First off, it’s a given you’re going to eat sugar this holiday season. So we say, make it the best sugar possible. For years our sugar consciousness was stuck in boring. Whenever we’d bake, we’d reach for the generic refined white sugar we grew up on.
But when we tried cooking with unrefined, natural and organic sugars, our tastebuds felt as if they’d won the sweetstakes. That convinced us that there’s a big difference in this ubiquitous pantry staple. Let’s delve into the benefits and explore some of the leading brands that offer these wholesome sweeteners across the United States.
Virtues of Natural and Organic Sugars
Embracing natural and organic sugars in your culinary creations can bring a multitude of virtues to your cooking and overall well-being. Here’s a glimpse of the benefits you can reap by making the switch:
- Skip the processing:
Because natural and organic sugars are not bleached or chemically processed, higher levels of minerals and vitamins are retained in the crystals. Even though that doesn’t make these sugars a health food, it does give them a deeper flavor.
- Accept no aliases:
Here’s the difference: Refined brown sugars are just white refined sugars that have been coated with molasses or a coloring. With muscovados, or natural brown sugars, the natural molasses remains in the crystals, resulting in a fudgy-tasting sugar with a sweetness that stays on your tongue. Rub some refined brown sugar in the palm of your hand and the color will usually come right off. Rub muscovado sugar in your palm and the sugar stays brown because it’s not coated. Demerara is a crunchy, dry golden-brown sugar often used as a dessert topping.
- Go beyond tradition:
Unrefined sugars can be used in nearly all your traditional recipes, but we’ve come up with three slightly nontraditional holiday desserts that use natural and organic sugars to give them their full-bodied taste and superior color. We’ve created a potassium-rich banana-chocolate coffee cake, a soy-based lemon pudding, and a batch of jasmine green-tea cookies loaded with almonds (along with a recipe for roasted candied nuts that can be used as a festive topping).
- Enhanced Flavor and Nutrient Profile:
Natural sugars like coconut sugar, maple sugar, and date sugar offer unique flavor profiles and nutritional benefits that refined sugar lacks. Coconut sugar, with its subtle caramel notes, adds a touch of warmth and depth to baked goods. Maple sugar, with its rich maple syrup essence, imparts a distinct flavor to confections and sauces. Date sugar, with its naturally sweet and slightly fruity taste, provides a boost of fiber and vitamins.
- Improved Health Consciousness:
Using natural and organic sugars allows you to indulge in sweet treats without compromising your health goals. These sweeteners are minimally processed and free from artificial additives, making them a healthier choice for those seeking a more natural approach to their diet.
- Support for Sustainable Practices:
Opting for natural and organic sugars aligns with sustainable farming practices that minimize environmental impact. Organic sugarcane cultivation, for instance, promotes soil health and biodiversity, while avoiding the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides.
- Greater Culinary Versatility:
Natural and organic sugars can be used in a wide range of culinary applications, from sweetening beverages to baking desserts. Coconut sugar’s caramelized notes complement granola and oatmeal, while maple sugar enhances the flavor of pancakes and waffles. Date sugar’s moist texture lends itself to muffins and cookies.
- Satisfaction of Mindful Consumption:
Using natural and organic sugars cultivates a sense of mindful consumption, encouraging you to make informed choices about the ingredients you incorporate into your meals. This conscious approach to food fosters a deeper appreciation for the origins and impact of your culinary creations.
Sweet Spots: Top-selling brands of natural and organic sugar in the US
Expect to pay at least a dollar a pound more for natural and organic sugars. When it comes to reputable brands that offer natural and organic sugars in the US, here are a few notable options:
- Billington’s all-natural muscovados come from eco-friendly factories on the isle of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.
- Wholesome Sweeteners, a subsidiary of Billington’s, sells organic milled golden cane and powdered sugars from Central America. They provides a variety of natural and organic sugars, including coconut sugar, maple sugar, and date sugar. Their products are certified organic and minimally processed, ensuring purity and quality.
- India Tree sells Demerara, muscovado, and golden cane sugars online (indiatree.com) and at selected retailers.
- Hain Pure Foods sells an organic, kosher muscovado at most grocery and natural-food stores.
- Organic Orchard specializes in organic and natural products, including a range of organic cane sugars, maple sugars, and honey. They are committed to sustainable practices and ethical sourcing.
- Madhava Sweeteners offers a diverse selection of organic and natural sugars, including coconut sugar, maple sugar, and raw honey. Their products are non-GMO and minimally processed, preserving their natural goodness.
