Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

A Sweet, Sweet Summer: Unrefined Dehydrated Whole Cane Sugar (Sucanat, Rapadura, Panela and Muscovado)

August 10th, 2011 · 108 Comments · Food for Thought, Science of Nutrition

sweet sweet summer

Unrefined sugars can be SO confusing. Not only are they unfamiliar in the culture, tough to find at your local grocery store, and a maze of nutritional myths when it comes to the question, “Are unrefined sugars healthier than white sugar?” but then you’ve got 3 and 4 names for basically the same product.

Want the real scoop on Sucanat, Rapadura, Panela and Muscovado sugar?

Find the whole Sweet, Sweet Summer series HERE.

Three of them mean basically the same thing. Here’s why there are 4 names:

Sucanata trademarked name for whole cane sugar from dried (dehydrated) sugar cane juice. It stands for “sucre de canne naturel” which you can also remember in English as “SUgar CAne NATural.” You’ll find it in a dark brown granulated form. It retains 100% of the sugar cane’s molasses (sucanat is about 13% molasses). (Purchase at Amazon or Vitacost.)

Panela similar to sucanat, panela is dried cane juice, traditionally found in a large block in Central and South American countries and Mexico. The terms dehydrated and evaporated are both used here! (Purchase at Amazon.)

RapaduraThe Portuguese name for Panela, also sold in large blocks in Brazil but also in granular form from a German company called Rapunzel, who tried to trademark the name amidst much controversy. Rapunzel removed the term from their packaging in February 2009 and simply use “organic whole cane sugar” now.  Ironic: In Venezuela, rapadura is cheaper than white sugar, while in America it costs 5-10 times as much. (Purchase Rapunzel brand at Amazon or Tropical Traditions.)

Muscovadotypically substituted for brown sugar, muscovado is a product of the Philippines. It is also listed on the synonyms for whole cane sugar. It sounds like it’s more moist than other unrefined cane sugars and quite sticky, but it looks just like dark brown sugar. (source) Muscovado is evaporated cane juice, which makes it closer in nutrition to white sugar than sucanat or rapadura. (Purchase at Amazon.)


Note: from what I can tell, ‘dehydrated’ and ‘evaporated’ cane juice are often used synonymously, although this very helpful article at Wholesome Sweeteners describes two very different processes for dehydrating and evaporating sugar cane. In short, sucanat is dehydrated and retains the set of minerals and balance of sucrose, fructose and glucose in the whole sugar cane, while other organic sugars (including their own) is evaporated with some separation of the molasses, retaining only a smidge of the natural minerals.

 

My First Impressions

sucanat

Sucanat and Rapadura both are very brown in color and certainly a larger grain than refined white sugar. They do impart both color and flavor to just about anything you choose to use them in. (photo source)

Because both retain the molasses of the original sugar cane (often over 10%), it’s that deep molasses flavor that changes the way sucanat and rapadura affect the taste of the recipe. On the other hand, it’s really nice that they can be substituted 1:1 for white sugar.

I’ve found that in something like water kefir, the end product is radically different than with white sugar: more depth of flavor and usually more carbonated. It often gets “too zippy” for my kids. The sucanat does a nice job in recipes that already have depth of flavor, like healthy pumpkin muffins or sourdough chocolate cake. You might notice the molasses content more in something like banana bread, homemade ice cream or sugar cookies.

If you’re used to whole wheat baked goods, I’m thinking you’d have an easier time adjusting to dehydrated sugar cane, as it strikes me as the “whole wheat” of the sweetener family and adds a similar heartiness and depth to recipes.

How Sucanat and Rapadura are Processed

wholesome sweeteners natural sugars (9)

I get a different answer every time. Let’s explore:

How is Sucanat Made?

The process for making Sucanat™ starts out like that used for other forms of cane sugar, with the harvesting of the sugar canes. The canes are cut, leaving the roots behind so that they will sprout new canes in the coming year, and then they are crushed in a mangler which extracts their naturally sweet juice. If the sugar was going to be refined, the juice would be run through an evaporation process which included measures for purification, and in this process, much of the natural molasses would be extracted.

In the case of Sucanat™, however, the sugar cane juice is simply heated and then allowed to cool, forming granular crystals of what is basically dried sugar cane juice. The Sucanat™ retains the molasses, creating a very distinctive and quite strong flavor, along with other impurities which may be present in the cane. (from Wise Geek)

OR

To produce Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sucanat (SUgar CAne NATural), cane syrup is poured into a vat and hand-paddled to add air. The paddling causes the hot, thick syrup to release heat and start to dry. As it dries, porous granules form which retain 100% of the cane’s molasses, a source of iron, calcium, potassium, B vitamins and chromium. (from Wholesome Sweeteners)

By the way…Wholesome Sweeteners sent me a whole bunch of goodies to test and will be giving YOU a whole bunch at the close of this series!

How is Rapadura Made?

Rapadura is the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane (using a press), which is then evaporated over low heats, whilst being stirred with paddles, then seive ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at high heats, and spun to change it into crystals, and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar. (from More Than Alive)

They claim “Sucanat is different to Rapadura in that the sugar stream and the molasses stream are separated from each other during processing, then reblended to create a consistent product…”

It seems that everywhere on the Internet, people are saying that sucanat is no longer processed correctly, simply has a bit of molasses added back in, and doesn’t really have the nutrients you want, whereas rapadura (usually referenced as the Rapunzel brand, which no longer uses that label on their packaging) is the properly prepared unrefined whole cane sugar.

I’m thinking this is mostly based in myth and a little in fact – the bottom line being that you need to check with the supplier on process rather than just relying on a label. I’m confident in Rapunzel brand and Wholesome Sweeteners, both of which disclose their process and are organically grown and fair trade certified.

