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Coupon Abbreviations
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  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
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  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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coconut sugar alternativeThe following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.

Last week we finished up our look at zero-calorie alternative sweeteners and learned a little bit about monk fruit, the newest sweetener in the sugar aisle. Today, we’re staying in the sugar aisle but learning about alternative sugars with calories. Are there any health benefits over traditional sugar? Any drawbacks? Can I use it like traditional sugar? Let’s start by learning about the sweetener I’ve been using lately: coconut sugar!

I have to admit. I was scared to begin researching coconut sugar. I like this stuff! It tastes fabulous, it’s natural, and it has a low glycemic index. If you’ve been reading Organic Living Journey for a while you know that there is usually a dark, toxic side to many of the foods or products we have used. I didn’t want to learn about the dark, toxic side about coconut sugar, but I definitely didn’t want to continue consuming something that might be bad for my body…so here we go!

Where Does It Come From?

Coconut sugar comes from the coconut palm tree, the same type of tree that gives us coconuts and coconut oil. When the tree begins to blossom, the flowers are cut, and the sap is collected. This sap is then reduced by heat to make a rich syrup (called the “toddy” or coconut nectar). The syrup is completely dehydrated to produce the coconut sugar granules. (I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for some chemically-laden purification process…but) That’s it. Pure coconut palm sugar is simply reduced and dehydrated coconut palm tree sap. It’s a caramel brown color and a little grainy looking. It’s available in conventional and organic varieties.

As always, continue to read labels. Some brands of coconut sugar will create a blend, combining coconut sugar with another sweetener, sometimes even plain white sugar. Coconut palm sugar is not the same thing as “palm sugar”, which comes from the sugar palm tree. Know what you’re paying for.

What are the benefits of choosing coconut sugar?

  1. Glycemic Index: First and foremost, coconut sugar is still a sugar. It has about the same amount of calories as cane sugar and the same amount of sweetness. That’s where the similarities end. Chemically speaking, the structure of coconut sugar is about 70-80% sucrose plus 3-9% glucose, 3-9% fructose, residual fiber, and nutrients. [What’s with the ranges? There are lots of factors that affect the sweetness of coconut palm tree sap: location, harvest time, and even the age of the tree.] The chemical structure of coconut sugar is different from cane sugar’s structure. This (plus a small amount of residual fiber) explains coconut sugar’s lower glycemic index (GI). Refined cane has a high glycemic index in the 80-90 range. Coconut sugar is considered a low glycemic food with a GI of 35.

  2. Nutrients: Compared to cane sugar, coconut sugar actually has some nutrition in it! Not that sugar should be your primary nutritional source for anything, but if you’re going to use a sugar, you might as well use one with some nutrition.

Mineral

Coconut Sugar (ppm)

Refined Cane Sugar (ppm)

Potassium

10,300

25

Nitrogen

2,020

0

Phosphorous

790

0.7

Sodium

450

10

Magnesium

290

10

Sulfur

260

20

Calcium

60

80

Iron

21.9

1.2

Zinc

21.2

1.2

Manganese

1.3

0.6

In addition to these minerals, you’ll also find the following vitamins in coconut sugar: thiamine, riboflavin, biotin, choline, folic acid, and a bunch of B vitamins. But wait…there’s more! The coconut palm tree sap also contains 16 out of 20 essential amino acids and a gorgeous host of live enzymes.

Coconut sugar can be produced one of two ways: heated and reduced to form regular coconut sugar, or low-temp evaporation to produce raw coconut sugar. Is there a difference between these two products? Both will contain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. However, the raw coconut sugar retains all the enzymes found in the coconut palm tree sap.

Are there any drawbacks to coconut sugar?

Once again, coconut sugar is still a sugar. However much I want to rationalize it, coconut sugar should be used in moderation like regular sugar. It contains calories, feeds your sweet tooth, and has an effect on your blood sugar. As with all foods that are more natural and better for you than their conventional counterparts, coconut sugar is more expensive than cane sugar. You will probably pay $5-10 per pound for coconut sugar. I’ve found the best prices buying in bulk from Amazon.

How can I use coconut sugar in my cooking?

Sugar alternatives like stevia are wonderful options for cutting calories and leveling your blood sugar, but they have limitations. I feel the pain of those limitations when I try to make a frosting or use my favorite cookie recipe. That’s one place where coconut sugar really shines.

Coconut sugar is substituted equally for sugar, a 1:1 ratio. This means that the ½ cup of sugar I used to use for my favorite almond cookies is still just ½ cup of coconut sugar. The flavor will be about the same, just a little bit more “caramel-y”. The teaspoon of sugar I used to use in my coffee is still just 1 teaspoon of coconut sugar…and it tastes great.

The only difference I’ve noticed is that coconut sugar take longer to dissolve in cold mixtures, like sweet tea. The solution? Coconut syrup. You can make your own (recipe below) or buy Coconut Secret’s “Coconut Nectar” at the store. Coconut Nectar is actually the “toddy” from the production process, a concentrated version of the coconut palm tree sap before it gets evaporated into coconut sugar. It’s a lot like maple syrup in color and viscosity. The syrup is counter-stable and will keep for months. Keep some on hand for sweetening cold beverages or as an backup maple syrup substitute.

Coconut Simple Syrup

1 part water

1 part coconut sugar

Directions: in a saucepan, combine ingredients and cook over medium heat. Stir occasionally,  until sugar is dissolved and the liquid has reduced. You can adjust cooking time for a lighter or thicker syrup. Allow to cool a bit before transferring to a glass container.

Want to add a little extra flavor? Add the contents of a vanilla bean during the reduction or a bit of vanilla extract at the end. Wonderful for a vanilla latté!

How about frosting? Here’s my 2 cents: if you are making a cooked frosting, like a chocolate fudge frosting, just use the coconut sugar, no problem. Want to make a buttercream? Change it up a bit. I like to “powder” my coconut sugar in the food processor or blender and get it as powder-like as possible. I’ve found that if I make the frosting in advance and let it sit for at least a day before applying to the cake, it’s fine. If you want to use it right away, it will be a little grainy. For same-day use, I like to whip the powdered coconut sugar with heavy cream before incorporating the butter. This gives the sugar a change to dissolve a little bit, reducing the grainy factor. [Side note: not making your own frosting yet? It’s the most deliciously easy cooking project you will ever try! Give it a go!]

Perspective

Some organic or natural products give you the benefit of reducing toxic load, something that accumulates over time in your body. The benefit from coconut sugar is different. Lowering blood sugar spikes is an instant result that will have an instant, positive effect on your health. Blood sugar spikes are bad, triggering a host of hormonal and inflammatory responses in your body, which lead to disease over time. If keeping these responses in check is as easy switching the type of sugar you use, I think it’s worth consideration and deserves a place on your priority list.

Coconut sugar is still a sugar. It does contain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (all good things!), but it is by no means a good source for these nutrients and should not be considered a “health food”.

However, if you have a recipe that calls for sugar and don’t want to guess at conversion ratios or risk a bad flavor/texture as with sugar-free sugar alternatives, coconut sugar is an easier and healthier exchange for cane sugar. If you’re going to use a sugar, at least use one with some nutritional value, a low glycemic index, and an all natural refinement process.
Holiday baking is right around the corner, and you now have a healthier option than sugar without sacrificing a great taste or texture! Would you try coconut sugar in your favorite cookie recipe? Have you tried it? What are your thoughts?