The Truth About Brown Sugar

A few years back when I was about ankle-deep in healthful eating knowledge (I may just be up to my neck in it now…) I was surprised and disgusted to discover that the brown sugar I thought was so much better for my family was really just highly-refined white sugar with some molasses put back into it. So I started buying Demerara sugar. I had heard that demerara sugar was a less-refined cane sugar and better for you. THEN I discovered that the sugar I was using was actually just Demerara-STYLE (note the word stylewas not in bold on the packaging) and was, once again, just white sugar with more molasses and a coarser grain. It wasn’t until then that I really started looking at packaging, researching sugars, and realising that there is more to sugar than I thought.

Brown Sugar: Common brown sugar is really highly processed and refined white sugar that has had the surface molasses syrup added back in, which imparts its characteristic flavor. –Small Footprint Family

When looking for a healthier alternative to white sugar, look beyond the “brown sugar” label and go for the less refined, “raw” sugars such as demerara, turbinado, muscavado and rapadura.

For years I have heard that less refined sugar is better for you but I didn’t really know why. Sugar is sugar, and less refined sugar does not contain enough extra nutrients compared to refined sugar to make that matter. I had to spend some time finding out WHY there is some truth to it being less healthy.

Refined sugar has had a number of things done to it during the refining process. White sugar is bleached with sulphuric acid, is spun through a centrifuge to remove the outer coating, and has phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide added to it which is absorbed and traps impurities. It is then put through a carbon filter to remove impurities, then crystallised by vacuum and dried.

Raw sugar is pressed, and the juice is mixed with lime to remove impurities. It is then evaporated and put through a centrifuge to separate the crystals. It is then dried.

See the difference? Much less has been done to it or added to it.

From a green perspective, the production of raw sugar uses much less energy, creates much less waste, and uses fewer chemicals.

Shall we make it greener? 80% of USA sugar is grown domestically. The sugar that is grown out of North America, however, is often grown in poor countries by impoverished farmers. Fair Trade Certified sugar must be grown and purchased following strict guidelines including fair wages, strict pesticide regulations and environmental regulations including ecosystem care and waste control. Don’t buy non-domestic sugar that is not certified fair trade.

And even greener? Buy organic sugar. Most sugar fields have a high rate of pesticide usage. Pesticide use on certified organic sugar is strictly controlled. Sugar cane and sugar beet crops are now often from genetically modified seeds. Certified organic products are not genetically-modified, by regulation.

And of course there are other less-refined sugars that are even better for you such as honey and maple syrup.  Honey is arguably the least refined available.  It is not only delicious, locally-available and pure, but it offers antiseptic, antioxidant and cleaning properties.  Maple syrup is also very lightly refined.  Nothing is added or removed, and it is high in minerals and antioxidants.  Local maple syrup is also easily available.

So now that I am self-proclaimed “up-to-my-neck in healthy food”,  you will only find in my pantry organic raw sugar, fair trade turbinado brown sugar,  maple syrup and honey.  Quality, eco-friendly, organic and safe.  We just ordered our first batch of honey bees this spring and we hope to someday provide ourselves with our own sweetener on our little homestead. But that is a story for another day.

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