Let’s do a little etymology and background on sugar for Part 1 of an upcoming 3-Part series of weekly tips on sugar alternatives. The English word, “sugar,” ultimately originates from the Sanskrit word, sharkara or sarkara, which means “sugar” or “pebble”. Sugar cane, a tropical plant and a member of the grass family, was first domesticated in New Guinea and used in India and China since the 4th century BC. It was widely unknown in the West until the 700s AD, when the only sweet foods were honey and fresh fruit. Sugar cane and its products were new foods to Europeans at the time, and as such were initially a luxury for the rich or a “medicine” used in apothecaries. Westerners discovered sugarcane in the course of military expeditions into India. One of Alexander the Great’s commanders described it as “a reed that gives honey without bees”. In 1492, Christopher Columbus stopped at Gomera in the Canary Islands, for wine and water, intending to stay only four days. He became romantically involved with the Governor of the island (a female), and stayed a month. When he finally sailed she gave him cuttings of sugarcane, which became the first to reach the New World. How sweet it is……

During the eighteenth century sugar became enormously popular and went through a series of booms. The heightened demand and production of sugar came about to a large extent due to a great change in the eating habits of many Europeans. They began consuming jams, candy, tea, coffee, cocoa, processed foods, and other sweet victuals in much greater numbers. Sugar began to be harvested in extreme amounts to meet the growing demands. The demands kept growing, until today when we now find that the average American consumes an astounding 2-3 pounds of sugar each week, which is not surprising considering that highly refined sugars in the forms of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup are being processed into so many goods such as bread, breakfast cereal, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and a plethora of microwave meals. In the last 20 years, we have increased sugar consumption in the U.S. 26 pounds to 135 pounds of sugar per person per year! Prior to the turn of this century, consumption was only 5 lbs. per person per year. Cardiovascular disease and cancer were virtually unknown in the early 1900s.

At this point in history, because of what has been learned about refined sugar being highly addictive and harmful, both to our health and to our environment, generating a mass of chemicals and pesticides in both growing and processing methods, and the endless ways refined sugar can negatively affect your health, many people are looking for alternatives to refined sugars. Healthy options to choose from are available now in the many varieties of organic sugars, and all sugar alternatives. Think of these varied organic sweeteners not only as replacements for refined sugar, but rather as healthy and pleasing additions to your diet, which are excellent alternatives that will satisfy even the strongest sweet tooth. And, some of these sweeteners are considered whole foods, containing valuable nutrients. For example, some that we are familiar with are maple syrup, brown rice syrup, stevia, honey, and date sugar; and, others not so familiar such as barley malt syrup, Mesquite meal, Lacuma powder, etc. You can find more information on sweeteners of all kinds by visiting the Virtual Marketplace on the Natural Cures website.

For part 1 of the 3-part series, let’s focus on honey. The oldest-known unrefined sweetener and the subject of much myth, poetry, and legend, honey is a sweet substance concentrated by bees from flower nectar. It has been a sweetener, condiment, and ingredient in sweet and savory dishes, a component of religious ceremonies and, when fermented, an alcoholic beverage. Since it is collected by bees from flowers in the wild, the composition of honey is variable, but is typically 25-50% sweeter than sugar, consisting of equal parts sucrose and fructose, as well as trace amounts of minerals, pollen and numerous flavor components. Like maple syrup, honey is one of the least refined sweeteners available. Raw organic bee products and honey are super nutritious foods. Royal jelly, for example, has the highest percentage of components that defy chemical analysis. In other words, there are nutrients in royal jelly that have yet to be discovered by science. See Chapters 6 and 9 of the Natural Cures book for more information on royal jelly. Purchasing locally grown honey offers additional health benefits, some of which you can read about on the Natural Cures website.

Raw honey also contains pollen, propolis, vitamins, enzymes and trace minerals. It has unique healing and curative powers, in addition to its wonderful deep sweetness and flavor. To substitute honey for sugar, the ratio is ¾ cup honey to 1 cup sugar. Add a pinch of baking soda to baked goods, and reduce baking temperature by 25 degrees. The flavor and color of honey depend upon the particular flower nectar collected by the bees as well as the time of year collected, and accounts for the wide range of honeys available around the world. Dark honeys generally have a stronger flavor than lighter ones.

The highest quality honeys are raw, unprocessed, unfiltered and unrefined with their natural enzymes intact – choose raw honey whenever possible, especially when using honey as a spread on whole grain toast, on warm cereal grains, or enjoyed right off the spoon. When baking it is not necessary to use the highest quality raw honey, since it will be heated during cooking. Experiment and enjoy this wonderful sugar alternative; no matter how you use it, you’re in for a real, natural treat.

(Note: raw honey should never be given to children under one year old).

Some portions of the above article were excerpted from Wikipedia