- Edward & Sons Trading Co. is known for its high-quality organic and natural sweeteners, including coconut sugar, maple sugar, and date sugar. They source their products from reputable growers and prioritize sustainability.
- Laird Superfood offers a range of organic and natural sweeteners, including coconut sugar, maple sugar, and monk fruit extract. Their products are non-GMO and minimally processed, making them a healthy choice for those seeking natural sweetness.
- C&H Pure Cane Sugar: This brand offers a wide variety of natural and organic sugars, including organic cane sugar, turbinado sugar, and raw sugar. www.walmart.com
- Wholesome Sweeteners: This brand is known for its high-quality organic sugars, including organic cane sugar, coconut palm sugar, and maple sugar. www.foodnavigator-usa.com
- Florida Crystals: This brand offers a variety of natural and organic sugars, including organic cane sugar, organic raw sugar, and organic evaporated cane juice. They sells natural milled cane and Demerara sugars online (floridacrystals.com) and at selected retailers. They also sell the only certified-organic sugar grown domestically. www.floridacrystalscorp.com
- Organic Valley: This brand is a leading producer of organic products, including organic cane sugar, organic raw sugar, and organic maple syrup. www.organicvalley.coop
- Ed & Sons Organic: This brand offers a variety of organic sugars, including organic cane sugar, organic coconut palm sugar, and organic maple syrup. prairieorganicspirits.com
These brands are all committed to providing high-quality natural and organic sugars that are sourced responsibly and sustainably. They are also widely available in grocery stores and online retailers across the United States.
In addition to these brands, there are many other great options available, so be sure to shop around and find the brand that best meets your needs. When choosing a natural or organic sugar, be sure to look for the USDA Organic seal to ensure that the product has been certified organic.
Cooking with natural and organic unrefined sugar
Here’s a table summarizing the key differences between cooking with natural and organic unrefined sugar and classic, industrially refined sugar:
|Natural and Organic Unrefined Sugar
|Classic, Industrially Refined Sugar
|Minimally processed, retaining natural minerals and flavor
|Highly processed, stripping away nutrients and intensifying sweetness
|Subtly sweet with complex notes, varying based on the type of sugar
|Intensely sweet with a uniform flavor
|Varies depending on the type of sugar, from fine granules to coarse crystals
|Fine, uniform granules
|Retains natural minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants
|Minimal nutritional value
|Considered healthier due to retained nutrients and lower processing
|May contribute to various health concerns, such as weight gain and metabolic disorders
|Versatile for baking, cooking, and sweetening beverages
|Generally used for baking and desserts
|Demerara sugar, coconut palm sugar, raw honey, maple syrup, Rapadura
|Granulated sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar
Jasmine Almond Cookies – Makes 40 cookies
Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly spray baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. In a large ovenproof bowl, add the butter, almond butter, and sugar. Place in the oven for 3–5 minutes to soften butter. Mix until light and fluffy, then beat in egg and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, tea, baking soda, and salt. Add to egg mixture and beat until combined. Don’t overbeat.
Spray a 1/2-tablespoon measuring spoon with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon balls of dough onto baking sheets, about 2 inches apart; press an almond into the center of each.
Bake 13–15 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Let cool completely on baking sheets. Store in an airtight container.
Banana, Chocolate Chip, & Macadamia Coffee Cake – Makes 10–12 servings
Preheat oven to 350º. Coat an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, nuts, chocolate chips, baking powder, and baking soda.
In another big bowl, combine mashed bananas, butter, egg, oil, and vanilla. Beat until well blended. Add flour mixture and beat just until blended.
Pour batter into pan. Sprinkle top with Demerara. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.
You can easily double or triple the recipe, and the nuts keep in a sealed container for up to a week. Use them in desserts or sprinkle them on top of salads.
Preheat oven to 350º. Spread nuts on a large baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly brown. In a small pot, bring sugar, water, and vanilla to a boil. Fold nuts into the sugar mixture. Spread on a lightly greased cookie sheet and let cool.
Lemon Pudding – Makes 4 servings
You can make this quick and easy pudding ahead of time and garnish it right before your guests arrive. (Note: Because it’s unbleached, organic powdered sugar is off-white to beige in color.)
Place the tofu, soy milk, lemon juice, and powdered sugar into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, about 20 seconds.Pour into four dessert serving dishes and chill for one hour. Garnish with lemon zest and nuts before serving.