Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut products have been hugely popular lately, from coconut water to oil to milk. Coconut palm sugar is a natural sweetener alternative. It is made from the nectar from the tree flowers. The Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations believes palm sweeteners are the most sustainable sweetener on the planet. It can be substituted 1:1 for sugar in recipes, as it is of similar sweetness to sugar. It is dark in colour and has a rich flavour, so may be a better substitute for brown sugar.
Coconut Palm sugar was given recently popularity due to a feature on the Dr OZ show, as can be seen here Dr Oz claims Coconut Palm sugar can stabilize your blood sugar and contains iron and vitamins. The blood sugar claims are an exaggeration. His chart may be accurate if you ate 100% pure coconut palm sugar vs 100% pure sugar all day. However, we eat these foods mixed in, and with other foods that effect blood sugars in different ways. For example, mixed with a latte, regular sugar absorption is slowed by the protein and fat from the milk. Glycemic load is more applicable and important to our daily lives than the individual glycemic index of a single ingredient.
Dr Oz also claims coconut palm sugar is high in potassium, iron and vitamins. The Nutrition facts table states a serving contains % Daily Value of vitamin C is 2% and iron is 1%. So while it may be slightly more nutritious that regular sugar, unless you eat mass quantities, it doesn’t contain enough of these vitamins or minerals to consider it decent source of anything, other than calories (18 cals per tsp). Not that I’m saying it’s an unhealthy substitute to sugar, but it does not meet such lofty claims.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener that is extracted from hardwood trees, and fibers of some fruits and vegetables. It can also equally be substituted for sugar, as the sweetness level is similar. However, it contains less calories (10 calories per tsp, where as sugar has 15 cals per tsp). Xylitol has no aftertaste, and has a low glycemic index of 13, so it does not have a large effect on increasing blood sugars.
Another benefit of xylitol is that is tooth-friendly and may help prevent cavities, as opposed to cause them! You can find xylitol sweetened toothpastes and mouthwashes, which are a great alternative to fluoride, especially for young children. There are also interesting claims that xylitol may be helpful with infections, yeast and building bone.
Xylitol is not new, and was developed in Europe over 100 years ago. Studies show it is safe, with the only negative side effect being gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea at very large doses. All sugar alcohols can have this effect, as they are not fully broken down in our intestines. However, used in moderation, this is not a problem.
I originally heard of date sugar on this video, claiming date sugar and molasses are the only sweeteners with nutritional value. Date sugar is made from dried dates, and can be a good alternative to brown sugar. It has the nutritional benefits of the dried fruit, rather than just calorie-dense sugar. Date sugar doesn’t dissolve or melt well, so it’s use is somewhat limited.
Looking up the nutrition information for Bob’s Red Mill date sugar, the nutrition facts table still states it contains 0% Daily Value for the listed vitamins and minerals, and 11 calories. Why? Because a serving size is 1tsp. If you ate ½ cup, it would likely contain more nutrients! In the small amounts that we should use sweeteners, the trace nutrients do not really add up to play a big part in our total diet.
I couldn’t find date sugar in my grocery store, so I looked up a recipe for date syrup. Unlike the sugar, I think the syrup would have more uses, as it is already a liquid therefore no melting issues! The recipe is here.
I tried baking banana muffins with date syrup, coconut palm sugar, xylitol and regular granulated sugar. They all tasted great. The coconut palm sugar is dark, so better to replace brown sugar in recipes, but will colour lighter baked goods a bit darker than normal. The xylitol muffins were a bit crumbly. The date muffins “spread out” over the pan (as I didn’t decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe), but were a flavor favourite! For muffins to serve at home, any of these sweeteners were suitable. To serve to company, I would probably stick with the regular sugar, as they looked most appealing!
I also tried the coconut palm sugar and xylitol to sweeten lattes. They both were fine – added a bit of sweetness, mixed in well and left no aftertaste.
I also tested the coconut palm sugar, xylitol and date syrup in oatmeal. They all tasted good. I actually preferred the date syrup, as it gave the oatmeal a nice hint of date flavour.
I probably won't re-purchase the Coconut Palm sugar. It's more useful for replacing brown sugar, which I don't use a lot of. And I don't think the nutritional difference is enough to warrant the change, and price difference.
However, I probably will continue to buy xylitol and use it occasionally. While it didn't work out super-great in my baking (crumbly), it could be a useful substitute sweetening drinks like iced tea and coffee, as well as cereals. I am most intrigued by the benefits to teeth, as my children have had issues with cavities.
The date syrup was great in my oatmeal. But since I have to make this myself, and don't see a whole lot of other uses, I probably won't use it regularly. However, maybe I will experiment with it in recipes by cutting out some of the fluid, as I think it would be good both taste and nutrient-wise in baked goods.
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