Last month we covered sugar and all the products available from sugar cane/beet – raw and brown sugar, sucanat, rapadura, shakkar and molasses.
This month we'll look at other natural sweeteners, which come from many different plant sources (with some animal intervention in the case of honey!). These are honey, maple syrup, rice malt and barley malt, Stevia, carob & concentrated fruit juice.
Honey is one of the oldest known sweeteners and the most popular alternative to refined sugar.
One honeybee will produce just a single teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime so it is a very precious resource.
It contains about 85% sugars, mainly glucose and fructose, and is sweeter and contains more calories than white sugar. Its benefits lie in the nutrients and enzymes it contains which give it the complexity of a wholefood and mean it has a less detrimental effect on the body's mineral balance.
It also provides small amounts of practically all the minerals and trace elements, plus a range of organic acids, including amino acids. Its high potassium and formic acid content provide antiseptic qualities, but probably its most useful
substances are enzymes, hormones, pollen and lysozyme, which has natural antibiotic action.
Mixed with lemon juice or cider vinegar it makes a soothing cough syrup, and with hot water added too it makes an excellent tonic drink.
Applied to external wounds it helps keep the area sterile and aids healing.
It is a warming food and is helpful for those with damp conditions such as over-production of mucus.
It is very important when buying honey to make sure that it is raw and unprocessed, ie. that it has not been heated or over-filtered. The majority of honeys available in supermarkets have been heated and filtered to retain clarity and slow crystallisation. However filtering removes the pollen, which gives honey many of its valuable nutrients and heating destroys the enzymes and some of the vitamins it contains. Cloudy honeys, eg. manuka, have a higher pollen content and therefore a greater nutritional value.
At Piko we sell many kinds of honey, all produced in the South Island. They are all organic, unheated and have been coarsely filtered to remove foreign matter and larger wax particles.
Finer particles of wax and pollen are not filtered out.
We have 3 honeys on-tap: manuka honey from Waiau, blue borage honey from Kaikoura and beech honeydew from Oxford.
We also have bottled honeys from:
Mountain Valley in Nelson whose hives are within the Whangamoa Forest Park and valleys of the Marlbourough Sounds;
Hislops in Kaikoura;
Sunhillow Apiaries in Takaka;
Strathdale in Middlemarch and Paparoa Bee Co. in Punakaiki.
Strathdale and Paparoa honeys are Biogro certified organic, but we are satisfied that all our honey is organic as it comes from protected areas of native bush where no sprays are used.
For more information on the individual kinds of honey we sell please ask for the Piko Newsletter on Honey.
Maple Syrup is made in Canada and the US from the sap of the sugar maple. It was collected by the American Indians for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans.
Each tree averages 12 gallons of sap per season, which is then boiled in large vats to evaporate the water. It takes 30-40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of pure syrup.
The syrup is graded according to its sweetness and level of purity (ie. sugar concentration). The authorities (in their wisdom!) have given the least nutritious form the highest grade, so Grade AA
has the sweetest, most delicate flavour, but is the most concentrated and refined. Grades A, B etc are gradually darker, stronger-flavoured and less refined, and therefore contain a lower percentage of sugars (glucose, fructose and sucrose) and are more nutrient rich.
Maple syrup contains a wide range of minerals, including magnesium, iron, zinc and most notably, calcium. It also has a good supply of B vitamins.
At Piko we sell bottled Springtree and Natural Value maple syrups and Shady Maple Farms maple syrup on-tap (should be back in stock this month). These are all organic and contain no formaldehyde or other chemical additives. (Nonorganic sources often have added formaldehyde, chemical anti-foaming agents and mould inhibitors.)
Springtree is available in grades A and B, Natural Value grade A and Shady Maple grade B.
Rice Malt or "Mizu Ame" = Sweet Water has been produced in Japan for centuries. It is traditionally made by a slow, natural enzymatic process, in which brown rice grains are partially broken down to yield a thick, rich but mild
flavoured, sweet liquid.
Sprouted barley grains, which contain maltose and other enzymes to convert their starch and other constituents into usable sugars and nutrients, are added to a brown rice and water "porridge" and gently heated to the optimum
temperature for enzyme action (35-40 degrees centigrade.)
The carbohydrates, proteins and fats of the brown rice are digested to less complex sugars, amino acids and fatty acids respectively. The longer the process is continued the darker and sweeter the porridge becomes. Before the mixture begins to ferment it is heated to disable the enzymes. It is then pressed, filtered and cooked down slowly to produce the perfect malt thickness.
There are many types of rice syrup currently available and the quality varies from the brown rice malt described above to white rice syrup, which is made using only white rice and labproduced enzymes. Another type is produced by
adding Koji (cultured rice) to the cooked rice and water porridge. Koji contains a similar range of enzymes to the sprouted barley grains and gives a comparable product. There is a distinct qualitative difference between the syrups
produced by traditional methods using barley or koji and those made using laboratory enzymes.
With koji or barley there are many enzymes at work, holistically digesting proteins and fats as well as carbohydrates to produce a multi-nutrient complex wholefood. And of course, the difference in flavour is quite obvious!
Rice malt is far less sweet than sugar, honey and maple syrup. At least half of its composition is made up of nutrients found in the whole grain. It contains approximately 50% sugar, the majority of which is maltose. The remaining 50% is mainly soluble complex carbohydrates and water.
