Provide moisture and tender crumb
Add flavor and tenderness and determine the texture. Sugar is hygroscopic; it draws moisture and holds onto it. This prolongs the life of baked goods by keeping them fresh for a longer period. Sugar also absorbs water during the process of mixing ingredients together. This action halts the development of gluten because it keeps the proteins in the flour from absorbing too much water. This contributes to the tender crumb and texture of baked goods.
Sugars contributes a tan color and caramel flavor. It caramelizes when heated beyond its melting point.
Aerate mixtures when whipped
When sugar and fat are creamed together, sugar crystals become evenly spread among the fat. Air gets trapped around the crystals and then expands during baking, when helps lighten the final product.
Agave. GI: 10-30; Sugar: fructose
A fructose-based sweetener (aguamiel) extracted from the inner core of several species of agave, most famously the Blue Agave cactus plant that grows primarily in Mexico. The initial product, aguamiel, is converted to syrup using enzymes, chemicals and heat.
Agave syrup is known to be high in fructose; the amount of fructose can range from 55%-90%, depending on the variety of agave and processing method. The high fructose content makes agave sweeter than table sugar (pure fructose is 1.2-1.8 times sweeter than sucrose) so less is needed for the same level of sweetness. It is also low on the glycemic index (GI 10-30) making it popular with diabetics and those looking to control their blood glucose level.
However, the high fructose content in agave has created a debate. Fructose is processed in the liver and excess fructose is turned into triglycerides. It also encourages the buildup of cholesterol. Furthermore, fructose lowers the levels of the two hunger-control hormones (insulin and leptin) and increases the “hungry” hormone (ghrelin) and may promote diabetes. It is also not suitable for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as the fructose may worsen bloating, pain, and diarrhea that accompany this digestive disorder.
Agave nectars are sold in raw, light, amber, dark, and raw varieties, which reflects the degree of processing. If you were to purchase agave, the clear and raw varieties are recommended based on nutritional profile. Raw agave nectar has a mild, neutral taste and is produced at temperatures below 118 °F (48 °C) to protect the natural enzymes. Based on taste, light agave nectar is sometimes used in delicate tasting foods and drinks. Amber agave nectar has a medium-intensity caramel flavor, and is therefore used in foods and drinks with stronger flavors. Dark agave nectar has stronger caramel notes, and imparts a distinct flavor to dishes, such as some desserts. Both amber and dark agave nectar are preferred to be used straight out of the bottle as a topping for pancakes and waffles.
Barley Malt Syrup. GI: 42; Sugar: maltose (75%), glucose (16%)
A natural sweetener made by cooking down soaked and sprouted barley. During sprouting, the starches in the barley grains are converted to simple sugars; sprouted barley is known as malt. The resulting syrup is thick and dark with a malty taste that resembles molasses. It is mostly (75%) maltose, a complex sugar, which accounts for the rather mild sweetness it imparts; maltose is half as sweet as as sucrose (table sugar). As a malted syrup, it has a low glycemic index (GI=42). Nevertheless. it is considered one of the healthiest sweeteners in the natural food industry.
When used as a sweetener in recipes, care should be taken not to add excess syrup due to its less sweet taste. Also, because it is barley-based, this syrup is not suitable for anyone on a gluten-free program.
Brown Rice Syrup. GI: 25-98; Sugar: maltose (45%), maltotriose 52), glucose (3%)
Brown rice syrup is made by cooking rice, then using natural enzymes to break the starch in the rice into simpler sugars. There has been no reliable research to determine the GI of brown rice syrup. It can be used in a manner similar to honey or molasses.
Coconut Nectar. GI: 35
Coconut nectar, like agave, is a very low glycemic sweetener derived from the liquid sap of the coconut blossoms. The nectar is created by evaporating the sap at allegedly low temperatures. The fructose content of the final liquid only reaches about 10% – far lower than the 50% – 90% fructose found in agave nectar products. It also naturally contains many minerals and vitamins, including broad spectrum Bs and vitamin C. While still considered a processed sweetener, it is certainly much less processed than most commercial sweeteners and is my preferred choice. The flavour is mild, but the color and flavour is slightly richer than agave.
Date Syrup. GI: 42
Date syrup is made from dates using a soaking and squeezing process. For this reason, it is considered healthy, because many of the minerals and nutrients are retained. Date syrup has a thick consistency and a rich flavour.
Little is known about the glycemic index of date syrup. Many health advocates use dates as there sweetener but others point to the very high glycemic index of dates (40-50) as a reason to stay away.