On the Packages:

Rapunzel is labeled “organic whole cane sugar, unrefined and unbleached.” Ingredients: Organic, unrefined whole cane sugar. They have a graphic of their process on the back of the bag to show that the sugar cane is simply squeezed, filtered, dried, and ground (not separated at all).

Wholesome Sweeteners describes the product as “Dehydrated cane juice, Organic Sucanat. Ingredients: Organic Dehydrated Cane Juice The back of the package describes the processing, including crushing sugar cane, heating to a syrup, then stirring by hand to create the granule.

And here is the rather lengthy process to refine white sugar – and why is it LESS expensive???

Health Benefits

Here’s where the situation gets sticky – stickier! – in my humble opinion. Every time I spend 5-10 times as much on something like rapadura or sucanat (which when properly processed I see as equals), I wonder: is this upgrade really worth the money? Are there health benefits to unrefined sugar cane that are 5-10 times as beneficial as white sugar? If you believe that white sugar is basically a poison, is 5-10x as good as poison still mostly poison?

I can’t find any source that reliably says that there are any health benefits to dehydrated cane juice.

Some claim that it metabolizes slightly slower than white sugar and is therefore lower on the glycemic index – BUT the sucrose content is still so high that it’s not exactly a recommended food for diabetics and the like. The difference is evident, but minimal.

Sucanat and rapadura do contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin A and B vitamins, and although I continue to see websites state that they’re “an excellent source of” the above, they really only have trace amounts. There’s iron in there, too, which never hurts, but again, you’d have to eat a lot of unrefined sugar to get a decent amount of iron.

There’s a chart here that shows considerable amounts of calcium and potassium particularly in rapadura and “some” more in sucanat, but the chart isn’t well sourced and somehow, I still don’t think it will make a difference. The chart demonstrates mineral levels in 100g of the product, and a teaspoon is only 4g. We’re still talking trace amounts.

My final opinion? Both sucanat and rapadura are better than sugar…but not by much. If you’re working on a budget, simply cut down on the sugars your family eats, period, and you’ll spend less in the long run for better nutrition. To spend so much more on these products seems like a luxury for those who have already made many other nutritional changes and have the expendable income to make a small positive impact for a big price.

snack taxi with almond power bars (2)

A great example of a sweet treat with barely any sugars of any kind…Almond Power Bars!

Nutrition Facts of Rapadura and Sucanat

It was actually quite difficult to find nutrition facts statistically on these guys, as my usual sources didn’t list them. Here are some pieces from other sites put together:

Rapunzel whole cane sugar (rapadura):

in 1 tsp.

  • 15 cal.
  • 4g carbs
  • 4g sugars
  • 11% iron (source)

But for the iron, that matches white sugar exactly.

Sucanat

in 1 tsp.

  • 15 cal.
  • 4g carbs
  • 4g sugars
  • 24 mg potassium
  • 33 IU Vitamin A
  • 3.5 mg calcium
  • ~3 mg magnesium

I used the chart here which lists the nutrition in a whole cup of sucanat vs. white sugar and tries to make sucanat seem as healthy as bananas, spinach, whole milk and sweet potatoes. Of course if you eat a cup of sugar every day, even if it’s sucanat, you’re in trouble. A teaspoon seemed like a better measurement, since the coconut muffins found in the newly expanded Healthy Snacks to Go eBook only call for 1/4 c. of sweetener for 6 muffins, which makes each muffin contain 2 teaspoons sweetener.

grain free coconut muffins sm

That chart more or less matches this one except in Vitamin A – you have to divide the figures there by 25 to get a 4g teaspoon. However, the second chart lists rapadura as having double the potassium, up to 10x the magnesium, 3x the phosphorus and up to 50x Vitamin A. I’m not sure that makes sense, since the processing should be so similar. If Vitamin A was heat sensitive I’d buy that one, but A doesn’t show up on the common list of vitamins that degrade under heat.

So.

Bottom line? Nutrition facts are not clear and certainly aren’t enough to vault sugar, even unrefined whole cane sugar, into the realm of a “health food.”

“Evaporated cane juice” only hits the scales on riboflavin, ringing in at about 10% DV in an ounce of sugar. (source)

White sugar = 99% sucrose (source)

Sucanat has less sucrose than white sugar, to the tune of 11%…That means sucanat still rings in at a whopping 88% sucrose.

Possible Disadvantages

A big question I set out to answer, both before and after it was posed by a reader, is Do the reasons white sugar is bad for you at my previous post also apply to unrefined sugars, or not?

My thoughts:

  • Dehydrated cane juice has the same number of calories as white sugar, so anything related to weight gain carries the same risks.
  • The glucose ratings are slightly less…but only slightly. The minerals that come with whole cane sugar still aren’t fats, proteins or fiber, so the risk of heart disease and cancer ought to be similar if not even.
  • I don’t know if it’s as addictive as white sugar…but the sweet taste talking to our pleasure receptors is still there, so…
  • Bad bacteria still eat these unrefined sugars, so the immune depression and candida issues should remain just as volatile.

The bottom line is stated all too well by this co-op market:

However, while sucanat [is] healthier than white sugar, [it is] still not health food. Sucanat contains only trace minerals and is not a significant source of any nutrient. Sugar contains no nutrients of note and adds only empty calories to the diet.

How to Use Sucanat and Rapadura

Simply substitute this granular sweetener 1:1 for any recipe that calls for white sugar. One source said to add 1/4 tsp. baking soda per cup Sucanat. Anyone know if that’s necessary and why so?

I’ll share some recipes as this series goes on, but I wanted to make note of a helpful post if you’re convinced you’d rather use sucanat than white sugar: How to Make your Own Homemade Powdered Sugar with Sucanat. Pretty easy!

Now friends…what do you think? Are unrefined whole cane sugars healthier than white sugar? Are they worth the price premium? What do you use in your home and how did you come to your decision?

