Now a trip through the Health Food Store is like falling out of a coconut black hole, covered with endless repetitions of cult-status probiotic yogurt and tortilla chips. When it comes to baking with alt-sweeteners, coconut comes on top. But what is coconut sugar and how healthy is it?
Let’s understand the basics
Coconut sugar is made from nectar produced by coconut blossoms (not the actual coconuts) and when boiled it forms a granular substance similar to ground brown sugar. It is mainly produced in Southeast Asia, where it is used to create desserts such as tapioca-like pudding sago gula Melaka and klepon, coconut-coated rice cakes filled with liquid coconut sugar.
Why is it everywhere?
Coconut sugar is widely used as a healthy sugar substitute. However, it is important to be realistic: It is still sugar. This is not really or really healthy food. However, It can be seen as a healthy alternative to refined sugar. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index (GI) ranking than cane sugar, GI ranking finds how foods affect blood glucose levels. Foods with low GI values are digested and metabolized, which causes small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels and reduces the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes. We also like the mild caramel flavor of the coconut sugar, which rounds out baked goods with a slight earthiness.
How do you source this?
It should be caramel-hued and granulated, with a structure similar to brown sugar (without lumps). Many food blogs would like to cite a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization, which claims that coconut sugar is the “most consistent sweetener,” but the non-profit Grace Communications Foundation has not been able to confirm this claim. However, it is true that sugar is produced without cutting down trees, which are usually grown by small growers each year. To buy the most sustainably harvested coconut sugar, look for organic brands at grocery stores, or online.
How can you use it?
Baking with sugar substitutes is laborious, but It plays well with others. “When you have an assortment of alternate sugars, sugar leads the pack,” says senior food editor Chris Morocco. Last year, Morocco had to create three desserts from sugar substitutes which was an undeniable strategic task. He mastered date sugar chocolate sablés and mango-yogurt pudding sweetened with lucuma but found creating citrus crumble with coconut sugar syrup to be the easiest task. “You can use it as a substitute for cane sugar, but limit your expectations,” he says. “The outcome may not be as moist or chewy.”
To understand the disadvantages of baking with coconut sugar, one must understand the traditional role of sugar in baked goods. In addition to giving sweetness and flavor, refined sugar helps to create texture, moisture, and chewiness. The chemical bond between sugar and water retains moisture and creates cookies that are less likely to dry out.
Alt-sugar has a different chemical makeup, which means they do not have these properties. In other words, you should not expect a cookie made with sugar to work like a cookie made with refined sugar. Still, It dissolves into regular syrups, creams, butter, and eggs. This makes it easier to sprinkle on your morning latte or whisk it into an agave-like syrup to drizzle over your chia pudding—and that’s only the beginning.
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