Sugar and spice and everything nice, right? Ehh, not always. Although sweet foods can taste good, they’re not always good for you.
This is especially dependent on what type of sweetener is used in the process—while the naturally existing sugars in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) are needed by the body to function, refined and artificial table sugars (sucrose) can have detrimental effects on things like blood sugar, digestion, weight, and overall health.
While white sugar is still the go-to form of sucrose for most baking recipes, the advent of substitutes like agave, stevia, date sugar, even honey, have become more popularized in recent years for their representation as a more natural, or less processed, option. At the heart of that conversation is Sugar In The Raw, also called turbinado sugar, which is not “bleached” like white sugar and still has some of the inherent molasses content intact.
Where does Sugar In The Raw come from?
Though the sugar industry has been around for hundreds of years, the familiar brown packets bearing the Sugar In The Raw name are a bit more contemporary. They are produced by a family business that was founded in 1956 by a man named Marvin Eisenstadt.
At the time, Eisenstadt was living in Brooklyn where he had started working for his father’s sugar-packing business. As the idea of natural foods was starting to gain more traction, a local restaurant called Brownie’s approached Eisenstadt and had asked if he could develop a less-processed sweetener for their more health-conscious customers.
The businessman jumped at the opportunity and traveled to the tropics—where sugar is believed to have originated more than 10,000 years ago in New Guinea—and came back with a recipe for turbinado sugar, naming it Sugar In The Raw.
Though it wasn’t until the ‘90s that the product became heavily commercialized, appearing in just about every Starbucks and corner café, today the company also produces popular products Stevia In The Raw, Agave In The Raw, and Monk Fruit In The Raw.
While its nutritional profile is not much different from regular table sugar, Sugar In The Raw has far less handling and chemicals involved before heading off to market, and can be a more preferred option for those who follow raw diets.
How Sugar In The Raw is made
All sugar starts from sugar beets or sugarcane, two types of plants that are squeezed or soaked to produce a syrup naturally dark in color from concentrations of molasses. From there, the liquid is dried into hard crystals and processed in a variety of ways to produce different types of sugar, such as these common commercial products.
Raw sugar: As you might have guessed, raw sugar (like Sugar In The Raw products) is the beginning stage from which all other sugar products take off. It’s the most natural form of sugar available and most authentic to the actual plants, because the molasses is not removed from the sugar crystals, therefore giving it a light brown hue.
Regular sugar: A.K.A. white sugar. It’s the most common form found in the majority of households and restaurants. Part of that is because regular sugar crystals are smaller and best suited for a variety of cooking and baking needs. This sugar gets its bright white appearance from the removal of the molasses in the crystals, using a specifically designed centrifuge. In some cases, chemicals and even animal bone char are also added to help “bleach” the color further.
Brown sugar: It may be easy to mistake brown sugar for raw sugar since they both have a brown tint. The color relates to the concentration of molasses present, but where brown sugar differs is that it’s made from regular sugar that has had molasses re-introduced for coloration and flavor.
Powdered or confectioners’ sugar: Used for a variety of baking purposes, powdered sugar is regular sugar that has been sifted and includes a small amount of cornstarch to prevent clumping.
The problem with synthetic sweeteners
While sugar in moderation is an acceptable practice, the sweet stuff has gotten a bad rap over the years, now understood to be an addictive substance that’s found in at least 80 percent of American food products and beverages. The excess consumption has led to a host of problems, alleged to have contributed to rising rates of heart disease and obesity, particularly in children. With more consumers trying to be mindful of sugar intake, manufacturers have created “diet” options and become more sneaky by coming up with other names for sugar that often appear on nutrition labels.
The short list includes:
- Glucose syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Barley malt
While some of these, such as aspartame, have reduced calories over regular sugar and are sweeter (requiring less to be used), the issue is that these types are highly processed and hard for the body to digest. In particular, high fructose corn syrup has come under much debate as a harmful industrial product with damaging effects to the body. According to best-selling author and health advocate Dr. Mark Hyman, “you should always stay away from any product containing high fructose corn syrup.”
Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration has taken charge, recently announcing that by July 2018 all food labels will have mandatory updates including listing the amount of “added sugars” on all packaged foods. This will allow consumers to make more informed choices about the foods they eat.
“Many of the sweeteners used today are so much sweeter than real sugar that [now] consumer palates may become accustomed to exaggerated sweet tastes. Sugar substitutes can be up to 1,200 times as sweet as real sugar.”—The Sugar Association
Better sugar substitutes
There are better options, though. First, you can try to kick your sugar habit (use these tips for nixing it in just three days). Or, at the very least, limit daily intake of any kind of sweetener that you choose to use. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons (or 30 grams) per day for women and no more than nine teaspoons (or 45 grams) per day for men. When it comes to choosing a sugar source, here are a few ideas beyond Sugar In The Raw for a more natural alternative to consider the next time you bake up a cake or want to sweeten a latte.
- Coconut sugar: Sourced from the dried nectar of the coconut palm, soft to the touch coconut sugar provides more amino acid content and has less fructose. Even better, it maintains one of the lowest Glycemic Index values of any sweetener on the market today, which means it’s less likely to cause blood sugar spikes after ingesting.
- Raw honey: Unfiltered honey has more complex carbohydrates and nutrient density than other forms of sucrose. It has been used for centuries as a medical salve as well, thanks to a number of antioxidants and antibacterial properties.
- Real maple syrup: It’s for more than just pancakes. Real maple syrup has added manganese, iron, and calcium and can raise blood sugar levels slower than other sweeteners.
- Organic cane sugar: Sourced from South America, organic cane sugar is rich in molasses. It’s made by squeezing fresh sugar cane and allowing it to evaporate and crystallize naturally.
Some sweet treats
If the sweet tooth is nagging, give in to it with a variety of more healthful, wholesome snacks that swap in Sugar In the Raw along with other nutritious alternatives that allow you to indulge without the guilt.
This recipe is vegan, gluten-free, and all around delicious. Swap in potent chia seeds for the eggs, use almond meal for the flour, and Sugar In The Raw for a natural sweetener. Even the bittersweet chocolate chips add something to the mix, made with a high concentration of body-benefitting cacao.
An oldie, but goodie gets healthified with a few creative tricks. Instead of milk or heavy cream, use Greek yogurt for the batter and swap out traditional flour for a gluten-free option. Then add in raw walnuts and chopped up bananas along with eggs, butter, vanilla extract, and sea salt. Although it takes one hour to bake, the good smells filling your house will be worth it.
Italians do it better, at least when fashioning tasty little tea cakes like these. In addition to one cup of Sugar In The Raw, you’ll also need butter, almond flour, polenta, cardamom, baking powder, sea salt, and eggs. The additional minced rosemary, orange zest, and blackberries really put these cakes over the edge.
Here’s one recipe that doesn’t need any sugar at all! While the cookie is made with coconut oil, raw honey, sea salt, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and rolled oats, the delectable filling is created from mixed berries, chia seeds, and more honey. You’d never even know that they are naturally sugar-free.