Why it’s worth the swap.
Crap was my first thought as I watched 40 litres of coconut nectar ever-so-slowly spread into a giant golden pancake across our kitchen floor. Perhaps we should have used refined sugar in our drinks; it’s much easier to clean up.
Apart from the sticky mess caused by a faulty container, spilling coconut nectar is an expensive business. Our expanding pancake set us back £192, compared to £17 for an equivalent pile of wasted sugar. But we think nectar’s worth it. Here’s why in case you’ve never heard of it.
Coconut nectar comes from coconut trees, naturally. It’s laborious to make involving tree climbing, tapping (or making a small incision in) the bottom of its flowers and then waiting several hours while collecting the runny honey looking nectar that slowly seeps out. (The flowers are completely fine and quickly recover to be tapped another day). Once collected, it’s slowly heated until the nectar resembles maple syrup, bottled and stored.
It has a few benefits compared to other ways to make things sweet. A squeeze of nectar provides more vitamins and minerals compared to a spoonful of sugar. It is low on something called the glycaemic index which means your body takes longer to make the most of it so you avoid a sugar crash. Angelina Jolie’s friends at the United Nations named coconut nectar the most sustainable sweetener in the world in 2014 due to coconut trees needing only a little water to keep them happy.
If you’re into cooking then you can swap it for normal sugar. It’s roughly the same sweetness and it works particularly well in baking.
If you’d like to give it a whirl then you can find it in supermarkets. Luckily, it’s sold in much more friendly little bottles rather than the extra large containers we use and occasionally spill.
Twelve banana cupcakes sat sadly in the bin. Our first low sugar baking test hadn’t gone to plan. A mushy stodge was a good description of our first bake. Mary Berry would be ever so disappointed. Starting a business teaches you many things including perseverance, and we needed plenty as we cracked on with our next recipe.
There’s a lot in the press about the scourges of refined sugar – particularly in the drinks industry – but baking seems to have escaped. When was the last time you saw Paul or Mary condemn sugar as they sample the Bake Off’s finest?
For good reason. Sugar is the baker’s friend. When sugar gets wet it locks in moisture and keeps baking moist. Sugar helps cakes rise. Sugar deepens the colour of baking and adds crunch when needed.
So is it possible to bake without refined sugar without compromising on taste? We invited a few Elderbrook drinkers to find out.
Maxime, Sarah and Emma (along with the Elderbrook team) tried three bakes; Peanut Butter Granola Bites, a Carrot Cake and Super Seed Chocolate Chip Cookies. We served our bakes at the end of our low alcohol wine tasting so there’s a low chance our results were ever so slightly influenced by four bottles of wine.
The Winner: Peanut Butter Granola Bites
They disappeared first and had a wonderfully indulgent and sticky texture with the occasional bite of peanut and rice crispy. Because they were not cooked (simply mixed and chilled), we didn’t miss refined sugar’s ability to help bakes rise in the oven. The mix and chill approach also kept them super moist. Top notch.
We thought it was going to be tricky to create a nice light cake without refined sugar and to our slight surprise, we got a great result. It didn’t have the crumb typical of a refined sugar cake but it was springy, had bags of flavour and still sweet enough to feel like a delicious treat. The recipe we used suggested adding a frosting (icing for us Brits) but we felt it wasn’t needed.
The only thing that was missing compared to typical sugar-sweetened brownies was more of a crunch. They were a bit too soft when we’re used to more...