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108 Comments so far ↓

  • lizi

    I am not sure if I can justify the price for sucanat or rapadura over regular organic sugar (ev cane juice) or organic brown sugar (which has much less molasses than totally unrefined sugars like you reviewed).
    Here I can buy organic florida sugar for $1.50/lb and organic brown sugar for about that rate. While it is still quite a bit more than regular old white sugar, I DEFINITELY think it is worth it.
    We vote with our dollars and I vote for ORGANIC agriculture. For the earth, for everyone.
    That being said we are a maple syrup/honey/sorghum syrup sort of family; I only use granulated sugar when the recipe really needs it. I even have a kombucha batch that uses honey and green tea, and it is lovely.
    I agree though, the more we just cut down on sugar, the better.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health Reply:

    I absolutely agree that supporting organic is so important and remember that many white sugars in the store are not CANE sugar, but BEET sugar, and more than likely, genetically modified. There are some brands that say CANE sugar, but I do not trust the way they are processed, and will only buy organic evaporated cane sugar (and only use it for kombucha).

    I only bake/cook with sucanat (or rapadura) and I only use Wholesome Sweeteners or Rapunzel.

    Remember, with minerals, it only takes TRACE amounts to make a difference biochemically speaking. No, sugar is NOT a health food, and we should not depend on it for macro or micro nutrients. We should limit it and always combine with fats to slow absorption.

    However, if you are going to have something sweet, opting for the least refined (and organic, fair-trade) sweetener is the best option in my opinion, because nature put those minerals (chromium and B vitamins, specifically) to help our bodies break down the sugar. Refined, white sugar does not have either of those, and the body steals it (or just simply lacks it, creating a deficiency) to process the sugar.

    In my practice, most of my clients have blood sugar handling issues, and along with those come thiamin (B1) deficiency. If they were consuming sucanat- would they be AS deficient? I can’t say for sure, but my vote is to opt for sucanat or rapadura (or honey or maple syrup) and to keep it to a minimum.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Diane Reply:

    Okay, now I am really confused. If a recipe calls for white sugar what is the best and “healthiest” thing to use?? I sometimes use brown sugar or honey. Keeping the amount as low as possible, but what other options are there? If we use maple sugar, isn’t that as bad as sugar and won’t it make the recipe have extra liquid so we now need to add more flour or just cut back on the syrup? And around we go again!

    [Reply to this comment]

    jess Reply:

    Use dehyrated coconut nectar or date sugar. Both are healthy alternatives.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Carol Bahr

    Excellent article – thank you for this information. Something I was wondering as well.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Nicole

    Ok, so what is Turbinado? That is one is see and have bought at my local health food store. Thanks for this series!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health Reply:

    From what I understand, turbinado or those “in the raw” sugars, are simply cane sugar with a bit of molasses added back in for coloring. Supposedly, it is still highly processed and if you compare the turbinado sugar to the sucanat, you can instantly tell a HUGE difference in texture, taste and quality. It seems like these turbinado companies have a smart marketing dept to make the product seem healthier, when it’s probably really not that different than white sugar.

    [Reply to this comment]

    SuzieQ Reply:

    I’m no longer as much of a fan of turbinado sugar as I used to be but I’ve got to say, it’s much better than America’s traditional white sugar. (plus, unlike most refined white cane sugars, it’s vegan!) ;)

    It comes from the first pressing of the cane. I’ve heard before that it’s called turbinado since it only spins once in the turbines… as opposed to white sugars which are processed longer.

    I’ve never heard of the molasses being added ‘back in’ to turbinado. It should remain in due to less processing and extracting. I would think sugars with molasses added back in would be knock offs or mislabeled and misleading products. Especially since a lot of vegans count on true turbinado sugar to not be processed through cow and pig bone filters. (they give cane sugar it’s white coloring.)

    Lately I’ve been buying dates and grinding them up for adding sweetness to baked goods. Coconut works great too. I want to try maple syrup but I haven’t had a need enough to justify the cost yet.

    I do still buy sucanat for my kombucha tea and if I need ‘sugar’ for a recipe I’d lean towards that or the dates. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    SuzieQ,
    Wow, I just learned a lot! Thanks for sharing – Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • bcb1961

    THANK YOU for giving me permission to pass on the expensive natural sugars! I think my money will be better spent on chicken feed! 6 out of 15 chickens are laying now, woo-hoo!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • bugladynora

    Interesting. Makes me wonder about those cone shaped things of brown sugar in the mexican Section of the market. Now I need to start asking more questions, because that is probably less expensive, but I wonder about what may be in it.

    [Reply to this comment]

    cory Reply:

    Definitely ask – I picked one up once that had an ingredients list on it and promptly put it back down because of the weird stuff it contained. Don’t remember what, exactly, maybe corn syrup?

    [Reply to this comment]

    bugladynora Reply:

    Ours is loose and in bulk, I think I will ask the store manager more about it but not sure I am going to start using it anytime soon. I will have to look for the Sucanat or Rapadura to try out. Will probably have to wait and find it in Roswell next time we go. Hopefully the aliens have left some behind…. ; )

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Mrs. Graham Gardens

    Thank you for taking the time to outline all of this information, Katie!

    I, also, have found it hard to find any solid data behind the “maze of nutritional myths” when it comes to natural sugars. Misinformation abounds!

