Welcome to the first of two newsletters on SUGAR and all kinds of natural SWEETENERS
Life without sugar would be unthinkable!
Sugar is a vital nutrient, from which almost all animals and plants gain the energy they need for the continuance of life's process.
However, we all know that too much sugar, especially refined sugar, can lead to all kinds of illhealth.
Fortunately we have many options to choose from in order to lower our refined sugar intake, without losing out on the energy we need.
At Piko we sell many types of natural sweeteners (I include sugar under this title as it is essentially a natural product even though it goes through a refining process), as opposed to artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin, which are used in "diet" drinks and desserts etc. These are artificially synthesized chemicals, which have many times the sweetness of sugar and so can be used in minute quantities to achieve a pseudosweet flavour. They obviously have no place in wholefood nutrition.
So, let's look at the range of natural sweeteners available. Piko stocks:
Raw sugar – organic and non-organic;
Brown sugar – various types from light demerara to the very dark molasses sugar, non-organic but unrefined;
Sucanat – dried organic, unrefined cane juice with added molasses;
Rapadura - dried organic, unrefined cane juice (unfortunately we are having trouble getting hold of this at present, but it should be back in July/August);
Powdered (icing) sugar – additive free (no freeflow agent), gluten free (no added wheat flour) and organic. We also have powdered organic rapadura which can be used as a substitute for icing sugar, also additive free;
Molasses – organic and non-organic blackstrap molasses.
All the above are products of sugar cane, although in Europe particularly they are often produced from sugar beet. All our sugars are cane sugars.
Below are sweeteners from other natural sources, which I will deal with in detail in next month's newsletter:
Honey – we stock many types of honey at Piko, including 3 on-tap. All are New Zealand honeys.
Barley malt – concentrated syrup from enzymatic breakdown of the starch to sugars in sprouted barley grains, organic;
Rice malt – concentrated syrup from the breakdown of brown rice by enzymes from sprouted barley. We sell a very rich rice malt ontap, and a lighter, less concentrated brown rice syrup in our Japanese section, both organic;
Maple syrup – concentrated sap of North American sugar maple, organic;
Stevia – dried, powdered leaves of the extremely sweet plant Stevia rebaudiana, which has been used as a sweetener and medicine in South America for centuries. It is being used increasingly by diabetics as a replacement for synthetic sweeteners;
Concentrated apple juice – this one's pretty selfexplanatory, and organic too!
And last but not least, Carob – powdered beans and pods of the carob or locust bean. Not traditionally thought of as a sweetener, but actually contains 30-50% fructose, therefore you don't need to add sugar when using carob in baking. We sell light and dark, organic and non-organic.
A SHORT HISTORY OF SUGAR REFINING
In order to understand the nature of all the different products we get from sugar cane we will look at the refining process stage by stage.
After the cane is cut it is shredded and rolled to squeeze out the sweet juice. It is filtered to remove coarse debris and then either dried to give dried cane juice, or boiled to drive of some of the water and crystallise out the raw sugar. This is called the first crystallisation. The raw sugar crystals are melted down again in hot water and filtered to remove the colour, and then boiled under vacuum to drive off the water and the sugar forms into crystals. The mixture is spun, any syrup is driven off, and the crystals are dried. The syrup removed at this stage can either be returned to the beginning of the process or be made into soft brown sugar, golden syrup, treacle or molasses.
So, the first product we get from the cane is the uncrystallised, dehydrated cane juice. This has nothing added or taken away (except water) and therefore contains all the nutrients of the raw cane, notably calcium, iron, zinc, chromium and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 and C. Dried cane juice is sold as Rapadura, Sucanat or Shakkar.
The sucanat we sell at Piko has molasses added back in and is then re-dried, which gives a rich tasting and high mineral product with a good powdery texture.
Rapadura is a purer product and completely unrefined, but it does tend to take on water and solidify if not kept in a tightly sealed container.
A new product, which we hope to introduce soon is Shakkar, or Indian dried cane juice. This contains all the elements of the pressed extract of the cane. It has a rough powder form which dissolves easily and blends well for use in baking.
Our supplier describes it as "THE BEST!".
The next product that comes from the cane is Raw sugar. This tends to be pale golden in colour and it has a richer flavour and retains more nutrients than white sugar. However, much of the vitamin content is destroyed by the high
temperatures required for crystallisation.
What comes next depends on the producer. Most sugar refineries make brown sugar by taking white sugar and giving it a coating of molasses to give it colour and alter the flavour. So, what looks like brown sugar is really white sugar in disguise!
Therefore most brown sugar you buy in the supermarket has undergone the same amount of refining as white sugar and provides very little more in the way of nutrients.
The Brown sugars we sell at Piko come from Billington's and are "unrefined", meaning that the molasses of the sugar cane are not refined out, but crystallised in at various stages to produce the range of sugars on the shelf. These include:
Demerara, light Muscovado, dark Muscovado and Molasses sugar.
And after everything else has been taken away, we are left with Molasses.
The name comes from the Latin 'mellaceus' meaning 'like honey'.
Molasses is a thick dark syrup which can vary in colour and flavour depending on whether it results from earlier or later extractions. Blackstrap molasses are the residue from the third extraction of sugar crystals from sugar cane (or beet). It contains all the nutrients that are stripped away from sugar during the refining process (and also the chemical residues from pesticides and other additives of the refining process, eg. sulphur compounds).
