Welcome to episode number 34 of The Raw Food Podcast. I am your host Laura-Jane the Rawtarian and today we are going to be talking all about sweeteners. We have fruits, we have liquid sweeteners and in the end we’ll talk a little bit about the glycemic index and I'll break that down in a very manageable way for you. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today and I’ll be back with you shortly.
Thank you for joining me on another episode of Raw Food Podcast. As you know I am well known for my raw food and raw vegan deserts because I have a major sweet tooth and I love sugary delicious delights. What I want to do today is give you two main tangents to talk about. One, I'm going to talk at a very basic level about the different types of sweeteners used in raw desert recipes. We’re going to talk about fruit and liquid sweeteners and how to use them in our recipes. Near the end of the podcast I'm going to talk a little bit more about the health benefits of some of the different sweeteners.
As you know, I love my desserts. My chocolate brownies are one of my most popular recipes, which are sweetened with dates and a little bit of honey. In a lot of my recipes you’ll know that I give a few different options for sweeteners. I thought I would basically break it down by first talking about fruit as a sweetener, and then the different liquid sweeteners available to you when you’re eating a raw food lifestyle.
So number one: when given the choice you definitely want to be sweetening with fruit. When I have a fruit smoothie or a green smoothie I don’t need to sweeten it or anything because it’s already naturally sweet with the fruit. It’s great because you not only get the sweetness, from bananas or dates for example, but you get a lot of other nutritional value like fiber.
Now I get a ton of questions and emails about substituting in recipes. I’m not going to tell you at all "fruit is the best, so even though this recipes calls for maple syrup, I’m going to use bananas instead!" Sometimes that could work, but when you're just starting out you want to probably follow recipes a little more than randomly substituting anything sweet for each other.
That said, fruit is the number one sweetener so a lot my recipes will include a lot of fruit. Let’s take my chocolate brownies, which as you probably know is a raw food recipe predominantly based out of walnuts and a lot of dates; some cocoa powder to get the chocolate flavor.
In that recipe I think I call for a cup of dates, which gives both sweetness and stickiness. The dates are doing double duty – they’re making it a sweet brownie and also helping to make the recipe stick together. In that recipe as well I also suggest adding one or two tablespoons of honey to bump up the sweetness a little bit extra.
Some recipes use both fruit and the sweetener as well. As you get more familiar, you'll know you sometimes don’t want things as sweet, or for a medical reason you need to cut down on your sweetness. If you see that a recipe requires a little bit of extra honey or extra maple syrup, then you can cut down on those. Generally, in the raw food lifestyle, dates and bananas both tend to be used probably because they're couple of the sweetest fruit. They’re used a lot in raw food recipes, generally just to add sweetness. The dates, as I mentioned, add a nice stickiness that can be useful. In terms of the bananas, they’re used for sweetness but also for creaminess.
Sometimes people may ask “Well I hate bananas, can I use dates instead?” I would say depending on the recipe. If it’s a sweet chocolate-y pudding that has banana in it, I would say “Well that recipe the bananas are used for sweetness, but in this case you’re also going to need something creamy too because the bananas are doing double duty.”
If you want something other than dates, I sometimes suggest you can used dried apricots instead but they’re not as sweet. So if you’re going to use them instead, you need to bump up the sweetness – like maybe with a liquid sweetener.
When you're looking at my recipes you can get a sense of why so many include dates. It's because they're one of the best sweeteners that is also a fruit. If I wanted it to be a sweet desert recipe I will try to use dates first, but sometimes it’s not always possible. For one thing the dates are very, very dark brown. So if I want to make a sweet recipe, like a basic vanilla cheesecake recipe – I want that to be light-colored and creamy, almost white. If I sweeten it with dates it’s going to change the color. In that case I may want to use a liquid sweetener instead.