    Sugar is such a big market and it’s hard to think that a “natural” sugar company wouldn’t be tempted to exaggerate their health claims. I think we’ d all love to find out that there was some form of it that we could use with abandon. The data really show otherwise, I’m afraid.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis. I just wish I could stop liking sweet stuff so that I could eliminate it altogether.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Beth @ Turn 2 the Simple

    My husband notices a HUGE difference when I use sucanant vs. white sugar. He does not feel the drastic highs and lows that he does with white sugar. I do agree that sugar is still sugar and should be greatly limited in our diet. So, we use sucanat instead of white sugar when we use sugar and try to greatly limit our sugar consumption.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Beth,
    That’s a great anecdotal example! I love hearing how others’ bodies react to different foods and hadn’t really heard many about sucanat vs. white sugar. Thank you! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Camille

    Wow, Katie. Thanks for the info. I use Sucanat, but it is pretty pricey! Given that the health benefits aren’t that great and our budget is super tight, I may just go back to regular white sugar. Sugar is sugar is sugar.

    Refined white sugar is less expensive because (surprise!) the government subsidizes it by putting huge import tariffs on sugar not grown in the U.S. Most of the “healthier” sweeteners you mention are grown outside of the U.S. so they are more expensive. Corn, soy, sugar and cotton are all subsidized in one way or another.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Amanda

    I use Sucanat. For me, I can tell the difference between white sugar and Sucanat. White sugar makes me sick. Sucanat doesn’t have the same effect on me…I don’t know why, but that’s why I use Sucanat.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Another good anecdote – thank you!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Tina Reply:

    A friend of mine also feels sick when she eats regular white sugar because she is allergic to corn, and sometimes corn syrup is in white sugar. I’m not sure of the details – maybe something about the processing of it adding corn syrup in? But, anyways, if you are sensitive to corn, you will probably notice a difference in white sugar vs. unrefined sugars. Just a possible explanation to your issues? Have a great day! :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sarah

    My grocery store just started carrying organic coconut palm sugar- might you be including some information on this sugar in this series?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Sarah,
    Yes! Palm sugar is on the list! ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Karen

    We use white sugar for lack of any obviously better choice, but also use maple syrup and honey whenever we can substitute. When we can’t, I will fiddle with a recipe until I’m down to the lowest amount of sugar possible. Usually I can get away with about half.

    A store here has begun stocking a very coarse light beige sugar that says it is unrefined, and is imported from India. It is very nearly the same price as regular white granulated sugar, and I am tempted to try it, but I’m kind of skeptical about the unrefined part. It is definitely in crystal form and very nearly white – ish. I tried to find info online about it, but had no luck.

    I grew stevia last year, dried and powdered it. I have tried it, but am having inconsistent results. It is so easy to use too much and end up with a pretty nasty oversweetened, funky result. Such a tiny amount adds a lot of sweetness, so I have to play around with that some more too.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Karen,
    How cool to grow your own stevia! I wonder if you could make homemade stevia extract and if that would get any more consistent. ?? I know that with the whole leaf, you get some bitter stuff in there other than the Reb A, but also some excellent health benefits from the herb.
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kathryn

    I am impressed, as always, with the thoroughness of your research.

    As i’m leaning farther and farther toward the “sugar is a poison” position these days, i really don’t think this makes much difference. As you said: Both sucanat and rapadura are better than sugar…but not by much.

    I was on a sugar-free (among other things) diet for a few weeks earlier this summer. When i was coming off of it, i had some strawberries with a small amount of organic sucanat sugar on them and developed the first migraine i’d had in weeks (info which i shared here before). However, i’m proud of the fact that i’ve lost 20 pounds since i began in early June!

    I will readily admit that i am very addicted to sugar. I wish all sweet things were healthy. I think there is a reason that God gave the different fruits seasons so that we have to limit our intake of them.

    And, if it raises blood sugar levels, which all sweets as well as breads and grains do, then it is not good for us! I do plan to have a little here and there, an occasional treat of ice cream or of pie at Thanksgiving, but i intend to keep it rare. But that is my choice and i make that trying to “undo” or reverse damage done when i was much younger and not as careful. If i could go back, i would change my diet sooner so that i could be healthier now.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Always so good to hear from you, Kathryn! Fabulous on the 20 lbs; way to go!! And oh, how I wish all sweet things were good for me, too…
    ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Katie (PuraVida Homesteader)

    Hi Katie – where do you find the time!!! God Bless you for this!!! I just briefly looked this up yesterday in fact to be sure what we were buying was, indeed, ‘OK’.
    We buy organic unrefined raw cane sugar, which I assume is sucunat, but since we buy it in bulk, there’s no more info than that and I haven’t taken the time… but I’m happy with that for now since my husband is mexican and more of what he’s used to growing up. I think he actually prefers the colour and I doubt they use beet sugar much in Mexico.
    Our biggest reason for buying this is because there is ZERO chance that Monsanto and the other BIG AG businesses that are daily trying to kill us, or at least greatly diminish are quality of life, there is ZERO chance that they are getting a dime off of this purchase.
    I suspect healthwise, you are right, it’s not providing much in the way of nutrients.
    The other difference would be that, especially when organic, it is not going to have any modified ingredients and limited chemical exposure. I would even chose non-organic raw cane sugar over white sugar. Bleached, refined, otherwise processed. You couldn’t pay me enough to eat that stuff!
    I wish the government would take that money that they use to subsidize farmers and overhaul the whole system so that we are getting REAL FOOD! Ah, but I digress. Sorry. Thank you again for taking the time.
    You’re awesome!
    Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Katie,
    You bet, the fair trade/non-GMO/organic status is important, too, and I’ll probably address thaot even more when I talk about the “organic sugars” and “evaporated cane juice” which is the one closer to white sugar than sucanat.
    Thanks! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Katie (PuraVida Homesteader)

    You know what would be wonderful, in a future series if you do could be on Local vs. Organic. Local farms still spray and they still use modified seed. but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and you can only do the best you can do and where do you skimp and where do you fork over the $$ regardles… But alas, we rarely go this route because we don’t want to give a cent to Big Ag. I’ve done a fair amount of research, but still haven’t personally come to a conclusion. I’d much rather give money to locals, but I really don’t want anything that has been modified or sprayed in my diet.
    Do you know they put a strain of RoundUp weed kill in the seeds to make the plants resistant to their sprays??? So when we eat fruit from a GMO’d seed from Monsanto, we are eating RoundUP and putting more money in their pockets!
    ugh, sorry again, it’s just this topic really frustrates me! :)
    Thank you again for all you do to help us!!!

