, or as part of a basting sauce for roasting poultry.
Real Maple Syrup – Maple Syrup begins as sap tapped from specific types of maple trees. The sap is harvested in the spring, taken to a sugar house, and poured into a machine called an evaporator. These machines boil off water very quickly so the sap is concentrated into syrup as the water is extracted. The Syrup produced at the beginning of the season is typically lighter in color. This syrup is called “light” or “light amber” and is frequently labeled “Grade A”. As the season progresses, the syrup becomes darker in color, sweeter, and the maple flavor becomes stronger and more pronounced, this is referred to as “Grade B”. There is no difference in the sugar content so it is just a matter of personal preference as to which grade you choose. Real Maple Syrup is naturally organic, and 1 teaspoon contains approximately 17 calories. Maple Syrup also contains the trace minerals manganese and zinc; natural antioxidants which support your immune system.
Maple Sugar – These are the byproduct of Maple Syrup, what remains after the sap has been boiled for longer than is needed to create maple syrup. Maple sugar is a bit pricey, but a little goes a long way. They can be substituted for white sugar, but add a warmer color and a distinctive, yet mild flavor to the finished product. I use maple crystals to sweeten custards, short bread, or as a substitute for sanding sugar, they impart a wonderful flavor to sugar cookies.
Sucanat – Sucanat is a contraction for “Sugar Cane Natural”, or “Sucre de canne naturel”, which was introduced by Pronatec in 1978. The cane juice is extracted by mechanical processes, heated and cooled at which point small brown grainy crystals are formed. Sucanat like white sugar contains 16 calories per teaspoon, however, unlike white sugar, it contains less sucrose. Sucanat also contains the full molasses mineral content typically stripped away during the refining process used to make white sugar. The flavor of Sucanat is more rustic, this is the sweetener I reach for when a recipe calls for brown sugar. For those who are wondering, the brown sugar purchased at your local supermarket is refined white sugar with a bit of molasses added back for color.
Raw Honey – Raw honey as its name suggests is honey that has not been heat pasteurized, or filtered. Raw honey is the healthiest choice amongst the various forms of honey as it has the most nutritional value and contains amylase, an enzyme concentrated in flower pollen which helps predigest starches. Since raw honey still contains pollen, propolis, honeycomb and live enzymes; it is also a source of phytonutrients that contain anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. To be clear (no pun intended), the amber, pourable liquid purchased at your local grocery store is commercial honey that has been pasteurized (heated above 161 degrees F.), and filtered, which in turn removes the majority of the beneficial enzymes and phytonutrients. Raw honey is usually murky looking, and frequently solid. Calories in honey vary depending on the type, but it typically contains 21 calories per teaspoon. To ensure you are getting all the benefits this natural sweetener has to offer, look for the words “raw”, “unpasteurized” or “unheated” on the label. When I cook with raw honey I usually use a bit less, so if a recipe calls for ½ Cup of liquid sweetener I usually use a ¼ Cup of raw honey.
Stevia – Stevia is a plant/herb that has been used as a sweetener for centuries. The extracts of Stevia called steviosides claim to be 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. Since the body does not metabolize the glycosides contained in stevia, it is a 0 calorie sweetener. Stevia does not spike blood glucose levels so it is approved for diabetics and those on the candida diet (read labels carefully to ensure that there are no carbohydrate additives). Stevia can be purchased in its original form, a green powder, as a clear liquid, or with additional refinement, a white powder. I admit I was one of those people that disliked stevia products, and used them rarely. This past Summer I grew Stevia Rebaudiana in my garden, thus gaining a new respect for the sweetener. Stevia is significantly stronger than white sugar, but if that bitter aftertaste is bothersome you can combine it with another natural sweetener. I typically combine stevia and raw honey for baked goods, puddings, etc.
Yacon Syrup – A South American tuber that looks like a jicima and tastes like an apple, yacon’s health benefits and taste have long been appreciated in Peru. Yacon is a distant relative of the sunflower, and the glucose free syrup extracted from this tuber is, raw, vegan and organic with a taste similar to molasses. In the Andes the local peoples often chop up the tuber and add it to salads, or eat the tuber boiled or baked. Yacon syrup is pressed from the roots of the tuber, but unlike other tubers that store carbohydrates as starch; the yacon stores carbohydrates as Fructooligosacaride (FOS). Since the human body can not metabolize FOS it passes through the digestive tract without being metabolized. Fructooligosacarides also act as a prebiotic, as the undigested portion of yacon serves as food for “friendly” bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus in the colon. Other benefits noted with FOS supplementation include increased production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids, increased absorption of calcium, magnesium and B complexes. Yacon has approximately 30 calories per tablespoon, and has a glycemic load of 1, so it will not spike blood sugar. While yacon does not contain glucose it does contain fructose, so like any sweetener it should be used in moderation. I have used Yacon successfully to sweeten Gingerbread, Spice Cookies, and even Pumpkin Pie.
Coconut Nectar/Coconut Sugar – Coconut nectar and sugar are made by collecting the “sap” from coconut tree blossoms. Like Maple Syrup, there are specific species of coconut trees that can be “tapped”. This naturally sweet sap is very low on the glycemic index (GI of 35, with only 16% sucrose), and contains approximately 18 calories per teaspoon. Coconut nectar is also raw and enzymatically alive (like raw honey). It is an abundant source of amino acids, minerals, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins, and has a nearly neutral pH. Coconut Nectar is minimally processed, it is evaporated for less than an hour (only to remove excess moisture), at low temperatures, (100 Farenheit). The end result is a syrup-like product known as coconut “toddy”, which can then be further evaporated into a crystalized form producing what is referred to as coconut or palm sugar. I have been experimenting for several months with Palm Sugar and to date and I am quite impressed with the results. Muffins, cakes, custards all seem to come out beautifully, this is fast becoming my go to sweetener.
Lakanto – means “sweet plant” in Japanese and is prepared by adding the extract of Luo han guo to erythritol. The erythritol used in Lakanto is obtained from fermented glucose derived from Non-GMO corn. This process results in a 0 calorie 0 glycemic impact sweetener that will not spike blood levels. It is also approved for those on the Candida Diet. The sweetener is produced by the SARAYA Company, and is also available through the Body Ecology Website. Because Lakanto is derived from corn sugars, and we follow a very strict Grain Free diet, this is not a sweetener I would use for the D-Man, (but I don’t use Xanthan Gum for the same reasons). I was urged by a friend to try this sweetener and while I was a bit skeptical I ordered a bag. Lakanto is a bit pricey, coming in at $35.99 for 800 grams, approximately 3 ½ Cups. It looks very much like raw/organic sugar and substitutes cup for cup. I made a batch of my husbands favorite almond flour cookies using Lakanto, and while the company says there is no aftertaste my husband spotted it in an instant. For those interested in trying this sweetener I would recommend reviewing the information on line, available through the SARAYA or the Body Ecology Websites.