When you’re looking at my raw food, raw vegan recipes at the rawtarian.com, I frequently would use these three liquid sweeteners and I will usually day they can all be switched out for each other. Maple Syrup is one I use, Agave Nectar is another, or Honey. They all vary a little, but they’re all generally similar in terms of sweetness. Out of those three I would say honey is the sweetest, followed by agave nectar, and then maple syrup is the least potent. But let’s talk about each of those liquid sweeteners.
Maple syrup is used in a lot of raw food recipes but it's a little bit controversial – they’re all a little bit controversial for one reason or another. Although it’s a really pure sweetener, it usually has been boiled or heated at some point to get to the format you’re used to seeing. It may have been heated about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Maple syrup I love and of course you're always using pure maple syrup.
Now I’ve been raw since 2009 and right when I started, Agave nectar seemed to be all the rage as the most popular. It’s made from the nectar of this South American (or Central American) plant, it’s almost like a big huge cactus-y thing. It has definitely become less and less popular. Number one I think it's very refined and it does spike your blood sugar quite a bit – it’s a bit high on the glycemic index. So some people don't like it for that reason as well. They say it’s almost similar to using corn syrup. I don't know if it's that bad for you, but while it is falling out of favor, it still seems to be used quite a bit.
Thirdly, honey. Now I do generally call myself a vegan and honey does comes from bees, so it might be a little controversial. In my opinion, unpasteurized honey is probably the most quote-on-quote “raw” of the three that I’ve mentioned. It’s the least processed and depending on where you live it may, from a local perspective, actually have not traveled many miles to get to your plate. Where I live, in rural Canada, I actually know where my honey comes from. I get my unpasteurized honey locally from a guy named David and his bees.
So it does come from animals, so it may not be okay for you from a vegan perspective. For me I probably use honey the most of the liquid sweeteners because it's not very refined or processed and I like buying from a local producer, I feel good about that.
You need to choose your liquid sweetener that works for you, but generally in terms of my raw food recipes – you can use any of those three liquid sweeteners interchangeably. So even if my brownie recipe calls for two teaspoons of honey, if you prefer maple syrup or agave nectar just use two tablespoons of those. This is only talking about three sweeteners; we know coconut sugar is becoming very popular, but those are the three I’ve been using since 2009. I still use all three, but honey I use more than anything else.
Now I want to talk about a different sweetener – Stevia. I don't remember when I've heard of it, maybe a couple years ago, but it’s definitely a sweetener getting more popular. In short it's becoming more popular because it doesn't spike your blood sugar while still being sweet, unlike Agave nectar which I talked about the issues with that before.
I don’t use Stevia per say in my recipes, I don’t write it out, but I do use Stevia a little bit and I'm starting to use it more. I’m going to start talking a little science-y when I explain why, so hang on to your hats – I’m going to keep it very basic so anybody, even our twelve year old sons, can know what I’m talking about. I’ll try to keep it easy to understand.
Stevia in its basic form, and probably why I don't use it interchangeably with my recipes in the same amount, because it comes in two different forms that I know of. One is powered Stevia, where it would be either white or green, and a teeny-tiny pinch of it is really sweet because it’s so potent. It’s super condensed, it’s super sweet, so you can only use a teeny tiny bit.
Now let’s pretend we’re making brownies and we wanted to, instead of two tablespoons of honey, use a teeny-tiny pinch of Stevia it's really harder to use in a powder form. That’s because it doesn't distribute much in a solid food. It works well for a pudding, or something liquid-y which can easily distribute it around, but the powder form doesn't work well in a pie crust or something like that.
It also comes in drops and it's easier to use than the powder, but it’s also not as easy to use as honey for example. It's more potent and you can't just use quite exactly the same as honey for instance because of that. Somebody really needs to come up with a liquid Stevia that has some kind of blank tasting filler, that allows you to use it and with the same texture as honey. I'm sure someone is coming up with that right now, but right now that's the state Stevia is in.