    [Reply to this comment]

    ani Reply:

    I’ve read that some of the white sugar is actually from sugar beets, not sugar cane. Sugar beets are a Monsanto product and, as I understand, do not need to be labeled on a bag a plain white grocery store sugar. If this is true, white sugar is much scarier than simply the sucrose factor. We could be dealing with a GMO issue as well. Do you know anything about this, Katie?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Ani,
    Definitely some white sugar is beet sugar, quite a bit of it nowadays. I’m not sure how “GMO’d” it is. Such a tangled web – just like Katie lamented above, I’ve got readers who like to choose beet sugar because it’s more “local”. Not many easy answers here…

    There’s a little more about beet vs. cane sugar at the Why is White Sugar Bad for You? post.

    Good questions! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lisa

    I’ve been looking into the cane sugar topic, too. Like you I question the up charge for a few added nutrients. I love desserts and love making them, too. However, in the end I wonder if the healthiest thing to do might be to skip on desserts requiring sugar (of any kind). Instead, spend the money on fresh fruits for dessert. They contain a lot more nutrients than rapadura. I intend to still make desserts but less of them. If I am gonna pay more for a sweetener I would just as soon use rapadura as the others but as it is not available locally for me. I will probably stick with white sugar. Don’t you wish we could make sugar like the Ingalls family did in Little House in the Big Woods?

    Peace,
    Lisa

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Lisa,
    Welllll…you can buy real maple sugar, which I think is what you’re referring to with the Ingalls! i wish I had trained my kids that fruit is a dessert instead of a piece of candy…

    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sheila

    We use white sugar, but way less of it. I try to avoid recipes that use sugar (cookies, sweet muffins, etc.) and when I do, I cut the sugar by at least half. I also tend to add a dash of blackstrap molasses whenever I cook with sugar — it adds so many nutrients.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Gopika

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a well-researched piece!

    1. White sugar is cheap because the govt subsidizes farmers to grow/process the stuff.

    2. When I moved back to South FL a few months ago and saw panela in the grocery store and at Walmart, I was curious. Goya is one of the manufacturers, so I called their Miami office to inquire about it. I could only find a short Spanish-language YouTube video on how it is processed. Definitely heated. The Goya rep, surprisingly well informed about sweeteners, said theirs comes from Colombia. He said many folks don’t know that that country doesn’t allow chemicals to be used in the growing of their sugar cane. I haven’t used the block I bought b/c I’ve been happy w/Coconut Secrets coconut nectar and crystals and now Thai coconut sugar (I’ve bought all from http://www.therawfoodworld.com; they have Coconut Secrets products on sale through 8/31 – be sure to use the coupon code – I think it’s HONEYMOON – to get an add’l 7% off).

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rita

    Very I interesting. I’ve never used any of these sweeteners but I’ve been curious about them since I’ve been seeing them in more and more recipes. We make maple syrup so I usually substitute that in anything I can since I get it free. But where I can’t use that I use white sugar and I make desserts a lot but it takes us a LONG time to get through one five lb bag.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Rita,
    Sometimes I think an indication of healthy baking is just that: How long does it take you to get through a 5-lb bag of sugar? Of course, that doesn’t count if you buy your snacks processed already, but for we make-from-scratch types, it’s something to take note of. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jessica

    Most of the time, I end up buying an organic evaporated cane juice. (Begrudgingly, the price is killing me.) Its lighter than the sucanat, so I know not all the trace minerals are there. It definitely has less of that concentrated sweetness of white sugar. White sugar makes my husband ill (of the unpleasant bathroom variety) and this doesn’t. But I am cutting any sweetener I use back as far as I can. We’re just getting used to less of it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Tiffany

    Thank you for the great info. I’ve been wondering if it was worth the switch from organic cane sugar to sucanat. I think I’ll agree with you that it’s not worth the extra money as it would be better to just eat less sugar, period.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Gennifer

    I buy organic sugar to make Kombucha with and Rapunzel brand for baking and smoothies, etc. When I use the refined, organic sugar in a baking item, I can feel, when I eat it, the negative effects of the sugar shortly after. When eating things made from the Rapunzel sugar, however, I don’t experience the sugar high and then crash. Don’t know if this is a mental thing or what but that is how it seems to work with me.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • etteloc

    You know, if anything, using sucanat in place of real sugar places a higher dollar value on sweet snacks, which causes me to make them less often. If you’re trying to cut back, try it out. A high mark-up initially, but you’d be surprised how much you cut back.

    [Reply to this comment]

    slwidl Reply:

    Great Point, etteloc! Sometimes making the less-than-healthy choice the less easy (re: more expensive) choice is half the battle – Lord knows the big corporations have used the reverse-logic to their advantage for decades!

    [Reply to this comment]

    slwidl Reply:

    Great Point, etteloc! Sometimes making the less-than-healthy choice the less-than- easy (re: more expensive) choice is half the battle – Lord knows the big corporations have used the reverse-logic to their advantage for decades!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jonathan

    Personally, I’ve wondered why I haven’t heard much of anything about growing sugar cane as a houseplant, and using it diced/pureed for baking. I believe it can be grown indoors.

    Jonathan

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brittany Long

    I was blessed to spend a summer during college in Brazil. While there, I got to see a “rapadura factory.” It was an open air shed with one machine that squeezed juice from the cane and then a series of various cauldrons. It was an amazing experience, and I love that something that has been made in Brazil for centuries is now kind of trendy :).

