Ask Amma

Substitutes for sugar and more …

In What on 18 December 2012 at 4:05 am

Insert nut in date after removing pit.  Use peanut, cashew, almond or any other nut.  Don't eat the clerodendrum!

Which sugar substitute is best? Dates, molasses or honey? I quit using agave.
– mother of two in Dallas

(a) is a whole food so I will go with (a).

I use any of these three, depending on the context. If you can get raw honey it is supposed to have beneficial properties that are destroyed in the high-temperature processing of the commonly available honey.

Sonika Amma adds:

I would prefer dates and molasses on the health quotient.

We have used raw, manuka and regular honey. I liked raw best too. There’s just something different about it- taste wise .. and also as a reliever from sore throat etc…. I think regular honey is filtered to give that translucent look.

Depends also on the final taste you want.
I also use jaggery (actually more than the others I’d admit). Probably not as healthy, but goes a lot with some of the Indian deserts I sometimes get to making. I know Molasses is close in taste, but just don’t know how interchangeable they are in some recipes (apart from different texture) Molasses and Jaggery are also sources of iron …”

If I may digress somewhat from the original question, which concerned alternatives to sugar when preparing dishes that call for sugar, I think if we look at many of the times that we tend to eat sweets, we could substitute those with other foods.

Such as:  Simple Snacks.  Simple Raw Snacks. 

This brings to the fore a thought that has been on my mind of late, that I need to increase the variety in our regular meal repertoire, so that we aren’t thinking about idle snacks – which tend to be fried things or sweets or packaged foods – so much. By idle snacks I mean the stuff we eat just because we feel like eating. Then there are the snack we eat because we are actually hungry but it is not time for dinner yet. So for example if we make side-dish type things that can serve as snacks that will be good, but then it means even more variety. Things like soup or salad or simple combinations of fruit and nuts are quite popular around here.

It is not really that hard but it takes some presence of mind to remember and keep a wider variety of staple ingredients on hand. My resolution is to make things like smoothies, pesto, baba ganoush, and hummous, more often.

Also what I find is that if I can keep chopping up simple things like carrots, cucumber, celery or fruits and produce them even before any snack is requested, they are pretty well received. Steamed corn or brocolli or brussel sprout or asparagus also makes a snack. We put peanut butter on celery / apples / bananas … one thing we found, if you want more nut variety, is that if you just grind up any nut (or sesame or sunflower seeds in a mini grinder you can sprinkle that on bananas, apples or carrots, maybe adding some water to make a paste. That makes for a substantial snack, no added sugar there either.

Let me close with a thought about packaged foods, which appear to promise the variety we crave.

When we eat a greater variety of foods, we are less likely to miss out on essential nutrients and therefore less likely to feel like eating at odd times. Packaged foods, on the other hand are designed not to satisfy our nutritional needs or even our appetite but the opposite – to make us want more.

Food scientists have discovered what’s called a “bliss point” — the point at which consumers get the greatest pleasure from combinations of sugar, fat, and salt. When the mix of these three elements is just right, food becomes more stimulating. Eating foods high in sugar, fat, and salt makes us eat more foods high in sugar, fat, and salt.

From Kessler, “Sugar, Fat, and Salt Make us Eat More Sugar, Fat, and Salt” in The End of Overeating, pg. 14.

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