Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sustainably Sweet: Top 5 Sustainable Sweeteners

Sugar is in everything. We are practically addicted to it. But cane sugar is not always the most sustainable choice. However there are some exciting new (and not so new) forms of sugar out there to satisfy your sweet tooth while living sustainably.

Here’s the list:

  1. Local Honey. If you want to be eating the most sustainable sweetener ever, get a beehive! A colony of bees can whip up a whole lot of honey collecting pollen from the flowers in your neighborhood. It’s hard to beat that! If you buy local honey, try to buy raw, unprocessed honey to get the best flavor and higher levels of antioxidants.
  2. Pure Maple Syrup. This one is only applicable if you happen to live in a geographic area that produces maple syrup or have some maple sugar trees nearby. The process of boiling down maple sap into maple syrup is time consuming (and sticky) but the results are an environmentally friendly and hopefully local sugar source.
  3. Sugar Beets. Sugar beets are easy to grow and very sweet. To extract the sugar, cut up the beets and boil in water until the consistency is that of a syrup. Let the syrup cool and evaporate leaving the beet sugar ready for use.
  4. Stevia. This sweet herb has been used for centuries by native tribes in Brazil and Paraguay as a sweetener but is only just becoming popular here. There is particular interest in stevia because it is not actually a sugar and contains zero calories. But rest assured, it is all-natural. If you buy stevia, make sure the plants have been grown using organic and sustainable farming methods. You can also try to grow stevia in your own garden and use the leaves to sweeten your tea and coffee.
  5. Coconut Palm Sugar. Coconut palm sugar is relegated to tropical climes, but the Food and Agriculture Organization has recognized palm sugar as the most sustainable sugar, due to the fact that coconut palms produce up to 75 percent more sugar per acre than sugar cane, and uses far fewer resources and inputs. Traditionally, coconut palms grow in areas like Indonesia and are an important part of the agro-ecosystem, needing little water and helping to restore soil quality.

If you do buy cane sugar, or any other sweetener, make sure it’s certified organic and as local as possible.

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