Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

A Sweet, Sweet…Some Season or Another: Date Sugar, Yacon, Fruit Sweeteners and Non-Sweeteners that Taste Sweet

March 28th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Food for Thought

I’ve decided to have “fruit for dessert” at least once a week around here (since last week’s Monday Mission went so well). I figure that really, if my kids have one little piece of candy per day, it’s not going to kill them, and when I do make a healthy dessert, I offer it as the only choice.

When I don’t have a homemade dessert prepared, it’s a lot easier on me for the bag of candy (which comes into our house whether I like it or not) to be available. I already spend kind of a lot of time in the kitchen…

Last night was “fruit night.” When I was cutting the cantaloupe and pineapple, Leah had a few pieces, and then I told her not to ask for any more until it was served at the table. Ever observant, she asked with fear in  her voice, “Is it going to be dessert? I don’t want it for dessert…”

She’s onto me. Winking smile

Paul was a bit incredulous that the fruit was offered as the only dessert, but he only paused in disbelief for a moment, then decided it wasn’t worth bothering with an argument and dove into the eating part.

Leah happily ate about 50 billion servings of fruit, so perhaps she won’t be so sad next time when she remembers how much she enjoys fruit, especially when she’s allowed to have plenty.

Today I wanted to make another entry in the Sweet, Sweet Summer series that has morphed into a Sweeter Spring…or something.

These are the sweeteners that are almost not sweeteners, because they’re made from whole fruits or vegetables.

 

Date Sugar

imageDate sugar, which I got from Shiloh Farms, is quite simply dried dates, dried even further, then pulverized into a granulated product that looks an awful lot like unrefined sugar.

A cup of date sugar in a recipe will “work” like a cup of any other kind of sugar, although it’s important to note that date sugar won’t dissolve like many sweeteners, so you need to be thoughtful about which recipes you try it in. For example, it won’t work to sweeten drinks, but it would probably be okay on oatmeal.

I’ve used date sugar with good success in muffin recipes (specifically the grain-free coconut flour muffins from Healthy Snacks to Go, second edition, which seem to be great no matter what sweetener I throw into them) and chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps because it doesn’t dissolve, the cookies look markedly different from other sweeteners.

Here are the chocolate chip cookies (made with almond flour) with coconut palm sugar:

grain-free almond flour chocolate chip cookies (2) (475x356)

and with sucanat:

grain-free almond flour chocolate chip cookies (18) (475x356)

and finally date sugar:

grain-free almond flour chocolate chip cookies (15) (475x356)

The ones with date sugar were higher, spread out less, and have a smoother top. Here are the coconut sugar cookies next to the date sugar version – can you see the difference?

grain-free almond flour chocolate chip cookies (12) (475x356)

Date sugar is also less sweet than other sugars, and everyone who got to taste test this little kitchen “experiment” made note of that. However, I personally didn’t miss it, especially if it meant a much healthier sweetener.

Is Date Sugar Healthier?

Shiloh Farms states that “it contains all the vitamins, minerals and fiber found in the date fruit.” Anytime  you’re eating a whole fruit, you get the fiber with the sucrose and fructose, so it should metabolize more slowly and be easier on your system than those simple sugars alone.

For an alternative perspective – there always is one of those in the world of food, right? – here is an article from the SCD Diet that says some/most date sugars are not made from the whole fruit, therefore are not tolerated well by people on that diet (Specific carbohydrate diet), even though they can eat whole dates.

Nutrition in Date Sugar:

  • 10-12 calories (less than the 15 in white sugar)
  • 2-3g carbs/sugars (less than the 4 in sugar)
  • dates themselves have about a gram and a half of fiber (in one date), trace vitamins like A and B6, minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium (5% DV in one date!). See the nutrition facts here.

Date sugar is a pretty expensive alternative sweetener compared to honey or even sucanat, ringing in at well over $10/pound, but for some diets, it may be one of the only sweeteners allowed, so it’s definitely one to keep on your radar.

Yacon…What’s That?

Yacon is a large tuber native to South America that has a natural sweetness to it. I read/heard about it in a podcast by Ben Fuchs and was curious, so I ended up with some samples from Navitas Naturals: image

  • dried yacon slices for munching
  • raw yacon powder
  • yacon syrup

Here’s what they say about it:

A valuable health food and alternative sweetener, yacon’s greatest attribute is its naturally high content of inulin, a complex sugar that breaks down slowly into fructooligosaccharides (FOS). The high levels of FOS is a quality that is beneficial for two reasons. First, although yacon tastes sweet, the sugar of inulin is not digestible and simply passes through the body. Therefore yacon only contains about half the calories of an average sugar source. Secondly, FOS promotes the production of healthy probiotics within the body, which can contribute to better digestion and colon health.