Therefore rice malt provides a slow, prolonged source of energy. Maltose takes up to 1½ hours to digest and the complex carbohydrates are digested and released for up to 4 hours. This smooths out the blood sugar highs and lows
associated with the consumption of highly refined sweeteners.
Piko Organic Rice Malt is sold on-tap and made in Japan from organic brown rice and sprouted barley.
Barley Malt is produced in a very similar way to rice malt, and has a similar nutrient composition, but contains only sprouted barley grains and water.
At Piko we sell bottled Organic Barley Malt from Eden Foods (US).
The Carob or Locust bean is a native plant of the Eastern Mediterranean, of which the roasted, ground beans are increasingly used as a substitute for chocolate. It has been eaten for thousands of years (it is believed John the Baptist
survived in the desert on a diet of carob and honey) and it has great value as a nutritious and tasty wholefood in its own right.
It is not generally considered as a sweetener but actually contains 30-50% fructose and so can be used in baking and drinks with only a small amount or even no additional sweetener. It is rich in calcium, phosphorus and other minerals and acts as an alkalising bowel conditioner, helping to counteract the acid forming nature of sugar.
Unlike cocoa, carob has a very low fat content – about 2%, compared to 52% in chocolate – and it is also caffeine free.
Carob is a very versatile ingredient and can be used in drinks, baking and snacks in the same way as cocoa, or can be combined with numerous recipes that require extra sweetness.
At Piko we currently have organic dark carob powder in stock and hope to have organic light carob powder in soon. Dark carob is stronger in flavour as the beans are roasted for a longer time before being ground.
We also stock a number of carob snacks, including carob buttons, carob coated almonds, raisins and apricots, carob and coconut balls and carob bars of various flavours (mint is a real favourite!).
Concentrated fruit juices are also useful sweeteners, especially for drinks, porridge and desserts. They are extremely sweet as they contain primarily fructose and do not contain the multiple nutrients of many of the other sweeteners mentioned above. They should therefore be used very sparingly. At Piko we sell concentrated organic apple juice which is recommended as a sugar replacer for cakes and desserts. Half a cup of concentrate replaces 1 cup sugar. And now, last but by no means least, the one everyone has been waiting for.....
Stevia rebaudiana or Stevia as it is more commonly known, is a small perennial shrub native to Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. It has been used as a sweetener and medicine by the Guarani Indians for many hundreds of years, but it is only in the last century that its use has spread to the wider world. It is particularly popular in Japan where it comprises over 40% of the high-potency sweetener market.
The sweet compound in Stevia is a glycoside, called stevioside, which has 100-300 times the sweetness of sugar but cannot be metabolised by the body. Therefore it satisfies the taste for sweetness but is eliminated from the body without raising blood sugar levels. Not only this but because stevia is a whole herbal food it contains other properties which complement its sweetness.
Extensive research has been carried out in Japan and South America, which clearly demonstrates the beneficial effects of Stevia in regulating blood sugar levels and actively reducing the symptoms of hypoglycaemia and diabetes.
A report from the Hiroshima University School of Dentistry indicates that stevia also suppresses dental bacteria growth rather than feeding it as sugars do. Taken as a mouthwash stevia can help prevent gingivitis and gum disease. Stevia also alleviates mental and physical fatigue, acts as a diuretic and gastrointestinal tonic, regulates blood pressure, assists weight loss and reduces food cravings. It does not encourage the yeast and bacterial infections which feed off sugar and is therefore recommended for those prone to candida overgrowth.
Are you convinced yet?
Apart from glycosides, whole Stevia also contains phosphorus, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, vitamins A and C and chlorophyll.
Stevia is available in powdered green leaf form or as a colourless, liquid stevioside extract. (The extraction process used is a non-chemical method recorded in traditional Chinese herbal manuscripts.)
At Piko we stock the powdered green Stevia leaf, which provides more of the nutrients and benefits of the wholefood than the pure stevioside extract. Different sources seem to disagree on how much of the powder or extract should be used when replacing sugar in recipes. Paul Pitchford, in his book "Healing with Wholefoods", recommends using 1 teaspoon Stevia powder to replace 1 cup of refined sugar, but other sources suggest more, usually 1½-2 teaspoons. And the general recommendation for the stevioside extract is 1-3 drops in place of 1 cup sugar. It is really a matter of taste and trying out what's best for you, but keep in mind that it is an extremely sweet product and can have a slight bitter aftertaste. (Yes, I hate to admit it, but it can have just that one small imperfection, not that I noticed it in the delicious pumpkin pie I tried!)
A note on the safety of Stevia:
There has been some controversy in the US as to the proven safety of the widespread use of Stevia.
An import ban was placed on it by the Food and Drug Administration in 1991 on the basis that there was insufficient scientific proof of its safety.
(However it can now be imported if labelled as a dietary supplement.)
Despite the FDA's stance, the rest of the world agrees that Stevia has been shown to be a safe, natural product. A look at the research which has been carried out in the last century, its record of use by the Guarani Indians and the Japanese, and the fact that there hasn't been a single case of Stevia toxicity to humans reported in the last forty years, leaves little doubt that Stevia is a safe product.