I flick between natural sweeteners like a remote control, just in case I’m missing something.
No sugar is healthy. The key is to find one that works for you and use it sparingly.
Here’s my summary of the following popular sweeteners. Lots more information on sweeteners in The Virtuous Tart, my 2nd cookbook. Hope it’s useful!
Agave is touted as a low glycemic fructose syrup that does not require insulin to break it down. A health boon, right? But science is rarely that simple.
It’s fair to say that agave is not a health food, but a useful food. This is an important differentiation. It wouldn’t be my first choice of sweetener unless I was diabetic (and even still, easy does it).
Evidence suggests that a diet rich in liquid fructose can have a deleterious effect on the body. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), for example, has caused much controversy between health scientists and food manufacturers. While agave does not fall within the same category as HFCS, it is still classified as ‘fibre-free’ fructose.
Other issues to consider include processing methods and added ingredients. Agave piracy dates back to 2008, when several supermarket brands of ‘raw’ agave were found to be highly processed and contaminated with other forms of syrups. It’s hardly surprising that manufacturers want a slice of success when a new food enjoys such attention. This applies to all newfangled foods.
Keep your antennae finely tuned and your gut on speaking terms with you.
As with all sweeteners, no matter what you choose, moderation is probably key. If you want to, try looking for raw, unadulterated agave where possible, although most are in fact heat-treated.
Brown Rice Syrup
Despite brown rice syrup being a fairly processed product, it has low levels of glucose (about 5%) and high levels of the more complex carbohydrate maltose (around 55%). This gives brown rice syrup an attractive glycemic load. If it’s plain rice syrup, the glucose levels are much greater.
Brown rice syrup is considerably less sweet than agave or honey. Alicia Silverstone, author of The Kind Diet, totally digs it. As a result, Vegan Ville does too.
This blonde-coloured syrup is made by fermenting cooked brown rice with cultured enzymes to break down the carbohydrates. The liquid by-product is boiled to make a sweet, sticky syrup considerably less sweet than agave and table sugar.
Like all trendy products, there are good versions and violently processed versions. It’s worth doing your own research. Sticking to organic seems sensible given the volume of agrichemicals regularly used in rice production. There were issues with arsenic levels in several US brands a few years ago too.
Recipe for Lemon Curd
The saturated fat in coconut oil is made up of Medium Chain Triglycerides, the mere mention of which make triathletes indecently excitable (heard of MCT bullet proof coffee yet? You will).
These MCTs are metabolised quickly by the body and can be used as an alternative source of energy to carbohydrates. MCTs are also easier to break down than the longer chain triglycerides in olive, sunflower or canola oil.
More importantly, coconut’s MCTs are composed of lauric and capric acids. These are heroic antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial agents also present in mother’s milk to give her baba the best start in life. Think of it as Ninjago in a tub. Groovy, eh?
5 tablespoons light agave or brown rice syrup
5 egg yolks
1 large (or 2 small) unwaxed lemon, juice & rind
5 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
Enough for 4 espresso cups or 8 weensy pots.
Using a small saucepan on a low setting, gently heat all the ingredients.
Make sure you are continuously whisking with a metal balloon beater – that’s the whisky-looking implement usually reserved for beating egg whites.
When all the coconut oil has melted, keep a watch for little bubbles forming on the surface, telling you the mixture is getting hotter and hotter. By then you should notice the curd getting thicker. Test it by dipping the back of a spoon into it. If the curd coats the spoon, remove from heat. If it runs offs, keep the curd over the heat until it thickens a little more.
Pour into pristine clean jam jars, and tie little ribbons around the neck of the jars. Serve with a simple spoon and ravenous appetite.
Thanks so much to The Sunday Business Post for featuring my favourite recipes from the book …