For the past few years, coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar or coconut blossom sugar, has been hailed as an all-natural, healthy alternative to good ol’ table sugar. But is it really that much healthier? And can it be used in baking? Let’s find out!
So, my first post since I told you guys about my blogging blues and how I haven’t been feeling all that creative for a while. Good news: I’m feeling so much better already! Writing about my worries and fears like that has really taken the edge of it. I guess sometimes you just have to get something off your chest before you can move on from it. Honestly, I’m still a bit worried that I’m going to fail at this whole blogging game, and I STILL wonder about how long I’m going to keep blogging (even if I can turn it into a career, am I going to blog until I’m sixty? WILL people even be blogging then?), but I feel inspired again!
You may have noticed one of my new ideas on my home page already. Around Christmas I was sorting through a massive stack of old food magazines, trying to decide which to keep, and which to throw away. A lot of them revolved around a different theme each month, and I really liked the idea. So my plan for the blog is to start working with themes a bit more, starting with the theme ‘Healthier Baking’.
It’s been something I’ve been interested in since the birth of my beautiful Baby Boy. Can it be done without compromising on flavor, or are those hyped healthy baked goods just not worth my time? And what better time to discuss healthy baking options than January, right? 😉
So today I’m starting with coconut sugar, because last year everyone suddenly seemed super scared of regular sugar. And while I still appreciate the sweetness of white sugar – I’m enjoying a piece of Milka’s Peanut & Caramel as I type this – if there happens to be a healthy alternative to it which I could use in baking recipes, I’m willing to try it!
So let’s see what I found out after some research. Scroll down for sources!
How is coconut sugar made?
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the flower buds of the coconut palm. A cut is made in the flower bud, and the sugary sap that leaks out is collected. This sap is then heated so that the water in it evaporates. Once most of the water is evaporated, and the syrup is heated to a certain temperature, ranging from 48°C/118°F to 121°C/250°F depending on the brand, the syrup is allowed to crystallize and tadaaa: coconut sugar.
As you can see, it’s a pretty simple process, something you could do in your own kitchen if you can get your hands on coconut flower bud sap 😉
What does coconut sugar look like?
As you can see in the photo below, coconut sugar is a lot darker than white sugar. This is due to the fact that coconut sugar hasn’t been refined, like white sugar. It also has a very different structure than white sugar. While white sugar consists of beautiful little crystals that are all roughly the same size, coconut sugar has a course, uneven structure and not all the ‘crystals’, if you can call them that, are of the same size.
To be honest, I think it kind of looks like sand. It also doesn’t feel as smooth as white sugar does if you stick your hand in it (← please tell me I’m not the only one who does that). It’s a bit gritty. Like… sand!
What does coconut sugar taste like?
Nothing like coconut! Because coconut sugar hasn’t been refined, it has a more complex flavor than white sugar. A bit like brown sugar.
Is coconut sugar healthy?
No. Easy answer. If you were hoping for a ‘yes’, you’re out of luck. There are plenty of websites out there that claim that all sorts of natural sweeteners such as honey and agave and maple syrup are actually GOOD for you, but please don’t believe it.
As scientists have proven time and time again, sugar* is just not healthy. And coconut SUGAR is… yup, sugar! In fact, coconut sugar contains almost as much fructose (the bad stuff) as white sugar, 35-40%.
BUT if it’s between coconut sugar and white sugar, coconut sugar is definitely a little less bad for your body. Because coconut sugar hasn’t been refined, it contains some nutrients, mostly minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, whereas white sugar is basically just calories without any nutrition.
Coconut sugar also has a little less calories. Per 100g, white sugar has 400 calories, whereas coconut sugar has, wait for it… ONLY 390 calories. A negligible difference, if you ask me…
* The Tough Cookie’s definition of sugar: sweeteners that you can use to sweeten stuff, like white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup etc. I’m NOT one of those crazy people who refuse to feed their kids fruit because it supposedly contains frightening quantities of very bad sugar. Crazy people, please read this article.
Does coconut sugar score lower on the Glycemic Index?
Yes. Not that it’s important.
