Sugar and Sweetners

By Mr. Bryanna Clark Grogan


You may notice that I call for unbleached sugars and maple syrup as sweeteners in my most recent book. I know that many in the vegetarian and health food movements will disagree with me, but I think that depending upon so-called "natural" sugars is a mistake.

Many consumers think they can eat large quantities of dessert foods made with fruit and grain syrups, but researchers have found that ingesting any type of sugar, even that in orange juice, leads to a significant drop in the white blood cell index of the body, reducing the effectiveness of the immune system. All sugars, indeed all refined carbohydrates, can effect insulin levels. (In fact, the worst case of low blood sugar I ever experienced, shaky legs included, was after eating maple butter, which is just cooked-down natural maple syrup.)

For this reason, I believe in saving desserts for special occasions, or eating them only once or twice a week. It stands to reason that such a concentrated, refined carbohydrate as sugar, stripped of its natural ingredients, may not be particularly good for us, and I don't believe that you are contributing to good health by eating desserts made with "natural" sugars every day. Boiled-down fruit juice, maple sap, or grain syrup are all very concentrated sugars, and the origins of them are no more natural than sugar cane (and usually not organic, either).

Furthermore, so-called “natural” sweetners are not powerhouses of nutrition-one should not depend on any sweetener (except perhaps blackstrap molasses, a good source of both iron and calcium, but so strong-tasting that it cannot be used in many desserts) for nutrition. The nutrition in your desserts will come primarily from fruits and whole grains, as well as perhaps nuts and seeds. Just to illustrate this, let’s compare 1/4 c. serving of various sweeteners and their calorie, iron and calcium contents (information from Secrets of Fat-Free Baking, by Sandra Woodruff, RD (Avery Pub., Garden City, NY, 1994) :

Sweetener (1/4 c.) Calories Calcium Iron

Brown rice syrup 256 3 mg 0.1 mg
Brown sugar 205 47 mg 1.2 mg
Date sugar 88 10 mg 0.4 mg
Fruit juice concentrate (apple) 116 14 mg 0.6 mg
Fruit juice concentrate (orange) 113 23 mg 0.3 mg
Fruit Source (granules) 192 16 mg 0.4 mg
Fruit Source (syrup) 176 15 mg 0.4 mg
Honey 240 0 0.5 mg
Maple sugar 176 45 mg 0.8 mg
Maple syrup 202 83 mg 1.0 mg
Molasses, blackstrap 170 548 mg 20.2 mg
Molasses, light 172 132 mg 4.3 mg
Sucanat 144 41 mg 1.6 mg
White sugar 192 1 mg 0

(There’s not a lot of difference in the nutrient content between brown rice syrup and white sugar!)

Sugar is the easiest and most affordable sweetener to work with and is now available in a variety of forms unbleached. This is a concern for vegetarians because cane sugar may be bleached by filtering through bone ash, and brown sugars like demerrara may be simply bleached sugar with molasses added. Consequently, as a vegetarian I use only products that state on the package that they are unbleached, no matter what the color.

The most common unbleached sugars are turbinado and granulated sugar cane juice (Sucanat is one brand, and it is similar to brown sugar-some varieties are organic and some are not), but there are other products with different names that specify they are unbleached. A light unbleached sugar that is commonly available in bulk is called turbinado, but the lightest-colored unbleached sugars that I have seen are Florida Crystals and Richdale Organic Sugar (a Canadian brand, which is also very finely granulated). Taikoo is a brand of unrefined sugar from Hong Kong which makes light, medium and dark unbleached sugars, and also unbleached sugar cubes. Beet sugar is all right for vegetarians in any form because it is not bleached with bone char, but it is often hard to find West of the Rockies. In my new book, I have simply called for “sugar”, specifying “brown sugar” when I wanted a dark sugar, and you can choose which one suits you best.

Grade A light maple syrup is used in some recipes where even light unbleached sugar leaves a faint molasses taste where a liquid sugar is preferable. It is expensive, but easily available and still cheaper and sweeter than brown rice syrup. Grade B maple syrup is darker and less expensive, and the best choice when you want a nice, maple flavor. You can use brown rice syrup in place of corn syrup, which many people prefer not to use now because of it may originate from genetically-modified corn. Brown rice syrup is expensive and not as sweet as many sweeteners, but it has a pleasant caramels taste-I like to use it in Latin American desserts instead of “dulce de leche” (also known as “manjar blanco”), the cooked down sugar and milk product used frequently in Latin America.

Let's use some common sense when it comes to sugar and desserts. I have heard sugar referred to as” ‘toxic”, but sugar and other refined, concentrated sweeteners have been consumed by healthy populations in many parts of the world for centuries - it is only when they are over-consumed, as they are in the modern North American diet with so many processed foods, that they become a problem.



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