My notes from Ben Fuchs:

  • Syrup or powder, comes from tuber
  • Good source of antioxidants because it’s plant-based
  • Amino acids, especially tryptophan (important for brain health)
  • Great source of inulin – technically referred to as a fructo-oligo-saccaride (fructooligosaccharides FOS) – not usually very sweet, because we can’t get energy from FOS, but bacteria can. It makes the bacteria, especially the good guys, more robust and healthy. FOS actually food for the probiotics.
  • Fights yeast infections because it’s helpful for prebiotics. Yeast loves sucrose, but using yacon does the opposite – allows you to fight recurrent yeast infections while allowing the sweet flavor.
  • FOS helps calcium absorption!
  • Helps fiber digestion, speed up movement of food thru colon, elimination of poison, keep you regular, detoxing.
  • Improves hunger satisfaction (satiety) – therefore ideal for people trying to lose weight.
  • Doesn’t affect blood sugar or blood glucose/insulin

My experience:

imageDried yacon slices were a great treat when I just wanted something to munch on, quickly, but really didn’t need a “treat” or dessert type thing. (I’m a terrible muncher/snacker and always want to be eating!) They taste a bit like a dried apple but with less sweetness and flavor. So they’re not really a “treat,” but if they’re as healthy as claimed, they sure aren’t bad to eat!

I tried yacon syrup (expensive!) in my grain-free granola from Healthy Snacks to Go, and it was just fine, like any other sweetener but MUCH more brown and tinged with a heavy flavor like molasses. It made the milk turn brown, which tricked the kids into thinking it was almost like chocolate milk. Smile

After using the yacon powder in a recipe for Lucuma ice cream, also from Navitas, which no one liked, I guess I was scared to use it in anything else. I should have tried it in those muffins, just a single batch of 6, but I was too scared it would turn out badly. Big failure on my part. Anyone have experience with yacon powder?

Keep it Simple: Just Use Fruit

To me, the best way to sweeten a dish if you don’t want to use a sweetener, especially an expensive one, is to just use fruit. Dried apricots, raisins, or cherries all allow me to use less sweetener in granola and still enjoy a bowl just as much.

The reverse engineered Larabars in Healthy Snacks to Go (called power bars) taste like a sweet treat and really satiate the sweet tooth but they’re only sweetened with dates and other dried fruits. I’m currently out and it’s time to make more!

Yes, dried fruits have carbs and fructose, but if they’re a whole fruit, I can’t worry too much about using them in moderation.

Using applesauce or even pumpkin in things like muffins or pancakes help to make them sweeter without as much sweetener. What else can you do with fruit to sweeten?

Better Yet: Trick Your Tongue

Since the first edition of Healthy Snacks to Go, I’ve included a section called “Three Tips to Trick Your Tongue.” It basically notes the fact that certain foods add an illusion of sweetness to a dish without adding carbs or sugars:

  • unrefined “virgin” coconut oil
  • cinnamon
  • vanilla
  • spelt flour

When I have oatmeal in the morning, I manage to eat it with zero sweetener and still enjoy it. I add cinnamon, virgin coconut oil, and a few raisins, spaced strategically throughout the bowl for maximum bursts of sweetness from beginning to end of breakfast.

Adding cinnamon or vanilla to cookies, pancakes, and muffins helps mimic sweetness, and if you don’t mind the coconut flavor, use unrefined coconut oil in your baking – you won’t miss 1/2 cup of sugar if you do!

How do you naturally sweeten?

Note: Check out this week’s giveaway for an 8-ounce bottle of an herbal remedy of your choice!

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • Stephanie

    First, I greatly appreciate & enjoy your blog! I’ve been wanting to comment on this “fruit for dessert” idea for a while now. It sounds like y’all have dessert after dinner every night, & I just wanted to say that is totally not necessary! I grew up in a home where we rarely had dessert after a meal, & it is the same way now with my kids. Yes, sometimes we surprise them by pulling a chocolate chip cookie out of the freezer, or letting them split a popsicle, but it is always unexpected on their part. Our kids devour fruit several times a day, & they never feel like they’re getting “cheated” on dessert. :) Maybe we’re the abnormal ones…just had to share, though, in case there are other moms that felt the same way as me & wondered if they were doing it “wrong”! :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Stephanie,
    I know…we fell into a bad habit on that one. I don’t “serve” dessert every night, but the kids are allowed one candy after dinner. It’s the only time they get candy, so we’re letting it stay the status quo. My husband says, “We are not getting any stricter.” Conversation closed, and I’m okay with that.

    Good point, though!!! :) Katie

  • Sarah

    We, too, only serve dessert on some evenings. Right now it’s Sundays only – makes Sunday really special! We will occasionally have a sweet treat in the afternoon but my kids know not to expect a sweet at a programmed time every day.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Our Sunday is the “solemnity” and they’re allowed to ask for dessert at lunch and dinner! ;) That’s weaned down from every lunch and every dinner, though, so we’re heading in the right direction.

