We are all fond of sugar and it has become an integral part of our everyday diet. Sugar is everywhere! Your morning cup of tea/coffee, fruits, cereals, bread all contain sugar. If sugar is such an important part of our diet; don’t you think you should know what your options are, before choosing the right type of sugar that your body requires? Some may also tell you that your body doesn’t require any sugar and you may go on a “no sugar diet”. Sometime later, you find yourself losing control over a candy; to kill your sugar craving. There are times when you are stressed or going through your PMS and all you want is a piece of that scrumptious dessert. Why is sugar bad for you? Is it because all good things have to be the devil incarnate?! 😉 Perhaps a little knowledge on what sugar really is might help.
Sugar is a source of energy for all our body cells. It comes from food, mainly carbohydrates and excess sugar gets stored in our muscles and liver. Which means that, most naturally available food already contains sugar as a natural sweetener. Hence sweeteners are a necessary food of life! One of the easy or the fastest way to detect sweeteners in food is by it’s GI (glycemic index). Glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly sugars from food enter your blood as glucose. High GI results in high levels of blood glucose and low GI results in slower absorption of glucose with fewer changes in blood glucose levels.
Sucrose (combo of glucose + fructose) comes from sugar cane or beet and is often referred to as ‘table’ or ‘added’ sugar. It also occurs naturally in some fruits and vegetables. Chemically speaking table sugars refined from cane and beet sugar are quite similar. However, many of the labels do not specify if the sugar is extracted from beet. Cane sugar may caramelize better than beet, but the difference may not be noticeable to most. Though, sugar beet is common in other parts of the world, there has been some interest in growing sugar beet in India too.
There are so many sweeteners available in the market and the promotional doctored articles make it really hard for us to choose what is really good for us. I’m sharing with you a list of natural sweeteners which are not only healthy but also a good alternative to switch from refined and processed sugar crystals. I’ve cooked, baked and have made them a part of my diet. I think you need to be comfortable with each sweetener and that’s when you know what works best for you.
Raw Sugar or Khandsari – This sugar is a part of my everyday diet and I use it in almost anything. Raw sugar is also known as cane sugar or unrefined sugar and it is minimally processed. Raw sugar is processed in india for hundreds of years. Sugar is made by extracting juice from the sugar cane. The extracted juice is then boiled and cooled, allowing it to crystallize. The sugar may crystallize into a very fine or granular sugar. This pale golden crystals are raw sugar.
Because raw sugar is not heavily refined, it has higher molasses content than table sugar. It has higher moisture content than regular sugar and keeping raw sugar in an airtight container is highly advised. Raw sugar can be used in your daily cup of beverage, in making jams, juices, Indian sweets, desserts or baking.
Liquid Jaggery or kakvi – Liquid jaggery is obtained by boiling raw sugar cane juice in a cast iron. As the liquid begins to boil the molasses is separated out. The removed molasses is usually fed to the cattle feed in India. Upon further boiling the juice condenses into a thick viscous liquid, which is called liquid jaggery (if further boiled, it leads to form jaggery). The boiling process is stopped and allowed to cool for bottling. Liquid jaggery has low GI. It helps relieve cold, cough, asthma and congestion in chest. Treats Indigestion and constipation. Also acts as a body coolant and antioxidant. Ideal for people with low haemoglobin. The uses are same as block or powdered jaggery. The disadvantage of this sweetener is that it tends to ferment. The best way to use the fermented jaggery is to boil it again with a little bit of water and use it again and you won’t notice any change ;). Here is an awesome liquid jaggery cake recipe from my blog!
Jaggery or gur – Jaggery is one of the most popular sweeteners in india. It is an unrefined sugar, made by boiling raw sugar cane or palm juice (known as palm jaggery) in iron pans. It is then formed into trays to dry and either made into balls or powder form. Jaggery is healthier than refined sugars as it retains natural vitamins and minerals.
The mineral content of jaggery includes calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and iron and traces of zinc and copper. The vitamin content includes folic acid and B-complex vitamins. Thus, other than that it is a good source of energy, it also prevents rheumatic afflictions; prevents disorders of bile; helps in relieving fatigue, relaxation of muscles, nerves and blood vessels; maintains blood pressure and reduces water retention; increases hemoglobin level and prevents anaemia.