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Allie

    For me, buying a 50lb bag of Sucanut from Azure Standard with a group of friends is *much* more affordable than organic evaporated cane sugar from Trader Joe’s. Plus, I agree with a comment above that said because unrefined sugars have a higher price tag than traditional sugar you tend to use less. Which is definitely the case with my family & I think all agree, we’re better off with less sugar. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Danielle

    Hi! I think you might be interested in Xylitol. I’ve been researching natural sweeteners on the teeth front. (By the way, how is your family doing on cavities on a natural diet?) Because the cavity causing bacteria eat the Xylitol, but basically cannot metabolize it (poop out acid), they die. So it’s a cavity preventer/killer/potential reverser. It also has 40% less calories than sugar. It’d be nice to see everyone’s opinion on it.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Danielle,
    Xylitol is on my list, and i think it is much controversial. Some say it’s still no good, despite some of the benefits of it. ??? Research forthcoming! Thanks for the insight – Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kathryn Reply:

    I use xylitol for brushing my teeth (with baking soda and a small amount of a natural toothpaste by Miessence).

    I tried using xylitol in making homemade ice cream. The recipe called for 2 cups of sugar. I used 1/2 cup of xylitol and a small amount of stevia. The ice cream tasted like Cool Whip, but otherwise was good. And, even tho i used only a tiny amount of sweetener compared to the recipe, by having 1/2 cup serving (so, a total of about 3 tablespoons of xylitol in that serving, maybe less) i developed diarrhea and gas/bloating and was uncomfortable for more than a day.

    It is my understanding that some folks can tolerate xylitol, (and of all the sugar-alcohols xylitol is suppose to be the easiest to tolerate, so i won’t be buying sorbitol), and others can’t. I was able to tolerate a tablespoon or so at a time, but not much more.

    I’ll stick to stevia, and once i’ve finished losing weight, maple syrup and honey. But that is because i have learned what works with my body.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Carol Reply:

    I would NOT recommend zylitol:
    The sweetener is derived from xylan (a polysaccharide), which is present in the plant cell walls of birch and beech trees, rice, oat, wheat and cotton seed hulls, corn cobs and stalks, along with sugar cane bagasse. Due to cost factors, most xylitol today is made from corn, rather than beech or birch. Chemically, all xylitol is the same, although GMOs are often present in non-organic varieties.

    Organic chemist Shane Elison explains the production process of the sweetener in “Xylitol: Should We Stop Calling it Natural?”:

    Elison continues, “[x]ylitol will rip up your insides, namely the digestive tract. It’s being touted as a natural product, most likely so that it can bypass regulation. Thus, very little studies exist on its side effects.” As anyone who has been overly enthusiastic about ingesting xylitol in large quantities can attest, the sweetener certainly lives up to its reputation of causing stomach distress, flatulence and loose stools. This alone is enough for anyone who cares about well-being to cast a weary eye upon the sweetener.

    Moreover, it’s interesting to note that polysaccharides are forbidden on a GAPS diet since the sugar encourages leaky gut syndrome. Digging a little deeper, another disturbing fact comes to light: Danisco (a worldwide supplier of xylitol) is owned by DuPont – the same corporation who concealed evidence that Teflon non-stick coating is a highly toxic carcinogen and substantially disrupts the reproductive system. Not exactly a company with a stellar track record for holding health in high regard.

    And then there’s the issue of xylitol that originates from China – a country known for its lax food standards, ranging from melamine contaminated milk to hidden GMOs. Even certified organic products from the country are suspect according to this article. Chances are, if your xylitol is from China, it’s sourced from GMO corn and has questionable processing practices.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Nailgun

    I’ve been using xylithol for my sweetening needs lately as well, along with LOCAL, *RAW* (uncooked) honey to take that sharp edge off my dairy kefir(an).
    I’ve made sure with my natural foods market that it’s NON-GMO, and I get it in bulk, so it’s cheaper, with minimal waste, and I can get as much or as little as I need.

    The research on the oral toxicity of xylithol has been largely conducted on rats (who have a significantly less rugged insulin system than we do… a reason why puffed/extruded grains/foods such as cornflakes kill them at alarming speeds… though I’m sure they still kill us quite enough. I stick to steelcut oats, millet, eggs, sourdough, or soup/salad for breakfast).

    The jist of the research indicates xyl is very safe, only that it causes osmotic diarrhea if you spin up too fast when changing to it from whatever other sweetener you used to use. Eventually your GI/gut microflora will adjust and it will be just like normal.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Joanna

    We buy Sucanat from Country Life Natural Foods. It is 11.25 for 5#. It takes us a long time to go through it! We mostly use local honey as our sweetener, which we buy by the gallon, of course! Even though we are on a budget, I feel good about buying the Sucanat since we go through it slowly.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Denise

    Just wondering if anyone has done any research on a product called ‘Whey Low’, VivaLac Inc.? Would be interested in comments. Thanks.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Denise,
    Never heard of that one – it’s a sweetener? Tell me more… Thanks – katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Denise Reply:

    This what the website says:

    For the Diabetic, the Weight-watcher, and the
    Health-conscious. In your diet, Whey Low® helps you
    achieve & maintain a healthy & attractive body image.
    Caloric value of 1 Calorie/gram (table sugar = 4 Calories/gram) supports low-calorie diets.
    Effective carbohydrate content (or net impact carbohydrates) of 1 gram/teaspoon supports low-carbohydrate diets.
    Natural sugars in Whey Low® inhibit absorption of dietary carbohydrates such as starch and sucrose.
    Low calorie and net impact carbohydrate values important to type 1 and type 2 diabetics, health-conscious, overweight, and obese individuals
    Read More about Health Benefits
    http://www.wheylow.com/Default.asp?Redirected=Y

    [Reply to this comment]

    Denise Reply:

    100% Natural
    Tastes Exactly like Sugar…Guaranteed!
    75% fewer Calories than sugar
    70-80% lower Glycemic Index than sugar
    Only 1 Effective Carb per Serving
    One-for-one replacement for sugar in ALL food applications. Whey Low® is perfect for baking. Cakes and cookies cannot tell the difference, and neither will you.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Margaret

    I know this is more of a molasses question, but it also relates to evaporated cane. In Canada we have a molasses called ‘fancy molasses’ which is supposed to be made from the pure cane juice that has been condensed and purified (ie, boiled much the way that maple sap becomes maple syrup). I was wondering if such a product exists in the US. I ask because my husband and I are currently foreign students in the US, and molasses seems to be a very different creature here. Are there companies that make this type of molasses in the US? Will this sweetener be covered when you look at molasses?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Rebekah Reply:

    Margaret, as far as I know, there is no such manufactured product in the U.S. I may simply be unaware of its existence, but I’ve yet to find it in stores.

    HOWEVER, ever winter here in Florida, about fifteen families gather and cut an acre of sugar cane, then juice it, then boil it down in a giant cauldron over a wood fire. Each boiled batch takes almost twelve hours, skimmed all the while. The men who are in charge of the boiling (no women allowed in this kitchen!) have been doing it for decades, and their daddies before them, so the syrup is consistently good.

    And it makes truly fantastic syrup! Unfortunately, our family only gets a few gallons out of the entire endeavor (the syrup gets divided between a LOT of families outside of just the ones who do the work), so we use it for corn pone-dipping, and carrot cake (it makes the most amazing carrot cake!), and banana bread.

    The syrup has a beautifully light flavor, rather like a cross between a mild molasses and a sugary butter syrup; it has a dark red caramel color, and generally has a thin honey texture.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Katie

    Margaret,
    You know, I’ve never heard of that. I’ll try to poke into it when I get to molasses, thank you! ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Nicola

    Hi Katie. I honestly don’t know how I missed this post when you originally posted it. I stumbled across it on google today whe trying to compare muscovado and rapadura. This subject has been a dilema for me since I started my family on our real food journey almost 2 years ago. Where we live, we cannot buy sucanat at all & rapadura is only available through bulk order from a neighbouring country. I managed to get my hands on 1kg of rapadura while on vacation & it did not go down well with my family. They found the taste way to strong even when using half raw cane sugar & half rapadura and the consistancy of my baking was more like wet sand (like the rapadura itself) rather than light & fluffy. Muscovado sugar is more readily available & my family prefer it to rapadura & as far as I understood they were processed the same way so I was considering using muscovado. Apparently though muscovado is boiled whereas rapadura is evaporated at a low heat.
    After reading your informative post, I think I will stick with organic raw cane sugar (which I guess is turbinado in the U.S) which is half the price of rapadura & continue trying to use less in my recipes.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Barb

    I’m reading a book written by Dee McCaffrey that tells about the ‘poisons’ of refined sugar, refined flour, etc. She says, “Although most people don’t understand their bodies’ nutritional requirements, their bodies themselves do. All foods found in nature, when eaten in their natural whole state, contain the corresponding nutrients and enzymes the body requires to properly digest that particular food.” She goes on to list the minerals required to digest sugar, and calcium is one of several she mentions. Further, she says, “…when refined sugar is ingested in the absence of the calcium necessary to digest it, calcium is drawn out of the bones and tissues where it is stored.” So I don’t think I’m going to be as cavalier as I was before reading her material. The higher prices on Rapadura and Sucanat, and other natural cane sugars are a small cost if there is a higher price of poor health extracted for continuing to use refined sugar .

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Yowza, Barb, thanks – there do seem to be a great many women struggling with osteoporosis, too, you know?
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Katie

    I do buy unrefined sugar (the type varies, right now I have coconut sugar) but we hardly ever use it. I find, like someone else said, since it’s higher in price we don’t use it as much. Also, my boyfriend doesn’t like its taste so he doesn’t ever use it to sweeten beverages that he would normally sweeten with white sugar (I would cringe and look away, or else risk yelling at him) but instead uses honey, stevia, or xylitol, depending on what it is.

    The thing with xylitol (as I understand it) is that the reason it doesn’t act like a sugar in your body is because you don’t digest it fully, which is also why too much will give you gas and/or diarrhea. A friend of mine made ice cream with it, and ate too much in one day (oh, that’s anothetr thing, it doesn’t freeze well because its an alcohol) and that night she pooped in her sleep! So know how it affects you before using it.

    I really am looking forward to your post on xylitol (or, um, just reading it if you’ve already posted it) because that’s all I really know about xylitol. I’ve been sort of afraid to use it since the pooping incident…

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brandis

    I don’t know if anyone pointed this out (there were a LOT of comments!) but the water kefir responds that way because the sucanat/rapadura is actually healthier for the SCOBY- they need the trace minerals found in the molasses. I’ve read many sources that say you can revive sluggish grains by adding a little molasses to your water and sugar mixture.

    This is great info, and I totally agree with your conclusion- it’s still sugar, and it’s still not healthy!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • EngineerMom

    On white sugar – almost all of the white sugar sold in the US is derived from sugar beets. Unlike cane-based sugar, there is no molasses to extract, so the process to get from raw beets to white sugar is much cheaper.

    Also, the US imposes a tariff on imported sugar, and since almost all of the cane sugar consumed in the US is not grown here (we don’t really have the right climate), you are also paying for the tariff. That tariff is imposed in part to keep “local” (grown in the US) sugar lower and induce people to buy what is grown here rather than what is grown overseas.

    As for the GMO issue, I can’t really speak to that. Other than only buying products from a country like the UK that legislates GMO labeling, it’s pretty tough to completely avoid here in the US!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for doing the research on this! You have definitely made me reconsider whether or not I should plunk down so much money for a product that may not be so different health-wise from white sugar.

