On a sugar rush!

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.

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Liquid Jaggery

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 gurJaggery 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.

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Palm sugar or jaggery

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.

coconut sugar 2

Coconut Sugar

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.

Molasses should be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place. Unopened containers can be kept for about one year, while opened containers should be kept for not more than six months. I usually refrigerate mine and they last me for a year. Christmas is fast approaching and I have a really good ginger cookie recipe on my blog. In this recipe, I’m using a combination of raw sugar and molasses.
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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.

 Sweetener

Type

 Glycemic Index (GI) (%)

Raw Sugar

Sugar   extract

40-60

Molasses

Sugar   extract

55

Pure Maple Syrup

Natural sugar

54

Honey

Natural   sugar

50

Jaggery & Palm Sugar

Sugar extract

41-45

Coconut Sugar

Natual sugar

35

Agave Syrup

Modified   sugar

15-30

Stevia*

Natural  sweetener

0

*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.

References

http://www.livestrong.com/article/334100-types-of-healthy-sugars/

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-jaggery.htm

http://www.ecovillage.org.in/ecopedia/organic-farming/how-to-make-organic-jaggery-part-2

http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/glycemic-index-for-sweeteners.html

http://www.nordicsugar.com/know-your-sugar/natural-sweetness/

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Can’t get healthier than this – whole wheat seed cracker!

I’ve been enjoying a lot of goodies from my friends and I can’t stop raving about them. I started a new section called what I don’t cook on facebook for showing off these yummy goodies 🙂

I’ve been doing a lot of baking recipes on my blog ever since I’ve got my new oven. But I promise you that the next one will be a non baked one. I couldn’t stop myself from sharing this one recipe which is not only healthy but so economical to make at home. They are a make ahead kind of a snack which can be made and had as a tea time snack and they also go brilliantly well with any dips.

The best part about these crackers are that you can tweak it the way you like. You can add some cheese or nutritional yeast flakes or flavor it with some pepper or herbs. You can also make them gluten free by using flours like amaranth, millet etc. Overall this recipe is a keeper 😉

seed cracker 1

Ingredients for whole wheat seed crackers

100gms whole wheat flour (some extra for dusting)

2tbs sunflower seeds

1/2 tbs sesame seeds

1tsp flax seeds

1tbs olive oil

1tsp liquid jaggery or honey or agave syrup

1/2tsp salt or salt to taste

water for kneading

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and knead it with some water into a dough. Dust the surface and roll the dough into a flat tortilla to your desired thickness. Make sure that the surface is even all round.

Cut into desired shapes and lay these crackers on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake them for 20 minutes at 150 degree centigrade. Turn them half way through the bake time for even baking. Allow them to cool completely before storing them in an air tight container. They should last for 10-15 days. I got about 25-30 pieces. You can double the quantity for more!

seed cracker 2

Looking for some dip options for these crackers?! How about some ricotta cheese spread or fig & olive tapenade or corn & bacon dip or corn & sour cream dip.

You might also like Oatmeal & flax seed crackers

I recently made some ginger and grape jam from Love Food Eat. I made this jam with local grapes from Maharashtra and the consistency of my jam is thicker and more deeper in colour; looks more like a blueberry relish. I’ve been having it  with my crackers!

grape jam


Liquid jaggery in my carrot cake!

Of late I’ve been hearing a lot about “healthy food”. More since last month. Nature’s Basket opening up a new section “Healthy Alternatives” and Phoneix market city organizing a” World health day”. It makes me wonder why now! Why only now are we thinking of eating healthy?

A very interesting point that Dr.Anjali Mukerjee, a nutritionist discussed was that there is so much information that a consumer is exposed to that it is difficult to decipher what is really good for you. End result the consumer is confused.

Let us for example take sugars or sweeteners in our diet. Some say unpolished/unsulphured  sugar or commonly known as raw sugar, is better than polished ones  or jaggery is even better  or for that matter blackstrap molasses is  the best or what about coconut sugar? Have I confused you?

All the above sugars are good for you. Yes. I tend to ratio my usage of these different sugars depending on the usage. Jaggery does have an overpowering quality and actually can change the taste of your recipe. For example, lets take liquid jaggery in baking. I found liquid jaggery a bit sweeter than cane sugar and jaggery. Jaggery is  also high on medicinal and nutritional values.

liquid jaggery in bottle

So what is liquid jaggery?

Sugarcane is boiled for hours to achieve a thick consistency of liquid -like. This is liquid jaggery. The further boiling of this mixture results in jaggery.  Jaggery is a good source of iron that helps in improving haemoglobin levels and prevents anaemia. Jaggery should be consumed with extra precaution if you are a diabetic. Don’t confuse liquid jaggery to molasses. They are different in terms of taste and nutrients.

So now that we know what liquid jaggery is..how about some baking with it?! Liquid jaggery is a new ingredient to  me and I was a bit nervous to use it in baking. I tried asking on twitter and couldn’t find any recipe. I took it up as a challenge and thought of using it in my carrot cake. I had my first bite and  I knew, I had created the recipe that was  not only healthy but flavorful. My cake was dense but the cream cheese frosting made it the best wheat based cake I’ve ever had!

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Ingredients for the cake

140gms wheat flour

60gms all purpose flour

50gms grated carrot

80gms butter (Amul or Govind)

1 egg

100gms liquid jaggery (you can add 25gms more if you like yours sweeter)

1tsp baking powder

1tsp cinnamon powder

Ingredients for the frosting

50-80gms of cream cheese

25gms unsalted butter

1tbs liquid jaggery

For Garnish

25gms or more caramelized walnuts

Strawberries (optional)

1. Preheat the oven at 160 degree centigrade and grease a round mini cake pan (I used 18cm dia pan).

2. Sieve the flours along with baking powder and cinnamon powder.

3.  Add  liquid jaggery, butter and beat until mixed well.

4. Add egg and beat lightly until fluffy. Add  grated carrot and mix well.

4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients gently and mix it with the help of a spatula.

5. Pour the mixture into the greased pan and  bake for about 20-25 minutes or until its done based on your oven settings.

6. Allow it to cool on a wire rack for about one hour.

7. Prepare the frosting by mixing all the ingredients until combined.

8. Top the frosting on the cake and garnish with some caramelized walnuts for a crunch.

carrot cake 2

Notes:

  • If you don’t like wheat flour in your cake, go ahead and use  any other type of  unrefined flour.
  • This recipe makes a single layer cake for four. You can also double the recipe and make a two tier cake with cream cheese frosting in between.
  • You can replace powdered jaggery with liquid jaggery.
  • This cake tends to be a little dry in texture. So if you don’t want to use cream cheese frosting, you can also top your cake with fruits, jam or cream.