You know, I have people tell me all the time “I want to be healthy!” And while “healthy” is a very vague term these days, I think the general consensus is that people want to eat food that nourishes them and eliminate more and more processed foods out of their diet.
For example, did you know that white table sugar actually pulls nutrients out of your body?
It's true. It's like a nutrient vacuum.
Over the past year, we've been phasing white sugar almost completely out of our diet. And except for the occasional latte or church potluck (umm… YUM!) we pretty much steer clear of the stuff. Not that one scone is gunna kill ya – but in general, if we're cooking, we don't use it.
So what the heck do we use instead?
Well, if you're looking to eat (I'm going to try and be politically correct here and instead of saying “healthy” I'm going to say “nourishing”)… if you're looking to eat a more nourishing, whole-foods centered diet, in your kitchen you can easily replace sugar with the following:
1. Raw honey. Notice that first word: raw. Raw honey, just like milk, hasn't been pasteurized. Therefore, all of the beneficial nutrients are still intact! Because the honey has not been heated, it is “loaded with amylase, enzymes that digest carbohydrates, as well as all the nutrients found in plant pollens.” – to quote Sally Fallon. Plus, honey has an infinite shelf life – so who needs pasteurization! If you only look at the health food store, raw honey is gunna cost ya. Instead, look to local sources. Or, look for a whole foods co-op in your area! I order from Azure Standard and a gallon of raw honey runs me about $30. Not too bad, considering it takes us about 3 or 4 months to go through. Honey goes on our toast, in our desserts, sweetens our tea, our oatmeal, our homemade dressings, our homemade bread and more. Super handy to have around.
2. Rapadura. This is my go-to sweetener. Rapadura is dehydrated cane sugar juice. Here's how it works: The sugar cane is pressed to release the juices. Then, the juices are dehydrated and ground up into rapadura. Ta-da. That's it. No heating, no processing. Because rapadura is un-fooled around with, it is “rich in minerals, particularly silica.” – to quote Sally…again. Imagine that – a sweetener rich in minerals! While you still need to limit the amount of rapadura you eat (heck, it's still a sweetener folks!), what's nice about rapadura is it can easily substitute 1:1 for sugar. Rapadura also adds bulk to recipes, which makes it ideal of cookies and cakes when you need bulk. It stores just like sugar. See?
It has a slightly richer taste then sugar, maybe slightly more molasses-ey. I use it in everything I would normally use white sugar for. I also order my rapadura in bulk, which is totally worth it – it's expensive at the store in small amounts! Through Azure Standard, a 25 pound bag costs roughly $60. Ya, I know. It seems expensive. But when sugary desserts are really a treat, you won't go through it nearly as fast as you think you will.
3. Maple Syrup. Um, yum. I love maple syrup. I love it in my oatmeal. I love it in my muffins. I love it on my pancakes. I love it on my cheeseburgers. Just kiddin'! This one is pretty self-explanatory, I think we're all pretty familiar with the ‘ol maple syrup, however, a few points of warning for you: #1. Make sure it's real maple syrup. As in not Mrs. Buttersworth's (which is delicious, but none-the-less, a whole-foods nightmare). Yes, real maple syrup can be expensive. Again, buy in bulk and use sparingly! And #2. Formaldehyde is used in the production of most commercial maple syrup – so choose your sources carefully. I'm just sayin'… It's worth it to look into the companies you buy from. You may be shocked at what you find!
I know there are many more we could discuss, but these are the three primarily alternatives that I use. Switching out your sweeteners can be an easy step towards a more “whole-foods” approach to cooking. Even more so successfully, of course, if you work to avoid all the other nutrient-challenged sweeteners that have bombarded our food system.
Oh – and by the way! Guess what I did?
I canned peaches with my rapadura! That way, even our canned peaches can be rich in minerals! While I love poppin' open a can of peaches, I hate it that they have to be bathed in a sugary-syrup. While looking for alternatives, I just thought…hey!…why the heck not. So I gave it a try.
Initially, the extra-light syrup was very brown and it looked like the peaches were swimming in swamp water. But after processing in the water-bath, the syrup turned much lighter.
I guess you never know until you try, huh!?
I tried. And now I know.
Also, please don't comment at how ugly my cans of peaches are. My Grandpa would be ashamed. I don't always do the prettiest job, but heck, at least I try.
I just have this picture of some old lady named Fannie at the county fair who slaps a big red ribbon on my mis-match, squished jar of peaches and says “Nice try, lassie. Make 'em prettier next time and maybe you'll get a blue ribbon. I tell ya…this generation…” Then, she grumbles as she walks away. And I cry.
So maybe they're not blue-ribbon pretty. But you know what? I got over fifty pounds of peaches this year, for free.
So jokes on Fannie.
Cheers to natural sweeteners my friends!