Jaggery is a versatile sweetener. It goes so well with our Indian cooking that is has become a must have sweetener in every household. Jaggery perfectly enhances and gives a final touch to any Indian dish. Jaggery is used in coffee/tea or in South Indian cooking to make dishes like sambar. Jaggery can be used in baking cookies, cakes or even breads.
Palm sugar or palm jaggery – Palm sugar is a natural sweetener made from the sap of palm trees. Coconut palm sugar and palm sugar may sound same but are completely two different sweeteners. The liquid collected from the sap is called toddy or neera. This fresh toddy is boiled to obtain palm sugar or palm syrup. This process is done quickly to avoid toddy from fermenting. To make the sugar solid, the boiled juice is then poured into bamboo sections to form cylindrical shapes or into coconut shells or into small baskets woven of palm leaves. You also get palm sugar in powder form, which looks very close to coconut sugar. This sugar, even when soft, can be extremely dense and very sticky. Palm Sugar has a low GI and helps prevent diabetes and anemia during pregnancy. It is also known to be effective against cold and lung related ailments. You can use palm sugar in the same way as you would use jaggery.
Coconut sugar or coconut palm sugar – This is a wonder sugar! Most people are amazed and wonder if it tastes all coco-nuty. Coconut sugar is created from the sap of the coconut palm tree, rather than from the actual coconut itself. Coconut sugar is 100% pure, single-ingredient product with no additives, fillers, or added sweeteners. It is the single most sustainable sweetener in the world! Coconut sugar is a healthy sugar; low in glycemic index and full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is definitely a better substitute compared to all sweeteners including agave syrup.
Coconut sugar has to be stored in an air tight container. It looses its texture to moisture and may also turn hard. Coconut palm sugar is a versatile substitute for conventional cane sugar for most baking purposes. It is slightly less sweet than cane sugar but more flavorful, and in many cases the quantity of sugar can be reduced by up to 25 percent without altering the end result.You will find coconut sugar not as sweet as refined white sugars (so if using them for cakes or other desserts, you may need to add more to achieve the same level of sweetness). However, I find they have a nice caramel like taste which is similar to molasses, but lighter. You’ll definitely enjoy the taste! I have been using this wonder sugar in baking cookies, muffins, ladoos and I also made some yum vegan salted caramel.
Molasses or blackstrap molasses – This sweetener is used by many as a medicine more than cooking. Cane Molasses is made in a three-step process that begins with the juice from mature or green sugar cane plant. The juice is boiled to concentrate and crystallize the sugar. The result is called the “first” molasses. The crystallized sugar is removed and the residue is boiled again. The mixture darkens as the remaining sugar is burnt or caramelized. What results is called, “second” molasses. After more sugar crystals are removed, the process is repeated once again. The final or “third” boil produces the dark, concentrated syrup known as blackstrap molasses.
Molasses is rich in iron and contains benefits for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, pregnant or lactating and growing children or adolescents.Molasses is rich in copper, manganese, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Honey – This naturally rich sweetener produced by the honey bees, making it not suitable for vegans. It is an alternative substitute for white sugar. Research also indicates that honey’s unique composition makes it useful as an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.
The process of making honey begins when the bees feast on flowers, collecting the flower nectar in their mouths. This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees’ saliva, a process that turns it into honey. The bees carry the honey back to the hive, where they deposit it into the cells of the hive’s walls. The fluttering of their wings provides the necessary ventilation to reduce the honey’s moisture content, making it ready for consumption. Raw honey is the best option than the most filtered honey available in the market. Honey is best stored in glass bottles and they can be used in to enhance your juices and smoothies or for cooking and baking.
Pure Maple Syrup – The process of creating maple syrup begins with tapping (piercing) the tree, which allows the sap to run out freely. The sap is clear and almost tasteless and very low in sugar content when it is first tapped. It is then boiled to evaporate the water producing syrup with the characteristic flavor and color of maple syrup and sugar content of 60%. Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese and zinc. Pure maple syrup does not contain any flavouring and will be displayed on the labels. Maple syrup is commonly enjoyed with pancakes. You can also enjoy it on peanut butter toasts or in a bowl of cereal.
