Of all the five primary tastes- salty, sweet, sour, pungent and bitter- sweetness is often said to be the most popular. According to ancient Chinese philosophy it is the ‘mother’ of all the others. Humans have an inborn preference for sweets, which seems to have helped our ancestors select the most nutritionally dense foods.
Sugar cane (Saccharum sp.) is a perennial grass, native of Southeast Asia and has been used as a sweetener for over 5000 years. Sugar cane is a very efficient producer of pure sucrose and has become the major source of the world’s sugar supply. Today the largest producer of Sugar Cane, by far is Brazil.
Sugar cane stalks are juiced, and then processed to produce the many sugar products on the market, from the unrefined Rapadura, to the very refined white sugar. All sugar products have a high glycemic index*, though some are more nutritive than others. All natural sugar products have been produced in a Sugar Mill, where refined sugars are further processed at a Refinery. Bagasse is the biomass remaining after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. Sugar Mills can produce up to 30% of their own power by burning the bagasse as biofuel. Bagasse is also used in the production of tree-free paper.
Rapadura is a pure organic sugar made from the first step of sugar cane processing. The whole, pure juice is evaporated, crystallized and filtered through a stainless steel sieve to make this powdered, whole food sweetener. It contains all the nutrients from the whole sugar cane, and has a strong molasses taste. All Rapadura is a Fair Trade** product grown sustainably in Brazil.
Evaporated Cane Juice is milled from the original sugar cane juice. In this process the juice is clarified in a natural lime solution. From this stage it is concentrated by evaporation, washed, crystallized and then cured. Evaporated cane juice is light in colour and flavour, as the act of crystallization separates the majority of molasses, leaving up to 2% in the finished product.
Sucanat is also made from this first juicing of the sugar cane. It is a pure, whole food product made by heating the clarified first pressed cane juice in large vats and stirring by hand with big wooden paddles. It is the process of dehydration, aeration and granulation (as opposed to evaporation), which produces this dark, rich tasting, dry, free-flowing sugar. Sucanat is 13% molasses and 87% sugar.
Turbinado sugar is made from the unwashed evaporated cane juice, which is then spun in a turbine (hence the name Turbinado), to produce the large sparkling golden crystals.
Demerara sugar, sometimes called Raw Sugar is much like Turbinado, except it is spun in a centrifuge. This sugar takes its name from the Demerara colony of Guyana, which was the original source of this type of sugar.
Brown Sugar is soft, moist and fine grained. Traditionally it is refined white sugar with molasses added back to it. Some natural foods brands of Brown Sugar add molasses to evaporated cane juice sugar, creating a richer more whole food product.
White sugar, by definition, must be 99.8 % pure sucrose; this is a highly refined product stripped of all the fiber, vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients which naturally occur in the suagr cane. White sugar is a product of a sugar refinery. The sugar-refining industry often uses bone char (calcinated animal bones) for decolourizing the sugar.
Glycemic Index (also GI) is a ranking system for carbohydrates based on their effect on blood glucose levels. It compares available carbohydrates gram for gram in individual foods providing a numerical, evidence-based index of post-meal blood sugar. Carbohydrates that break down rapidly during digestion have the highest glycemic index. Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have a low glycemic index. To learn more about this ranking system, and to look up individual sweeteners and foods see www.glycemicindex.com
This website is the ‘home of the glycemic index’ – the official website for the glycemic index and International GI database, which is based at the University of Sydney, Australia.