Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Natural sweeteners

I have a distinct sweet tooth which is convenient to blame on my Grandfather who had a sweet tooth. The down side is high intake of sugar leads to diabetes. I could in theory switch to artificial sweeteners but these worry me worse. There are a number of natural sweeteners however refined sugar in my book is not "natural" because it has been heavily processed and refined. Anybody who has chewed a lump of sugar cane will know there is a massive difference between refined sugar and sugar cane. As an aside I have purchased  a sugar cane plant and hope to make a beer from the canes in late summer.

Anyway there are a number of natural sweeteners. I have recently purchased a Stevia plant (see picture to left). If you chew one of the leaves you taste nothing then a long and strong burst of sweetness. It is 30-45 times as sweet as sugar/sucrose. If the sweet part is extracted from the plant, which is done in Japan, the substance is 300 times as sweet as sugar. As a reference saccharine one of the artificial sweeteners is 500 times sweeter than sugar. The stevia plants sweetness comes from a substance that is not turned into sugar, thus is safe for diabetics to use. I have found that adding stevia to cups of tea sweetenes them. I hope to try more uses for this over the summer. 

The bizarre thing is that in Japan since 1971 have been able to purchase an extract of stevia to use as a sweetener. Then in 1991 the FDA banded the plant, unless it is taken as a supplement, even though it has been demonstrated that it is safe since 1950's. And low and behold when a US company has isolated a  steviol glycoside rebaudioside A (Reb-A), and now markets this as a sweetener to use in food, and at the same time the FDA have now approved it. Dodgy things like this makes me suspect of regulators.  

I have also done a bit or reading on natural sweeteners. There are compounds in citrus skins, especially kumquat, that are very sweet. For example Naringenine dihydrochalcone is 500 times sweeter than sugar and Neohesperidine dihydrochalconeis 1000 times sweeter.

So there are plenty of substitutes for sugar. The best thing would be wean myself of sugar and allow the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables to come forth and enjoy these healthy food..... However until then there should be in the very near future substances that are sweet and not bad for you.

Picture credit: Ethel Aardvak

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