Na­ture's Sweet Tooth

F&B World - - In the Pantry - BUB­BLES CRUZ-LE­RIAS is a Univer­sity of the Philip­pines grad­u­ate for Food Tech­nol­ogy. She teaches at the In­ter­na­tional School for Culi­nary Arts and Ho­tel Man­age­ment (ISCAHM) and serves as a food con­sul­tant for var­i­ous com­pa­nies.

Sweet is de­fined as a sen­sa­tion of taste, de­scribed as some­thing that is pleas­ant, sug­ary or honey-like. There are a num­ber of in­gre­di­ents that are used to sweeten food items. Ta­ble su­gar sourced from su­gar cane and su­gar beets and corn syrup are the most com­monly used sweet­en­ers in the food in­dus­try. Al­though there has been so much de­bate on the ef­fects of ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion of su­gar, what this ar­ti­cle hopes to present is a bet­ter sense of aware­ness on al­ter­na­tive nat­u­ral sweet­en­ers avail­able in the mar­ket, in re­sponse to ar­gu­ments con­cern­ing the in­creased use of highly re­fined, highly pro­cessed sug­ars.

MONK FRUIT

Monk fruit is a type of gourd na­tive to south­ern China and north­ern Thai­land. The juice ex­tracted from the fruit con­tains sug­ars glu­cose, fruc­tose, and mogro­side (a type of gly­co­side, which is a mol­e­cule of su­gar bound to an­other func­tional group). Mogro­side is 300 times sweeter than su­crose, which makes this an­other promis­ing player sec­ond to ste­via as an al­ter­na­tive nat­u­ral sweet­ener. Brand names of this sweet­ener are Pure­fruit, Nec­tresse and Norbu.

Pro­duc­tion of this sweet­ener calls for slices of the fruit to be crushed and the juice pressed out. The juice is then mixed with wa­ter, then fil­tered. The nat­u­ral sug­ars and the mogro­sides are then spray dried and a sweet pow­der is col­lected and packed. The sweet­ener is 100% wa­ter sol­u­ble, sta­ble in a wide range of pH (210), heat sta­ble and gen­er­ally rec­og­nized as safe (GRAS).

DATE SU­GAR

Date su­gar is not re­ally su­gar in the true sense of the word. It is ac­tu­ally finely ground dried dates. In its fresh yel­low form ( kha­laal), dates con­tain not less than 70% to­tal sug­ars based on dried weight. In its commercial form ( tamr), the su­gar con­cen­tra­tion can reach to al­most 80%.

Date su­gar is not suit­able to be used to sweeten bev­er­ages, be­cause it can­not com­pletely dis­solve due to the nat­u­ral fibers still present. But it can be used to sweeten cakes, breads and other va­ri­eties of baked goods and break­fast ce­re­als. An added ben­e­fit to us­ing this sweet­ener is that it still con­tains the fruit’s in­her­ent nu­tri­ents.

YA­CON SYRUP

Ya­con syrup is made by con­cen­trat­ing the liq­uid ex­tracted from the ya­con root veg­etable ( tu­ber). Ya­con in it­self is sweet tast­ing, hav­ing long been a food crop grown in the Peru­vian An­des since pre- Inca time. The su­gar found in the root is fruc­tooligosac­cha­ride ( FOS), com­posed of one glu­cose mol­e­cule con­nected in be­tween two to 10 fruc­tose mol­e­cules. The bonds that bind these mol­e­cules can re­sist en­zy­matic ac­tion and not di­gested by the body. FOS is con­sid­ered a sol­u­ble fiber and thus gives fa­vor­able ef­fects dur­ing di­ges­tion.

The con­cen­trated syrup con­tains about 50% FOS. The phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of this syrup are sim­i­lar to honey, maple syrup, and mo­lasses. The process of mak­ing the syrup en­tails that the roots be washed, peeled and sliced, then ex­tracted us­ing a ma­chine sim­i­lar to a juicer. The juice is then fil­tered to re­move in­sol­u­ble mat­ter and pre­crys­tal­lized sug­ars that may af­fect the fi­nal prod­uct. The fil­tered juice is then moved to an eva­po­ra­tor. A few more steps of fil­ter­ing and heat­ing re­sults in a thick dark syrup.

" Say to the farmer: There is your crop; here is mine. Mine is a su­gar to sweeten su­gar with. If you will lis­ten to me, I will sweeten your whole load, --your whole life." -Henry David Thoreau

AGAVE NEC­TAR

Agave nec­tar is con­cen­trated sap of the agave plant. The Blue Agave is the specie pre­ferred be­cause it yields the high­est per­cent­age of the su­gar fruc­tose. The process be­gins by strip­ping the leaves off un­til the core ( piña) is ex­posed. The sap is ex­pressed from the core and then heated to about 47°C. The warm­ing of the sap en­cour­ages a por­tion of the in­ulin (an oligosac­cha­ride) to break down and be con­verted to fruc­tose. The warmed sap is then fil­tered and bot­tled. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers heat the sap for an ex­tended pe­riod, con­vert­ing most of the in­ulin to fruc­tose, in­creas­ing the su­gar con­cen­tra­tion. This also re­sults in a richer colored syrup. The con­sis­tency of the syrup is thin­ner than that of honey and the fla­vor is de­scribed as rather mild.

STE­VIA

Ste­via is an herb that has been used as food by na­tive In­di­ans in Paraguay for cen­turies. The leaves of this plant con­tain ste­vio­sides (an­other type of gly­co­side) which is 100-300 times sweeter than su­crose. To use the plant as a sweet­ener, dried leaves can be sim­ply im­mersed in wa­ter and used. It is also taken as a bev­er­age in this form. Commercial pro­cess­ing re­quires that the wa­ter be clar­i­fied and the ste­vio­sides crys­tal­lized. Pro­cess­ing may in­volve de­col­oriza­tion and pu­rifi­ca­tion, us­ing ei­ther ion-ex­change resin, elec­trol­y­sis or pre­cip­i­ta­tion agents. Ste­via is heat sta­ble, and can be used for cook­ing and bak­ing. In its raw form, how­ever, it is de­scribed as hav­ing a liquorice and de­tectable bit­ter af­ter­taste. Proper di­lu­tion can re­duce these fla­vors.

COCO SU­GAR

Coco su­gar or co­conut su­gar is crys­tal­lized co­conut sap. It is made from the sap col­lected from flower buds of the co­conut tree. The sap is har­vested by cut­ting across the in­flo­res­cence of the plant and al­low­ing the nec­tar to drip into nat­u­ral bam­boo con­tain­ers, much like the ac­tiv­ity of col­lect­ing toddy for tuba mak­ing. How­ever, in­stead of al­low­ing the sweet liq­uid to fer­ment, the ac­cu­mu­lated nec­tar is slowly brought to a boil un­til all its nat­u­ral sug­ars have con­cen­trated to the point that it crys­tal­lizes. Be­cause su­gar caramelizes when heated, the re­sult­ing su­gar is brown in color. One unique char­ac­ter­is­tic of coco su­gar is that depend­ing on the sea­son, grow­ing area and grow­ing con­di­tions, the de­gree of brown­ing is never con­sis­tent—it will vary even if the sap has been col­lected from the same tree. Co­conut su­gar is not clar­i­fied or re­fined, which is why it also con­tains other nu­tri­ents like min­er­als, vi­ta­mins and amino acids. It con­tains 85% su­crose and has a glycemic in­dex (GI) of 35.

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