Honey. GI: 58. Sugar: fructose (50%), glucose (43%
Honey is perhaps the only truly raw sweetener, as it is produced, harvested, and left in its natural state to consume. Honey bees swarm around their environment to collect nectar, the sugar-rich liquids from plants. Honey production from flower nectar takes place in the beehive. It is a group activity consisting of repeated cycles of consumption, digestion and regurgitation. The specific composition, nutritional properties and glycemic index depend on the sources of the nectar. On average, the sugar composition is about 43% glucose and 50% fructose, and the GI is estimated at 58. Honey is not a vegan product and some vegans avoid it as sometimes the bees are killed after the season.
Honey does have an array of healing properties such as antibacterial, antimicrobial and antioxidant. Honey contains glucose oxidase, which slowly releases hydrogen peroxide. Antioxidant activity may vary up to 20-fold; generally darker honeys like manuka and buckwheat honey have more minerals and benefits than lighter varieties. Choose honey that is labeled unfiltered and raw as many commercial honey is processed and reduced to a state far from natural.
As honey has a very strong flavour, it may not work well in every recipe, but feel free to experiment. It is recommended to avoid baking with honey as the heat destroys the natural benefits.
Avoid honey if you are on an anti-candida program. Also do not give it to babies as there is a small risk that it can contain spores of the Clostridium botulinum soil-dwelling bacterium which could cause infant botulism.
Crystallization can develop in raw, unheated honey. To fix, place the honey jar in a saucepan with hot water and heat slowly until all the crystals are dissolved. Store honey in a dry, dark cupboard; it will stay fresh indefinitely.
Maple Syrup. GI: 54, Sugar: fructose (50%), glucose (50%)
A sweetener made from concentrating the sap of the maple tree. It is a very long process and requires approximately 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup.
Not all maple syrups are considered equal; they are graded according to the Canada, US or Vermont scales based on its density and translucency. “Fancy grade A” or sometimes “grade A light amber” are the lightest and mildest syrups, which are generally harvested at the beginning of the season. At the middle of the spectrum are “grade A medium amber” and “grade A dark amber.” Finally there is “grade B,” the dark, thick syrup that possesses the strongest characteristic maple flavour with caramel undertones.
While maple syrup is not a raw product, it is mineral-rich and contains thiamine, manganese and zinc as well as anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Altogether, researchers have identified 54 antioxidants from maple syrup that acted as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents. Choose grade B as it is less refined than grade A and contains more minerals and vitamins.
Maple syrup is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose; it has a GI of 54 and feeds bacteria and yeast so avoid it if you are diabetic or following an anti-candida diet. It is very sweet so you do not need to use much in any recipe.
Molasses, Blackstrap. GI: 55
Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar-making process, resulting in the brown syrup left over after boiling once the sugar crystals have been removed. There are several types of molasses; variations depend on how many times the syrup was boiled and what may be added to it.
Blackstrap molasses is the syrup produced after the third boiling. It is the most viscous and darkest in color. It is also bitter in taste, and as such, should not be used as a substitute in recipes that call for molasses. This version of molasses is said to be teeming with minerals and vitamins (sugar cane plants have deep roots, and are able to absorb high quantities of nutrient from the soil). A two teaspoon serving provides about 13% and 12% of the daily recommended intake of iron and calcium respectively,
In purchasing molasses, always look for the unsulphured varieties. In the sulphured variety, sulfur dioxide is added to the molasses to prevent it from fermenting. The addition of sulfur dioxide changes the taste of the molasses and can make it less sweet. Unsulphured blackstrap molasses is typically the kind used in recipes.
Yacon Syrup; GI: 0, Sugar: FOS
A syrup made by concentrating the juice of the tuberous storage roots of yacon, which is native to and grows abundantly in South America. In Andean languages yacon translates to “watery root” and is known in its native Peruvian land as “ground apple,” after its crunchy texture and apple taste.
It is extolled as a low glycemic sweetener and digestive aid, and have been taken by people with diabetes or digestive or renal problems. The sugar in yacon is mainly in the form of prebiotics, namely inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are short-chain fructose molecules that are not digested by the body and have no impact on blood sugar. Although FOS is found naturally in many types of plants, it is never as high as concentrations in the yacon root (50 percent).
In the colon, yacon FOS are fermented by probiotics, a group of beneficial bacteria that forms part of the intestinal microflora. FOS is recognized as a soluble fiber that promotes peristalsis, increase water retention in fecal matter, reduce intestinal transit time and control constipation. In 2009, a study conducted by seven researchers at the University San Miguel de Tucuman in Argentina, insulin-resistant obese volunteers were given two tablespoons of yacon each day. At the end of the study, participants demonstrated significantly lower fasting insulin levels, along with a significant decrease in body weight, waist circumference and body mass index.
The physical and sensorial characteristics of yacon syrup are fairly similar to those of honey, maple syrup or molasses. However it is less sweet as FOS is four times less sweet than simple sugars (sucrose, fructose and glucose), so care must be taken not to add too much to recipes.