Within the literary and cultural heritage of North America we find the importance of sugar. That rainy Christmas morning, Laura and Mary were pleased to find in their stockings little cakes made with white sugar. Stories of maple sugaring abound. Amy, one of the Little Women, was shocked to find that she had salted instead of sweetened the strawberries and cream she served at her first dinner party. Donna Reed’s neighbors often came to the door to borrow a cup of sugar. We, as a culture, indeed have a sweet tooth.
Today I feel as if I am on the edge of a pool of deep waters. This week we’re broaching the controversial topic of sweeteners. We’ve already established that you can save yourself a ton of money if you cook and bake from scratch. Flour and leavening agents are a big part of that “baking-from-scratch” thing and so are sweeteners. However, much can be said about the health or lack of health to be found in these sweet ingredients.
This morning I pulled out every sweetener I have in my cupboards and found that I own almost the complete range: white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, honey, and sucanat. Yes, there are a few others to be found at the grocers, but I think this covers the most marketed and most easily attainable.
In case you aren’t familiar with these sweeteners, here are some brief definitions:
Sugar cane and sugar beets are the common sources of today’s sugar. In addition to sweetening, sugar adds texture, stability, and tenderness to recipes. And in some instances, like jam and preserves, acts as a preservative. Sugarcane can be broken down into many forms with each refining process producing a different sweetener
granulated or white sugar – highly refined cane or beet sugar; free flowing but also available in cubes or tablets
brown sugar – dark or light, generally white sugar mixed with molasses
confectioners, or powdered sugar – white sugar crushed to a fine powder, sometimes cornstarch is added to prevent caking
sucanat – dehydrated sugar cane juice
molasses – the syrupy mixture that results from boiling sugar cane or beet juice
honey – thick liquid sweetener made by bees from flower nectar
maple syrup – the sap of the sugar maple tree that has been boiled down to a syrup
corn syrup – a dark or light, thick syrup developed through processing cornstarch with acids or enzymes; regular corn syrup is not the same product as high-fructose corn syrup
I am not going to go into the health benefits or hazards of each one because, honestly, it’s quite confusing. In my reading recently I’m finding that the “experts” can’t all agree. By experts I am referring to nutritionists, doctors, and chefs.
Personally, I think there are benefits to each of the sweeteners I’ve mentioned. Corn syrup, not to be confused with “high fructose corn syrup” adds a texture to certain dishes that is difficult to replicate. The glaze on a cinnamon roll is hard to achieve without powdered, or confectioner’s sugar. I know about processed sugars and I’m not afraid to use them. That said, I don’t make either a daily part of my family’s diet. My instinct tells me, “the less processing the better.” So, I’m trying to squeeze sucanat and maple syrup into our grocery budget. But, through trial and error and some bargain shopping, we’re testing the waters of sweeteners.
Whichever one you choose, there are ways to make it a frugal pantry staple. The trick is to keep track of prices. Know what the “going rate” is for the ingredient you want to buy. When you see a great sale, stock up. Often buying in bulk can reap you great savings as well. But, tracking prices is the key. This may vary from area to area. Unfortunately, I can’t report on any “screaming deals” on sweeteners because I’ve been hard pressed to find them myself. But, later this week I have a great guest post coming on purchasing and storing honey and sucanat. Wait for it!
There’s a whole world of great sweet treats to enjoy. And the journey of exploration is part of the fun!
What do YOU think? How do you approach choosing sweeteners for your family?
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