    For any of us who do choose unrefined over refined sugar, one way to justify the cost may be to proportionately cut back the amount of sugar we eat, as is suggested in the article anyways. If we pay 5-10 times more for rapadura, then maybe we could try to consume 5-10 times less the sugar currently being eaten. In other words, we could still spend the same amount on sugar, but just eat much less of it. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Increasing Nutrition Through Recipe Changes | CourtLynn Street

    [...] you! It’s all about baby steps!   Sweeteners Learn about these healthy sweeteners here. White sugar: Replace with equal amounts of rapadura or sucanat (both of [...]

  • Amy C

    This article is a real find on the internet! I hope you will add Demerra to the list, because I see bags of it in the local Spanish markets for $1.00 per pound and it looks just like the Sugar in the Raw (turbinado) but cheaper!

    Xylitol, I read, kills dogs and it causes diarrhea, but Erythritol is safe. But the best sugar substitute for baking I found is from NewSweet.com. (The lady that runs the site is super helpful too.) NewSweet is a combination of Stevia and Trehalose, which has been used in Europe for years. Somehow they’ve mixed just the right amount of stevia with trehalose to get just the right amount of sweetness and bulk to make a 1:1 substitution for white sugar. Nobody can tell that I’ve used a sugar sub in anything I’ve made with it. The only thing is the price. The woman said she is trying to keep the price as low as possible. It’s worth it since it doesn’t spike blood sugar at all and my kids don’t go bonkers from cake or cookies, so I keep 10 lbs. of it for the year and don’t bake that often.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Dr. Steph DVM Reply:

    Xylitol is toxic to dogs because they are not humans. The canine pancreas releases insulin in response to xylitol in the same way as sugar, but since xylitol provides fewer calories than sugar the insulin response depletes the blood sugar reserves, causing severe hypoglycemia which can be fatal if not treated. Large amounts of xylitol can also cause liver damage, an effect that is only found in dogs. If you bake with xylitol be very careful to keep any doggy family members from sharing the baked goods!

    p.s. Katie, thanks for a great article and a great website, I have been lurking for quite a while
    and love the recipes!!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kcaarin

    I browsed through the comments and didn’t see that anyone had broached about the baking soda added? I’m not sure but I know my water kefir explodes with sucanat too (as you said) it is a bit more ‘bitey’ than when I use white sugar. I wonder if there is an acidic factor with sucanat? I usually use kefir in my recipes that call for buttermilk and they all add the baking soda…….thoughts?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    K,
    Do you mean like…if you use sucanat in baking, you need extra baking soda? I haven’t ever heard of anything with sucanat and a leavener…???
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Violet via Facebook

    So freakin helpful! Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Alice via Facebook

    Where does Turbinado fit in?

    [Reply to this comment]

  • amy

    I did not read all the other comments (I need to get to bed;) but I find that when baking w/Sucanat I reduce the amount. I use 3/4 : 1 or even 1/2 : 1. Sucanat is richer in flavor so we find that we don’t need as much. Also, it seems to suck up the liquids in the recipe (makes a baked good too dry). If I use 1/2 as much Sucanat as I would white sugar that helps me justify the cost a little.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Meredith

    We use either Sucanat, honey, or maple syrup for sweetening in our home: I do believe refined sugar is a poison and my family and I can absolutely tell a difference if we’ve eaten something with sucanat verses if we eat something with refined sugar. I know people have pointed out that most sugar now is beet sugar which you can be practically certain came from a GMO product. I also agree with a few people here that the price tag of sucanat and the like can definitely be an incentive for you t0 cut down on the amount of sweets you eat. I know that just being out in the world and being in school and Sunday school will expose myself and my kids to enough refined sugar so for us it is definitely worth the price tag to have homemade goods at least better than the worst! I’ve never eaten sweets for the health benefits anyway, but only because I want a sweet treat :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Susannah

    I switched to Sucanat to reduce the refined white when I use sugar. I love it! It imparts such a deep, rich flavor to baked things. I don’t bake often, and, additionally, I don’t eat other people’s baked things as much now because they now taste so flat and SWEET in comparison! Even if there’s no clear health benefit (though, I suspect there IS – just no obviously quantifiable), I would keep spending the extra! I’m also pretty sparing in using it because it’s expensive!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Heather

    This is pretty much the place I have come to. I tried succanat, but in the end decided sugar is sugar, just cut back on it all together. However, I am still trying to understand honey. I know it is supposed to be better for you, but it has more calories than sugar. Once you’ve cooked with honey, does it still retain all it goodness, and are those also just trace amounts?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Heather,
    As for calories, you do reduce the amount of honey by at least 1/4 when baking with it, so that helps a lot. Here’s more: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/06/28/a-sweet-sweet-summer-does-raw-honey-have-health-benefits/
    and
    http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/07/01/a-sweet-sweet-summer-how-to-bake-with-honey-other-recipes/
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Nicole

    I agree that cutting down on all sugar is the best choice. But, I found this interesting when comparing these two sugars. I was using Rapadura to make my water kefir and the grains were doubling every two days. I didn’t get my delivery of Rapadura one month, so used Sucanat instead. The kefir grains began growing very slowly, barely even noticable that they had grown after two days. To me, this is an idication that there are more vitamins/minerals in the Rapadura than the Sucanat (or that they are more available for use). That still doesn’t make it a health food, but that gets Rapadura my vote for our sugar choice. I think that using it in its most natural form is what is best for us when we do use it. (And I loved Barb’s explanation of that above!)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    Alice Benham – Turbinado is basically “big sugar.” There’s nothing nutritionally special about it, although it mayyyy be more likely to be fair trade or something similar.

    [Reply to this comment]

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I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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