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Sugar and Sweeteners

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The white stuff is the one industrial food I cannot give up entirely. I love honey and maple syrup, but some things (like lemon curd) taste better with bright white sugar, and the other sweeteners leave me cold. Stevia tastes chemical. The agave “nectar” sold as a traditional and native sweetener is in fact neither. It’s not made from the sap of the agave plant (aguamiel), but from a starch in the root bulb called inulin, which is then broken down by enzymes, or “hydrolyzed,” into fructose. The glycemic index and glycemic load of agave nectar are similar to that of fructose. (Mexicans do make syrup by boiling aguamiel, but most Americans are not buying that.)

Instead of using phony sweeteners, I’d rather cook with Grade B maple syrup (the flavor is richer than in Grade A); raw honey (deep, diverse flavors, plus propolis, pollen, and enzymes); or the best sugar I can find, and ration my sweets. I eat few desserts and eat them not too sweet. Organic whole cane sugar (made by evaporating whole sugarcane juice) is my favorite sugar for desserts. It adds a lovely touch of caramel, which suits certain dishes, such as ice cream and fruit crisp. It’s whole; whatever B vitamins and minerals sugarcane contains (and they are few) are all in there. Rapunzel is a good brand.

Molasses is what’s left when sugarcane or sugar beets are processed to make refined sugar. Most brown sugar is nothing more than refined white sugar with molasses added back. You get a similar effect with whole cane sugar. For gingerbread, straight unsulfured blackstrap molasses—from the third boiling of sugarcane—delivers the characteristic dark, spicy thing.

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