It’s sugar, but just not as you know it…
I was asked a very interesting question at work today – and it really got me thinking…
What are the latest home baking trends of 2015?
My first and immediate thought was the latest craze of ‘new’ sugars. Which, to be honest, I don’t fully understand…isn’t it still just sugar – just disguised in a ‘healthier’ image? Surely if you want cake, you should be able to enjoy it (in moderation!) – and if you REALLY want cake, surely you will buy/make/eat that cake – whatever version of sugar is put into it? If the new sugars and sweeteners taste good, then GREAT! And if they are good for you too – BONUS! However, is it just ‘perceived’ healthiness? There is of course the on-going media fuelled debate with the headlines/themes that seem to change daily… “too much sugar is bad for you”, “too much fat is bad for you”, no wait… it’s “too much fat AND sugar is bad for you”. Well surely we all know too much of ANYTHING is bad for you. Isn’t it all about balance?
I am a very health conscious person – I like to make sure that what I am eating is good for me. Don’t get me wrong I am also very much a pie, chips and a large glass of vino girl at heart – and if I DIDN’T watch what I ate, then I would have to spend ALOT more time in the gym – when really, I just want to be making lovely craft things and writing this blog. At only 4′ 11″ and having a day job that happens to be in the offices of a very large chocolate factory – I just like to ensure my intake for 75% of the time is GOOD for me. I like to ensure I eat the rainbow palette of vegetables, the nuts, seeds, oats, the fish, wholegrains etc etc. So when I want something ‘BAD’ for me, do I also need to be worrying about what TYPE of sugar may be in it? Surely sugar is just SUGAR, right? Or, am I missing the point…?
I turned to the power of Google to help me in my quest to discover just what I ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be eating in sugary confections RIGHT NOW. And lo and behold – yes, many, MANY articles already written on the latest foodie crazes – do mention buzzwords of ‘agave nectar’, ‘stevia’ and interestingly to me – ‘coconut sugar’. Having been on a very recent trip to Sri Lanka – where I was drinking from freshly macheted coconuts on a daily basis (don’t you know you that coconut water is (or least WAS!) THE big thing to be drinking?) I was intrigued to find out more.
The Sterling-Rice Group advise that apparently, it’s all to do with the fact it is less refined than ‘normal’ white sugar, providing a lower GI sugar hit. It has naturally occurring nutrients, but importantly – it still has a great sweetness… they suggest looking up Kika’s Salted Caramels made from this trendy sugar. Now they really have got me thinking – I do LOVE coconut, and the absolute best thing in the whole entire world to me, is anything that involves salted caramel. So, this is looking like a win-win situation?
The Telegraph (my weekend-paper-of-choice) also backs this up with an article on the latest 2015 foodie trends – stating that coconut sugar is full of both zinc and iron. Good stuff!
Now, I have to admit – this all does sound very nice, and is starting to appeal to my health-conscious-self… but just how widely available and/or mind-boggling expensive is this sugar? Will it be worth my while adding it into the weekly shop?
A quick browse of the top 5 UK supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose) and also via mysupermarket.co.uk shows it isn’t actually that widely available. YET. In fact, out of these five – just Waitrose (Oh, how I love this supermarket!) was the only one to have it stocked: ‘Speciality No. 12 coconut palm sugar via their online supermarket and is priced at £5.99 for 250g. That’s a whopping £23.96 per kg. The branding looks nice, and yes – I am sure some people will happily pay this… however – compared on the same supermarket website for the traditional caster cane sugar with good old Tate and Lyle – that is…£1.48 for 1kg. So, the super coconut sugar is over 16 times more expensive! I am not sure it is 16 times good for you?
Ocado stocks a different brand – the Biona Organic Coconut Sugar and this works out slightly cheaper at £2.99 for 250g. However, this still calculates in at £12.00 per kg!
There are of course perhaps, other places to buy this wonder sugar – and maybe, cheaper (a few other online retailers I looked at did stock various versions – none at the time of checking were any less expensive!) I am sure if this trend truly catches on, it will be available everywhere, and perhaps once the demand is there, the price will reduce. Maybe I am again missing the point – I should be willing to PAY for this new ingredient to be baking my ‘healthy’ cakes with?
The website Tropical Traditions had another interesting slant to this buzzy trend on coconut sugar:
“…coconut palm trees cannot produce both coconuts and coconut palm sugar! When the sap used to make coconut palm sugar is collected from the coconut palm tree, from the flower bud that will eventually form a coconut, that tree can no longer produce coconuts! Think about that for a minute. No coconuts = no coconut oil, no dried coconut, no coconut flour. Is coconut sugar worth giving up these other valued products that come from the coconut??”
I think it is great there is a new cane sugar alternative product on the market – but I am not sure I would want to do without all the other wonderful features coconuts have to offer. In addition to the above – there is the aforementioned coconut water – and don’t forget coconut milk! Imagine life without Thai curries?! That obviously sounds a bit extreme, and I am sure that at some point – the balance will return to allow coconuts to be sold – in all their wonderfully different brilliant states. However, as the article points out just what financial sense it makes for the farmers to produce this new commodity, maybe not…
“This new success for palm sugar is yielding a high profit for both coconut farmers and retailers in the U.S., as “healthier sugars” are among the new high-demand “health” foods. We are seeing story after story in the Philippines of how coconut farmers are converting their coconut trees into coconut sugar production, collecting the sap from the tree to make this hot new commodity. The process is very simple, allowing anyone with coconut palm trees on their land to easily convert their coconut palms into an instant cash crop that reaps great financial benefits.”
I am sure, coconut sugar would add a wonderful new aroma, taste and perhaps texture to a sponge, fondant, all manner of desserts… and for the sake of experience I would of course be willing to give it a try (my husband would be happy too – me to bake it, him to eat it!) However, for now – I think I will stick with my good old fashioned Tate and Lyle. If I was eating lots of sugary things every day, maybe it would be better to look at balancing out the whole diet – rather than worrying about what’s in the bad stuff. I am no health expert – and definately don’t claim to be. It is just common sense – eat more good stuff! Eat your greens and THEN if you’re still hungry, some cake… washed down with plenty of coconut water!