Is Coconut Sugar Really Better Than Regular Sugar?
Have you ever tried Coconut sugar? How was the taste like?
I am always on the lookout for great sweeteners to use when I make chocolate from scratch. A vendor approached me several years ago trying to sell me coconut sugar. It is as a healthy sweetener because of its low glycemic index of 35.
I was very excited about the possibility of inexpensive and good tasting sweetener. Plus, it was also healthier than refined cane sugar. It actually seemed too good to be true to my skeptical engineering mind.
My concerns with this study were twofold. The study was conducted on only 10 people. A government who is one of the largest producers of coconut sugar in the world made the study. I was personally hesitant to make an informed decision until more independent studies were conducted.
Over the last few years, a whole raw chocolate industry has popped up touting coconut sugar as a low glycemic sweetener. However, scientist need to conduct further studies since there is such a difference between the two: 35 vs. 54.
The idea that a sweetener is healthy if it is low on the glycemic index can be misleading. A low glycemic index value is certainly a desirable characteristic of a healthy sweetener for reasons I will not go into in this article. Other factors also come into play that can still make a low glycemic sweetener problematic to health. Coconut sugar for example happens to be approximately 70% sucrose which equates to about 35% fructose. Fructose has been implicated in health issues such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
What makes coconut palm sugar healthier than refined cane sugar besides its supposed low glycemic index is the fact that it is higher in minerals than refined cane sugar and also contains some inulin, a starchy prebiotic fiber.
Here is a typical nutrition facts panel of a popular brand of coconut sugar:
As I experimented with coconut sugar in my chocolate making, I noticed that the flavor profiles of the coconut sugar I obtained from various vendors differed significantly. I wondered why. I considered it was due to variations in crops and processing methods since coconut sugar is not a highly refined sugar. Demerara, Turbinado, Muscovado, Rapadura, and Molasses are less refined forms of regular refined cane sugar.
However, the information I obtained from a colleague, Frederick Schilling, founder of Dagoba Chocolate, Amma Chocolate, and Big Tree Farms (a producer of coconut sugar), cast doubt on my reasoning behind the vast difference in flavor profiles I experienced. At a chocolate conference, he told me that the Indonesian government had cracked down on a 40 or so container export shipment of coconut palm sugar that was cut with cane sugar. In other words, it was not pure coconut sugar, but a blend of coconut and cane sugar.
I started thinking about what would motivate someone to do this.
The only reasons I could think of were flavor and/or cost. When I made further research, due to its bitter aftertaste, I found out that coconut sugar is not a desirable sweetener in Southeast Asia. I came to the conclusion that a possible motivation was to improve the flavor to sell more effectively at a higher price. Since coconut sugar is an unrefined sugar, it also retains many of the minerals inherent in it. Therefore, people can sell it as a more nutrient rich sweetener, warranting a higher price.
So, the key would be to make sure it tastes good. People will not reject it in the marketplace based on taste.
Are these factors that make the coconut sugar hype more of a racket than redemption? Regarding the health claim of a low glycemic index, it is a hard call at this point until further research and lab studies are conducted; regarding whether or not your coconut sugar is pure, could be a tougher call.