Four natural alternatives to sugar!
With all of the controversy around sugar, it’s no wonder people are looking for natural alternatives. Here are four truly natural alternatives you need to know about that are popping up more and more in foods and beverages around the supermarket.
Lucuma is a delicious fruit native to the Andes that has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Curiously, most people in the northern hemisphere have never heard of lucuma, let alone tasted its rich, sweet, maple flavor. Lucuma is the most popular flavor of ice cream in Peru. You can use lucuma in all types of dessert recipes, from smoothies to pies to ice cream, you’ll even find it in some snack or meal replacement bars. Besides its amazing flavor, lucuma is also a great source of nutrition. Lucuma contains healthy doses of fiber, vitamins and minerals and is especially high in beta-carotene, iron and vitamin B3.
Cooconut palm sugar is made by boiling the sap of coconut palm tree flowers. It looks similar to brown sugar and has a stronger flavor than white sugar or honey, with hints of caramel and maple syrup. Palm sugar has a moderate/low GI of 35 and is best used in baking and where a caramel flavor is welcomed. Coconut sugar does retain quite a bit of the nutrients found in the coconut palm, most notably iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, along with some polyphenols and antioxidants as well as inulin. It is important to point out that it is still a caloric sweetener, and the presence of some minerals doesn’t give you a free pass!
Monk fruit is native to China and Thailand. It is a melon-like fruit is named for the 13th century monks thought to have first used it. Popular in China in dried form, the fruit is making its way to US stores as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. Monk fruit is reportedly hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and leaves less of a bitter aftertaste than stevia. As a modern-day extract, it is marketed as a no-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener for beverages and baked goods. Food manufacturers, are increasingly adding the extract to products. In addition to monk, look for "luo han guo" on labels.
Stevia is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family; and grows as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. It’s literally a small green herb you could grow alongside your basil and rosemary in your herb garden, or kitchen windowsill! Indigenous people have been consuming parts of the stevia plants long before European explorers and settlers “discovered” them. The plant material between the veins of the leaf contains the sweet compounds, which are up to 250-300 times as sweet as sugar. Some also think stevia has a bitter flavor – try some for your self to find out!
Of course there is also honey, maple syrup and agave syrup, date sugar and more natural sweeteners, but the four mentioned above are truly gaining popularity for the various reasons mentioned above.