Stevia or sweet leaf or sugar leaf – Stevia is a plant and origins from South America. The compound in the leaves is responsible for the sweetness. This compound is sometimes sold isolated from the leaves in a highly refined form. In other cases, the sweetener is made by crushing or distilling the leaves of the plant to form a powder or a syrup with an intensely sweet flavor.
It has been shown that stevia is much sweeter than other sugars, meaning that only a small amount needs to be used. The body also processes stevia very slowly, which greatly reduces the risk of a sugar high. In addition, it is essentially calorie free, which is why it is popular with dieters. However, there has no proven facts and some scientists claim that it can cause cancer. Though stevia may seem like a natural sweetener, there has been no proven studies. Stevia leaves can be used in your dialy cup of tea/coffee, juices and smoothies. I’ve never baked with stevia and would like to know if you have used it.
Agave Syrup or agave nectar – Agave syrup is made from the juice of the agave plant, particularly found in the deserts of Mexico. Agave syrup looks like honey, but it is usually lighter and has a cleaner taste. It is nearly twice as sweet as white table sugar or raw sugar. Though agave syrup has low GI it is high on fructose and is compared to the commercially available sweeteners (because of the way it is being processed). Agave syrup can be used to sweeten your juices, smoothies or can be used in baking.
Going the natural way is the best way of not in taking highly processed sweeteners. All sugars contain glucose and fructose but what you need to check and compare is the GI’s for easy understanding. You can go deeper with the breakdowns and open a chemistry lab. All the mentioned sweeteners are available on our online store i2cook.com.
Glycemic Index (GI) (%)
|Pure Maple Syrup||
|Jaggery & Palm Sugar||
*Studies have shown that insulin is secreted by the pancreas soon after the sweet taste is experienced on the tongue, whether the substance contains calories or not. The body is fooled by the zero calorie sweetener. It expects glucose to hit the bloodstream and it gets none. This may result in increased appetite soon after.
I love grilled chicken in any form, plain or marinated. One of my favourite ways to eat chicken breast. Those striking lines looks so gorgeous. The best part about grilling is that you have to do very little prep to make your dish delicious and bask in the glory of your guests going ga ga over it!
Here is one such recipe which is not only easy but uses a different twist of ingredients. A warm peanut butter sauce is what makes this dish so worth while! Inspired by Thai. I’ve added ingredients which were easily available from my home garden like lemon grass and basil.
What makes this dish extra special is that I’ve plated it in a hand painted plate made by a dear friend of mine. You can find more such lovely hand painted stuff on her facebook page.
200gms boneless chicken breast
1tbs chopped lemon grass
4-5 kaffir leaves
1/2tsp chopped ginger
1/2tsp chopped garlic
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used i2cook’s organic peanut butter)
3-4 chopped Thai red chillies
1tsp tamarind paste
salt & pepper to taste
some oil for grilling (used a mix of vegetable & toasted sesame oil)
finely chopped basil for garnish
some fresh salad to serve (I served mine with sunflower leaves & cherry tomatoes)
- Cut the chicken pieces into desired size and pat dry.
- Blend the peanut butter, kaffir leaves, lemon grass, ginger, garlic, red chillies and tamarind paste with some water into a smooth paste.
- Add the prepared paste, salt and pepper to the chicken. Refrigerate for an hour or overnight.
- Grill the chicken pieces on both sides until cooked.
- Make the sauce by bringing the paste with a little water to a light boil. Take care not to make it runny and should have a sauce like consistency.
- Plate the grilled chicken topped with some warm peanut butter sauce, garnished with some chopped basil.
- Serve hot with some salad to add some crunch. Serves 2.
Some more peanut butter recipes.
Marc’s Coffee is a unique blend of passion, motivation and correct knowledge about coffee. Marc’s coffee is a selected Indian blend from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andra Pradesh. The key to any good coffee is the right amount of roasting. Marc’s blog gives a step by step procedure for roasting.
“ When I roast my senses are fully awake, its a sort of being in trance” the smell, hues and “crack” sound of the magical bean are whispering me how the process is going. Finally the moment of truth come and the roast is finished, knowing when to stop is the key for a great result. This is something that you acquire by practice and not from books – says Marc Tormo, founder of Marc’s coffee.