Some people like to point out that coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index (GI) than white sugar. If you’re unfamiliar with the Glycemic Index, it’s a measure of how fast the sugars in certain foods (carbs mostly) are released in your blood stream after you’ve eaten them, causing blood sugar levels to rise. The higher the number, the faster the sugars are released.
White sugar scores 58, while coconut sugar is believed to score 35. But, as The Sugar Association points out, “blood glucose levels depend not only on how much and what types of carbohydrates are eaten but also on how much fat or protein is eaten with the carbohydrates”. In other words: while the GI of coconut sugar may be lower than that of white sugar, the cake you make with it may have an overall higher GI than the cake you make with white sugar.
So the GI of coconut sugar is totally irrelevant in this cake-baking context!
But can you use coconut sugar as an alternative to white sugar in baking?
In baking, sugar is a very important ingredient. It acts as a stabilizer and it makes cakes and cookies deliciously moist and tender. So not an ingredient to mess with!
That said, you can use coconut sugar instead of white sugar in most baking recipes. I’ve seen recipes for coconut sugar brownies and cakes, and recipes for coconut sugar cookies online, and I’m positive you can use it as a sweetener in fillings and frostings as well. For example, my ermine buttercream or Swiss buttercream would probably still be delicious if you used coconut sugar instead of the called for granulated sugar.
Just keep in mind that coconut sugar has a different flavor than white sugar!
Oh, and I wouldn’t use it for making caramel, and maybe not for making meringue either. I’ve seen recipes for meringue made with coconut sugar online, but between you and me, those meringues didn’t look too good! A bit flat and sad, like the meringue wasn’t airy enough when it was put in the oven. I might make a test batch myself to find out for sure, but for now, I don’t think it’s a good idea…
YES, you can use coconut sugar as an alternative to white sugar in many baking recipes. The question is, should you want to? After all, the health benefits are negligible and it’s way, way, waaaaay pricier than regular sugar, even organic sugar!
As for me, I think I’ll stick to white sugar.
Glad to have cleared that up. I only wish I’d have done my research before I used it in Baby Boy’s First Birthday Cake ????
Anyway, if you like this post and would like to receive other posts just like it in your inbox, click here to sign up to my mailing list and receive my super cute eCookbook ‘The Tough Cookie’s Five Favorite Frostings’ for FREE!
And if you’re a pinner, scroll down for a nice pin!
- Gunnars, Kris. authoritynutrition.com
- The Sugar Association. ‘Glycemic Index‘. sugar.org
- Tode-Gottenbos, Nienke. ‘Suiker #4: de Beste Alternatieven voor Suiker’. degroenevrouw.nl
- Voedingscentrum. ‘Glycemische Index‘. voedingscentrum.nl
Suzanne Forbes says
I love the way you drill down into the details of ingredients and processes. Sugar alternatives are a fascinating topic, not particularly because of their relative “health” merits (because sugar) but because of their different flavor profiles. I love using unrefined sugars for caramel and mineral notes but they can overwhelm simple things like cookies; experimenting is important. I also personally love whole wheat pie crust, because I grew up around hippies!
So I am thrilled about the Healthier theme and will be so interested to see what you do!
The Tough Cookie says
I’m so glad you like the theme Suzanne! I was worried it might scare off some of my readers 😉 I totally agree with you that experimentation is key when you want to use sugar substitutes in baking. Not just for texture, but yes, also for taste! For example, I can imagine that coconut sugar would be a bad choice if you want to make a lemon buttercream. But it’s great in chocolate cake!
BTW, do you have a recipe for a whole wheat pie crust? I did a series about pie crust (in particular pie fats) a few years back, but pies are not really my area of expertise. I’d love a recipe for a whole wheat pie crust! 😀
I like this post. I have linked it on my blog today, I hope you don’t mind, I would not have done better! Here, in Australia, coconut sugar is the new fad in cafes.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Fabienne, thanks for the link! I thought about also discussing the sustainability of coconut sugar production, but ultimately decided against it. Like you say, it’s a VERY controversial topic, one that confuses me to tell you the truth. So I thought, since my blog is about baking, I’d stick to the uses of coconut sugar in baking 😉