Recently I received a letter asking about different sugars available in the bulk aisle. Here’s the question:
“There are so many different types of sugar showing themselves in the bulk
section: succanant, evaporated cane juice, fructose, raw, etc. I’m confused.
What is the difference?? Are some better than others?”
Here’s my very long answer (I really like sugar):
Basically, the darker the sugar, the more unprocessed it is and the better it is for you. it contains more of the natural molasses, and therefore is more nutritious. The darker sugars, in my opinion, are less addictive, more satisfying and more wholesome tasting. That being said, they do impart a certain earthy color to what you are making and have a distinctivd flavor which is more pronounced the darker you go.
Some people really do not enjoy the taste/results of natural sweeteners because they are so accustomed to life with white sugar. But as you can see with most dietary changes, there may be a slight adjustment period for the tongue–however the tongue is very adaptable and open to change. Especially if that change is towards whole foods–your body will thank you for it.
So here is a brief run down on sugars.
Sucanat is a made up term which stands for SUgar CAne NATural. So basically this is your purest sugar, most closely related to it’s source of origin in nature: sugar cane. It is almost always sold under the brand Wholesome Sweeteners (as most natural sugars are in the US) and if you follow this link you can read about the good stuff retained by the minimal processing, which includes iron, calcium and other minerals and vitamins.
It is by far my favorite sweetener, although i don’t use it for everything. I definitely use it whenever brown sugar is called for, such as peanut butter cookies, gingersnaps and barbecue sauce. The granules are very large and round but it is a soft, moist feeling sugar.
Turbinado, raw sugar and demerra sugar are essentially the same thing, with slight variations attributable to the place of origin and processing. These sugars are also minimally processed, although more so than sucanat. They retain molasses so are also more nutritious than white sugar. These sugars have large, golden brown crystals and can be used for all cooking and baking, although it may take a while for their crystals to dissolve. Because of this, some people prefer not to use them in cakes, where creaming the butter and sugar together is an important process. These sugars also lend an earthier color to things and impart an ever so slight wholesome flavor. They are to be used measure for measure to substitute white sugar, although you will probably end up using less because the surface area of the crystals is greater with this natural sugar.
Evaporated cane juice is a natural sweetener which has been clarified and purified to give it a lighter color. It has not been chemically processed or bleached with animal bones. It does retain molasses and is the color and consistency of beach sand, however, it is the least nutritious of all the sugars mentioned. That being said, it is the most versatile. It behaves just like white sugar, except it is totally natural. It is great in baking, cooking, for preparing drinks or in jam making. It will not adulterate the color of your final product and tastes most like sugar cane juice. How bad can that be!
Fructose is not good. Stay away from fructose. While although it has a low glycemic index, it is white white white and therefore should be avoided like cheddar cheese on pizza. Apparently it is metabolized differently than other sweeteners and studies with lab mice have found that fructose will make you fat (so lets subsidize it!!!). For lots of info on fructose, most of which you need a Phd in science to understand, visit this Wikipedia link .
Other sweeteners line the shelves of health food stores and even the natural foods section in chain supermarkets. Agave nectar is now being touted for its low glycemic index and is becoming very popular. It is able to boast a low glycemic index because it is 90% fructose. But people who sweeten with agave generally tend to use it sparingly, since it is pretty pricey, and they are using it for the whole health food effect.
There is a lot of info available online and what sweetener you choose to go with is really a personal decision based on what is important to you. And although buying from the bulk bins is cheaper than getting a small pre-packaged bag of Wholesome Sweetener sugar, it still is expensive. If you can special order a 50 lb bag from your favorite shop, you will save a good amount on sugar and the stores usually give an additional 10% off quantity orders. This is just my suggestion because in my house, even without jam making, we go through a lot of sugar. I personally like to have sucanat, evaporated cane juice and turbinado all on hand. Sucanat will be the most expensive, followed by evaporated cane juice and turbinado will be the cheapest (around $25/50lb for the natural, more for organic). I recommend comparing the quantity prices to what you are paying in the bulk aisle and after you get over your shock at the mark-up, go in for the 50 pounder with some friends.
Hope this is helpful.