Sugar: Delicious but devilish, no? And alternative sweeteners can be even worse, what with all the chemicals and processing. It would be nice to cut sugar alltogether, but at this point, let's be honest: We are sugar addicts! For those of you who've cut the stuff completely, more power to ya. But, for the rest of us, how about a more natural, nutritious and sustainable sweetener? And some might even say much tastier than cane sugar itself: Coconut Palm Sugar.
Coconut Palm Sugar has garnered itself a space in most healthfood stores (and even supermarkets) where it has indeed been marketed as a healthy alternative to sugar. But is it really? Let's take a gander.
First off, we should note that, while often used interchangeably (as we are here), Coconut Sugar and Palm Sugar actually come from two separate trees and are different. Be sure to inspect your label for two things: First, to make sure the product is derived from coconuts; Second, to ensure that you are buying pure Coconut Palm Sugar and not one that is mixed with plain ol' sugar. Go organic!
The biggest claim around Coconut Palm Sugar is that it has a low glycemic index, making it suitable for those with diabetes and generally healthier for a nation where, according to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 10 percent of the population has diabetes. When it comes to the glycemic index, foods are ranked by their immediate effect on blood sugar levels, and the amount of glucose they release over a two to three hour period. The higher a food raises blood sugar, the higher its glycemic index and more detrimental to our health it becomes. It is reported that Coconut Palm Sugar, owing to very low levels of naturally occurring glucose and fructose, in addition to the presence of inulin (a zero glycemic prebiotic that aids digestive health), is a low glycemic food that won't spike your blood sugar, leaving you lethargic a little ways down the road.
Coconut Palm Sugar has also been touted as being a more sustainable sweetener than cane sugar and most other sweeteners, including agave syrup. What is undeniably awesome about sugar from palm trees is that it takes very little processing at all. The nectar is extracted from flowers growing up in the trees and air dried to give us some scrumptious crystals that are naturally brown in color and naturally rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. And since the final product is unrefined, the health status is not compromised. On the other hand, some argue that harvesting those flowers for their nectar is anything but sustainable since the they can then no longer produce a coconut and provide us with all those other awesome coconut products we love: Coconut oil, coconut water, coconut milk, etc.
Just as with most things, we think Coconut Palm Sugar is great in moderation. And far superior to the refined sugar we so often consume. It also has a really deep, rich flavor that pairs well with the exploration of baking. But, we certainly don't consider it a "health food"... a damn good substitute though.