Monday, October 1, 2012

Gimme a little Sugah, Baby....

*Excuse me for a minute folks, it's hard to get this saddle on my high horse...*

There now.  That's better.  So!  People ask me from time to time what "Sucanat" is.  It's a sweetener I use made from sugarcane that is one of the "healthier" sugars, if there is such a thing.  Today being the first day of October Unprocessed I thought I'd talk a little about cane sugar.  I think we can agree that when it comes to unprocessed, high fructose corn syrup is right out.  Recently, a few soda companies have gotten wise to the fact that people are trying to eat "real" and have begun marketing sodas "sweetened with real sugar."  To this I say, "It's a start, I guess." 

*My high horse just jumped up on my giant soapbox.*

It takes a lot of processing to make a giant green grass stalk into a tiny white granule.  You can find a detailed description on the EPA's website.  But basically, it goes like this:

1)Sugar cane is harvested.
2) Cane is delivered to the factory.
3) Cane is chewed up in machines.
4) Bulk of the stalk (bagasse) is removed.
5) What remains has water or juice added to it.
6)-? The mixture is repeatedly heated and washed with various bleaching agents, and spun in a centrifuge. The molasses is stripped away.  In the case of white table sugar, one of the extra little ingredients used to bleach it is cow bones.  Tasty.
The final product is a shiny white crystal, perfectly sweet and perfectly clean for just about anything you want to sweeten.  But then, at what cost?

Every bit of anything even remotely healthy from the sugar cane has been stripped away (which is admittedly minimal at best) and the finished product has been steadily bathed in chemicals.  I'm calling this "Processed."

*Banging shoe.  I'm banging my shoe, people!*

 These are all the sugars I could find in the store easily.  
  • White sugar is what we Americans grew up on, of course.  Brown sugar (not pictured) is just refined white sugar with molasses added back to it.
  • Evaporated Cane Juice is less processed, but doesn't retain much of the molasses as you can tell by the color.  
  • Turbinado sugar is sometimes called Demerara and is marketed under the name Sugar in the Raw.  Seriously, I don't know how they get away with this.  It's a giant crystal that's clearly been formed by cooking it!  In fact, unless you are sitting in a field somewhere sucking on a sugar cane, there's nothing raw about any sugar.   
    *Pause for more banging*
All of these products (except white sugar) have had the molasses removed at some point in the cooking process and have had portions returned for a more natural look and flavor.  I'm calling these "Processed."

*I'm looking down my long nose at these sugars.  My high horse is, too.  Although, I think he may be thinking a little bit about how delicious sugar cubes are.*

Sucanat is a brand name of cane sugar.  It is squeezed, cleaned with slaked lime, heated and stirred until granules form.  It is not bleached.  It's then dried and packaged. I have read (on the Internet which is the all-knower of things and the never-producer of falsehoods) that the molasses is removed and added back in for a uniform color.  The manufacturer of Sucanat lists their process on their website, and doesn't mention this, so take that little tidbit with whatever size grain of salt you want.

 Whole cane sugar is pretty much the same darn thing except apparently, they don't strip out the molasses and there may or may not be a "cleaning" process.  This brand has a chart on the back of the package detailing the process: The cane is squeezed, the juice is filtered, heated, and dried, then ground with a sieve.  I'm calling these "Less Processed."

*The heel of my shoe just fell off...*

The thing is, that though these may use varying degrees of processing to produce, there is still a fair amount of energy, chemicals, and general mucking about involved in the production of all of them.  And the calorie count is still the same.  Sugar is sugar.  And sugar isn't really super healthy.  I use Sucanat because I can get it from a bulk bin which means I can buy as little as I want and it is less expensive than getting it off the shelf.  If I happen to run across it, I do occasionally buy whole cane sugar by Rapunzel, though in researching this post, I'm not sure if there is much difference after all.  There are still times when the more natural sugars won't do.  Christmas cookies, for example, don't work as well with sugar full of molasses.

It's quite the conundrum.

The rules for October Unprocessed basically boil down to if you can't conceivably make it at home, you shouldn't buy or eat it.  If I had a field of sugar cane growing out back, I could probably figure out how to make one of the non crystalline granules.  But since I don't and I'm a food blogger and I just want to see what will happen, my solution this month will be:

Raw, Local Honey.

Now, here's an article about how most of the honey in the US isn't technically "honey" anymore because it's been so processed.

*My horse just "went" on the soapbox.  I think I heard him say "Oh" first.*
We're all thinking it, horsey.


  1. LOVE this post, Brooke! Thanks for sharing all your research (great pics, too). With the focus on unprocessed this month, I'm rethinking some baking habits. Maple syrup is my favorite sweetener, followed closely by honey (although your horse just echoed my thoughts...). Sigh! Definitely a conundrum.

    1. Thanks, Hannah! I love maple syrup, too! Since it's easier to find a locally produced supply of honey, that's what I settled on for myself this month. Not that O.U. has anything to do with local really, I just added that stipulation myself.

  2. Many asian and latin american countries use unprocessed cane sugar. Read about it here:

    It tastes amazing.

    1. Panela sounds a lot like Jaggery, which I know is used in India quite a bit. They both sound fantastic but aren't as widely available in the States!

  3. A well researched text. Although not news, for a vegetarian it is always shocking to hear about the cow bones. It is a subject I've closed my eyes from for years.

    1. Thanks, Lakshmi. As a practical person, I'm glad to see they are using all parts of the cow somewhere. If it's already dead, at least they're not wasting it, right? On the other hand, as a vegetarian, I'd rather the animal not die for human consumption at all. And from an American standpoint (read someone who barely knows what's in the food they eat) just ew.

  4. love these photos, I just want to lick your table :) Ugh, wishing I didn't know about the cow bones, thats just yucky, but I still want to lick the table :) Strange fact, I have the same measuring spoons (dash, smidgeon etc).

    1. You can lick my table anytime, Sarah. Though it's anybody's guess what will be on it at any given time... =) I love those little spoons, don't you?

  5. *Banging shoe. I'm banging my shoe, people!* hehehe

    Yes, sugar is sugar. Sadly, Christmas cookies are not in the cards for me this Christmas, unless it's just to bake and give away. I do miss sugar. But my body doesn't.

    1. I'm not sure I can go cold turkey just yet, especially at holiday time. Slow and steady wins the race, right? =)


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