Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The search for a natural sweetener - is Palm Sugar the answer?


I've been doing some research on Coconut Palm Sugar (also known as palm sugar or coconut blossom sugar) as I'm due to be teaching a baking course in the spring and would like to be able to suggest a natural alternative to cane sugar.

As I've been following SCD for some time now, I only use honey, date syrup and dried fruit to sweeten food. I try to sweeten things just enough to make them treaty, without creating something that will spike my blood sugar. I am convinced that Agave Syrup and Fruit Sugar (refined fructose) are no better than High Fructose Corn Syrup (which is digested in the liver, not the gut, which leads to laying down of visceral fat - read this great article for more info on agave and fructose). Xylitol is just too much like an artificial sweetener to make sense to me - even if it does score very low on the glycaemic index.

Dried fruit has limited uses, as you need to include a fair amount to get the sweetness required and then the treat tastes of the fruit you used. I actually love this - fig and almond with cinnamon (pan de higo), date, walnut and cardamom or apricot, pistachio and orange zest - all these suggest subtle and flavoursome combinations that are impossible to create with a sweetener that has no flavour of it's own. Many folks find honey a little too strongly flavoured and it does have a very low burn temperature. So I understand that my own tastes are more radical, due to the years I've spent taking out processed foods and it can be quite a jump for some people to make.

I have experimented with ground liquorice root as a sweetener - but found that it only really worked alongside strong flavours such as cocoa or ginger. I've yet to try Stevia, but I understand that as a pure herb it's similar to liquorice, with a slightly odd bitter aftertaste and is used mostly as an extract as a result? I'm not yet 100% sure about the whole-food credentials of extracts, as they come without the nutrients that make the food useful in the first place. I'm concerned that this confuses a body searching for whole foods.

So when I heard about palm sugar it seemed like a perfect alternative!

I've looked at the GI and it seems to be low (35 as opposed to table sugar's 68). It appears to be a wholefood, ie; minimally processed and still retains the original nutrients of the blossom nectar, just in a more concentrated form. If you buy fair trade, organic palm sugar it seems to be a sustainable, small scale production that benefits the producers and land alike.

So I'm going to get some and experiment. I still believe that the best option is to eat as little sweet stuff as possible, but this seems like a great way to make those occasional treats less disruptive for blood sugar levels and less of a burden on the liver.

I would love to hear anyone's experiences with palm sugar. What reasearch have you done and what are your conclusions? Any thoughts on palm sugar or alternative sweeteners, positive or negative are most welcome indeed!

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