Both the organic and the non-organic blackstrap molasses that we sell at Piko are unsulphured.
Molasses has the highest mineral and lowest sucrose content of any sugar cane product. It is a rich source of iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Many people take a tablespoon per day as a tasty mineral supplement. It can also be used in baking where it imparts a unique flavour and dark colour. It is particularly suitable for rich fruitcakes and gingerbreads.
WHY IS TOO MUCH SUGAR SO BAD FOR US?
Sugar is like a drug if we use too much. Our bodies are simply not designed to cope with the enormous quantities of refined sugar in today's western diet. The "over-sugarisation" of society has led to a situation where 50% of us are at risk from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Symptoms of this include mood swings, irritability, fatigue, depression, indigestion, headaches and panic attacks, to mention just a few! These problems arise when we consume too many quick-release sugars (eg. glucose and sucrose). Glucose is a monosaccharide & can be absorbed straight into the bloodstream. Sucrose is a disaccharide, which in its refined state is digested very quickly by the body to release glucose and fructose. An acid condition forms in the stomach which consumes the body's minerals, notably calcium, very quickly and the sudden increase in the blood sugar level shocks the pancreas into producing large amounts of insulin. The insulin removes the sugars from the blood by converting them to larger molecules which the body can store, thus producing the opposite effect of low blood sugar levels. So the body craves more sugar and the vicious cycle continues. Over time the strain this puts on the pancreas can lead to diabetes.
Another important factor to consider is the role of vitamins, particularly B1, which are required for sugar metabolism. Over-consumption of sugars can therefore deplete the body's reserves of these vital nutrients and cause a whole host of associated deficiencies.
The alternative to this is to try to gain our energy supply from a wide variety of wholefood sources.
The body can utilise carbohydrates, proteins and fats as energy sources, but the majority of us don't eat enough complex carbohydrates or polysaccharides and instead eat too much fat and too much simple sugar. Polysaccharides are digested by the body into simple sugars over a period of hours and thus provide a steady energy supply and do not cause the sugar highs and lows associated with hypoglycaemia. Sucrose in an unrefined form has a far less negative effect on the body than it does when refined. This is because the other minerals, vitamins, polysaccharides and enzymes give the sugar the complexity of a wholefood and so the sugars are released more slowly into the bloodstream.
However, the excess of the sweet flavour from any source upsets the natural balance of carbohydrate to protein in the body, leading to cravings. It also depletes minerals and vitamins and weakens kidney function.
But don't despair, just remember, "a little sweetness goes a long way"! And don't forget to come back next month for some even more sweet and wonderful alternatives!
The table below compares sugar levels of the various sweeteners and gives a guide when substituting different types in baking.
Sweetener Composition Equiv. To 1 cup White sugar
White sugar 99% sucrose -
Brown sugar 98% sucrose 1 cup
Raw sugar 96% sucrose 1 cup
Unrefined dried 82% sucrose
cane juice 11% glucose/ 1 cup
Blackstrap molasses 65% sucrose ½ - ¾ cup
Honey 86% glucose/ ½ cup fructose
Maple syrup 65% sucrose ¾ cup
Rice/barley malt 50% maltose 1 ½ cups
Stevia Non-sugar 1 ½-2 tsp powder compounds
This newsletter was researched and compiled by Rebecca with information from:
Organic and Wholefoods – ed. Andre Domine (Konemann)
The Wholefoods Companion – Dianne Onstad (Chelsea Green)
Healing With Wholefoods – Paul Pitchford (North Atlantic Books)
Chantal Organic Wholesalers Ltd.
NZ Sugar Co. Ltd.
Billington's Food Group Ltd.
Soya Lecithin Spread – a vegan alternative to butter or margarine. Can be used for frying. (Contains GE free soybean oil, sunflower oil, lecithin, cold-pressed wheatgerm oil, flavour). $8.94 375g
Organic Chana Dhal (split chick peas) has now arrived from Australia (BFA certified) $3.91/kg
Organic Karikaas unsalted cultured butter. Available fresh on Mondays. 2 week shelf life when refrigerated, freezes well.
Sprout mixes and sprouting rings – we are creating sprout mixes and have found some mesh you can use over a preserving jar with a preserving ring or a rubber band. Both work well.
Look out for this.
Organic Sauerkraut – traditional naturally fermented fresh cabbage. 400g jar $5.25
Shakkar – Indian dried cane juice, probably the purest sugar cane product available, hopefully coming soon.
NEW Gluten free snacks in the pie warmer – filled potatoes, and savoury filled rolls with 2 different fillings; lentils & mushroom or curried vegetable.
A list on the pie warmer will help you identify them.
Fruit & Vege Update
At the moment we have lots of different sorts of pumpkins, also apples are abundant and lovely.
Feijoas are slow this year, we are still waiting for the local ones, and citrus fruit is difficult to obtain.
Kiwi fruit should not be too far away.
Susan's vege plants will be finishing soon till Spring. Maybe some onions still to come and a few coriander.
We will let you in on a secret -
This seasons chunky, soft Demeter dried apple rings from Kaitaia are divine!! We have one parent who is feeding them to her children instead of marshmallows!