    Nicole Reply:

    This makes me feel better. It is funny how I make you champion bloggers out to having perfect nutrition in your homes. We rarely have dessert and almost never have candy in the house (mainly because I would probably eat it all). They do get plenty from school and dance class (?). I’m feeling pretty good right now.

  • Adrienne @ Whole New Mom

    Hi Katie. I haven’t tried much w/ yacon powder, but what I have tried has been a failure. Sadly. I was hopeful.

    Love yacon, but not the price!

  • Cheryl

    Husband has Diabetes 2 and controls it with proper diet. Recently I thought about using licorice root to sweeten things a bit so that he could enjoy a bit of sweet, but when I looked at the nutritional data, it does have carbohydrates. So, when things (like coconut oil) taste sweet, it is because they have natural sugars in them I would think. I still want to try the licorice root tea to sweeten things (it does not taste like black licorice), but have been using if anything just stevia and absolutely love SweetLeaf’s flavored stevia. Anyone tried the rootbeer flavor in their water kefir? Get your kefir all sparkly, add your flavor and you’ve got rootbeer! lol

  • Sofia

    Not sure if its an off-topic question, but I normally use sucanat for my baking. I usually buy Wholesome Organic Sucanat.

    Can somebody here guide me if I really need to get ORGANIC or non-organic sucanat is fine. I am able to get non-organic Sucanat @ $1.70/lb from clnf.com, but not sure if its ok for the non-organic version.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sofia,
    It just depends on your priorities – if you want a more wholesome sweetener, any sucanat will be unrefined cane sugar. Organic will only mean you’re avoiding the pesticides but shouldn’t change the nutritional profile…. (I get mine from Country Life, too).
    :) Katie

    Sofia Reply:

    Thanks Katie. I feel comfortable now ordering from Country Life…:):).

    Regards

    Sofia

  • Debbie

    My kids’ new favorite treat is a smoothie so thick it’s almost like sherbert. We use 2 medium bananas (if one is frozen its even closer to an ice cream texture), 1/2C greek yogurt, 1/4C orange juice, and 4C frozen fruit. I just put everything except the frozen fruit in the blender and puree it until smooth and then add the frozen fruit and use the ice crusher setting to get it to an ice cream consistancy. Yum!

  • Nia Hanna

    Ya know, that date sugar looks a lot like the demerera sugar I buy out of the bulk foods bin at my local WinCo Foods store. Since the sugar crystals are so large I use half the amount. So when a recipe says 1 cup sugar, I use 1/2 cup demerera sugar. My family doesn’t seem to notice, but when I serve our treats to others, they notice the baked goods are less sweet. Also, because the crystals are larger than regular sugar ( like the date sugar), I pour it into a little boiling water ( enough so it will dissolve ) and then use it for drinks like lemonade. Since I’ll be adding cold water to the lemonade anyway, the boiling water doesnt’ pose a problem.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Nia,
    That’s great that you can cut the sugar in half! The date sugar is totally different from demerera sugar, though. I’m pretty sure you can read about demerera, which unfortunately isn’t much healthier than white sugar, if I’m remembering correctly, here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/08/10/a-sweet-sweet-summer-unrefined-dehydrated-whole-cane-sugar-sucanat-rapadura-panela-and-muscovado/

    But half the sugar is still half the sugar, so you’re on the right track!!
    :) Katie

  • Caitlin

    I too grew up in a household where we regularly had NO dessert, and fruit was a wonderful treat after a meal! Especially frozen (fresh) peaches at my grandmothers house. Partially thawed and served in dainy little glass bowls, I loved them! Still do.

  • lexee

    we didn’t have dessert regularly growing up, either. as an adult, there are definitely times that i want something sweet after dinner, but i don’t make desserts unless we have an event or gathering. a few chocolate chips, occasionally a few bites of ice cream, banana “ice cream,” or a sweet piece of fruit like a mango or banana with pb usually satisfy the craving!

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  • April F

    I’m intrigued by your use of almond flour for chocolate chip cookies! I’ve been in search of a good GF alternative to make cookies. Did you just sub almond flour for whole wheat flour in your Smart Sweets chocolate chip cookie recipe?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    April,
    The recipe was actually on the back of my almond flour bag from Honeyville Grain, but it is from elanaspantry.com originally. So yummy! :) Katie

  • maria

    We have fruit for dessert every night, since the fruit is healthy for us. Candy is allowed only on saturday after dinner unless we were already at a birthday party with a candy giveaway on the way home. My mother tells me I am too strict. What do you think? Sometimes I make a smoothie or fruit ice cream sweetened with a little honey as a weeknight dessert. And on saturday or sunday we might have cake or cookies or a muffin for afternoon snack. Am I too strict?

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

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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