Well, you may ask, why would anyone use Stevia when they can use maple syrup instead? This is where the science-y discussion begins. The basic concept I’m going to compare and contrast is that certain types of sweeteners just go right through your blood with no filter. You get like a crazy sugar fit and that's what we call high glycemic sweeteners. Those are the sweeteners that go really fast into your bloodstream and increase the glucose level in your blood. The high glycemic ones go straight into your blood and it's a crazy sugar party, and that can be bad.
Then we contrast that with low glycemic filters, which just trickle out into your blood stream, rise the blood sugar slowly and are digested more slowly with stability. When possible it’s best to choose a lower glycemic sweetener, which just trickles out into your blood and gives you a calmer experience.
Sugars actually are kind of crazy complicated, but that’s the basic gist of it. For me I’m not particularly caring too much for myself one way or the other, but a lot of people who have medical problems, like diabetics, are really conscious of the level of glucose in their blood. That's why Stevia is popular - it's very, very low glycemic compared to other sweeteners.
If we actually look at our sweeteners that we talked about, a lot of fruit is low glycemic because of a lot of what’s in the fruit and so the index and how potent the sweetener is gets affected by what else is in the food. Many fruits are low glycemic, so they’re actually okay for some diabetics to eat, but bananas and dates are considered high on the glycemic index because they are so sweet. The liquid sweeteners are pretty high on the index as well, so if you really are concerned about maintaining blood sugar levels, or have medical issues related to that, I would definitely recommend checking out Stevia. I think that would be very useful for you.
Another thing to mention about this, and I alluded to it a little before, but when we think about making raw vegan sweet recipes or whatever sweet recipes, then it really matters what you're making. It's not like you would say to yourself "I'm always going to use Stevia or honey for everything because I hate fruit!" because a lot of these foods the texture matters. I definitely encourage substitution, but if you can't eat a certain fruit or a certain something, then don't try to modify a recipe – keep looking for a recipe that doesn't include that thing you can't eat.
Generally when you begin substituting a lot of things in a recipe, it may go haywire and it's hard to tell exactly what happened or why. If someone says “I want to make this recipe but I can’t this and I can’t have that” then I would write back saying to try finding a tomato soup recipe that doesn’t have the things you can’t eat.
In a general sense I would say try not to do too much substituting, because the texture of things matter. Within that liquid sweetener group, of maple syrup or agave nectar or honey, you can definitely substitute within that group.
So this was an intense podcast, but I think it's important to know the different sweeteners you can use as a raw food type. I guess I’ll leave it there, but since this was such an intensely crazy podcast I should end with some a light-hearted story.
In Canada, in Prince Edward Island where I live, it’s very hot in my house with really high humidity. One of my favorite things I’ve been eating lately, and having fun making with different raw sweeteners, is different deserts. Like of course banana ice cream, where you freeze a banana and put it in the food processer and enjoy that as a banana ice cream.
I’ve also been making “fudgsicles” that I love to eat in the summer time. Usually what I’ll do is make a nice sweet smoothie, which I wouldn’t sweeten with any liquid sweetener, I’d just use dates or bananas actually. I would also use some leftover Chia pudding and sweeten it with honey, or even Stevia, and then any leftovers I would put in a Popsicle mold and enjoy those. So that’s a little bit about sweeteners in the hot summer in my place, and I guess I will leave it there.
Stay tuned for the next podcast. I’m hoping to talk about sprouting, that’ll be a very useful episode as well because I’m really enjoying making my own alfalfa sprouts and I’m going to talk about sprouting seeds and beans and things like that. That should be interesting for you next time in episode thirty-five. Thank you so much for joining me, I am Laura-Jane The Rawtarian and I hope to hear from you soon.
If you do have any ideas about podcast episodes that you would like to hear about in the future, shoot an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For sure if you want to be kept up to date with everything going on in the Rawtarian world, do subscribe to my e-newsletter. It’s free, you can get that at therawtarian.com/newsletter and when you sign-up to that you will get a free e-book.
Thank you so much for joining me and happy sweetening!
This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with like-minded, qualified health care professional(s). I wish you success on your raw journey!