As for the future, Marc sees his involvement more into the roasting coffee business, from choosing the beans on selected organic growing places, to packaging and distribution: “India is now ready for a real coffee experience”, says Marc, “with a strong and delicate flavor, with social and ecological issues attached to it, with a good packaging; even the middle class is now ready to pay a little bit more for an exclusive product, whereas ten years back it was not possible…”
At i2cook store, we have two blends – Julien Peak & Buma Devi
Single-estate Selection 9 Arabica coffee, derived from two Ethiopian Arabica species: Tafarikela and Hybrido-de-Timor. Medium Roast. Good Acidity. Aromas: Floral and fruity notes, specifically citrus and ripe berries.
Tucked deep into the Shevarois Hills of Tamil Nadu, the coffee region of Yercaud is still off the beaten path for many roasters. These beans have been certified by Utz (Utz certification is a foundation for the worldwide implementation of a standard for responsible coffee farming & sourcing) for the owner’s sustainable agro-forestry methods, preserving the high-altitude natural forests. Indigenous species in and around the plantation give these beans rich aromatics to help develop their flavour. Julien Peak has a very delicate aroma, mild body and fine acidity. It is roasted at medium to enhance the fragrance and subtle notes of a high-grown coffee. Especially crafted for coffee connoisseurs, it’s best enjoyed after lunch along with some good chocolate!
A dry-processed high-grade Robusta and Arabica beans sourced from Coorg. Medium and dark roast. Medium Acidity. Aromas: Fruity notes of citrus from the medium roast and smoky notes from the dark roasted coffee.
The coffee is shade-grown in the forests of Coorg, Karnataka. The ripe cherries are handpicked and sun-dried, then winnowed and hulled to separate the bean from the dried skin. No water is used in the whole process.
Selected by colour, size and density, the peaberry beans which are round in shape and have a distinctive fruity taste. The blend is medium- dark roasted with some dark roast to give it a hint of a smoky fragrance. Buma Devi is best enjoyed in the morning with milk, as a wake-up call.
To know more…..
I will be talking about two products in my first post on featured products for this month –
1.Black rice pasta
2.Nutritional yeast flakes (vegan cheese)
1. Black rice pasta
This pasta is unfamiliar in India and is completely gluten-free and vegan. It also suits people who avoid wheat completely in their diet. Well for me it was the colour and the curiosity that made me taste the product 🙂
Cooking time is same as any other pasta. However, it does change the colour of the water unlike other pastas. The pasta turns dark purple when cooked. I found the aroma to be sweet and the texture reminds me a lot of ragi or nachini. The pasta is different than other pastas not only in taste and texture but tends to be sticking in nature. Don’t forget to drizzle some olive oil after straining and avoid over cooking.
Black rice is commonly used in China. It has high level of antioxidants that help fight cancer, heart disease and even diabetics. I found an interesting article describing black rice as a “superfood”.
There is also something known as squid ink pasta which is a coloured pasta made by adding an extract from squids. Do not confuse the black pasta with squid ink pasta though they may look black in colour.
Any type of sauce will go with the black rice pasta. Since the pasta has it’s own flavour and taste unlike other pastas, you can even serve it plain drizzled with some olive oil, pesto and some nuts or make a simple tomato sauce or bechamel sauce.
2.Nutritional Yeast Flakes (vegan cheese)
Nutritional yeast is not only rich in protein but is also nut free and soy free. It is not only vegan but gluten- free also. It is a powerhouse of nutrients and especially rich in B-complex (benefits of B-complex & B12).
Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that is described as nutty, cheesy or creamy, which makes it popular as an ingredient in cheese substitutes. It is often used by vegans in place of cheese. Nutritional yeast can also used by vegetarians who are conscience of animal rennet being used during cheese making process.
Nutritional yeast is made from sugar beet molasses and is different from sugarcane molasses. The molasses is fermented and dried. Do not confuse it to be active dry yeast or baking yeast.
It is a great substitute for cheese. Couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast can enhance your gravies, soups, pastas, popcorn or any vegan dishes. I also found some good information about nutritional yeast here.