Let’s talk about coconut sugar, since so many people in my life seem to be doing just that these days. I’m always trying to make healthier versions of the sweets I love (looking at you, sweet potato cupcakes), which means I’m using natural sugar alternatives like maple syrup or honey — a lot. But lately I’ve been doing some sleuthing on a new contender, coconut sugar — or coconut palm sugar — and I’m intrigued.
Interested in lightening up your sweets, too? Here’s what I’ve learned.
What is coconut sugar?
Coconut sugar is made with sap from the flower bud stem of the coconut tree — which is why technically, it is coconut palm sugar.
After it’s harvested, it’s dehydrated into a grainy, brown substance that looks a lot like the “raw” sugar you see at the store. Oh, and it also tastes slightly of coconut (as you might have guessed) with a hint of caramel. Um, yes, please.
So it must be healthy, right?
Well, sort of.
It turns out coconut sugar does have a slightly lower glycemic index than table sugar, which essentially means that it won’t raise your blood sugar quite as high when you consume it.
According to the University of Sydney glycemic index search, table sugar carries a glycemic index of around 60, while the coconut sugar glycemic index measures at 54, so 10% less.
Coconut sugar also has a slightly lower fructose to glucose ratio. Fructose is sweeter than glucose and isn’t as easily converted into energy as glucose since your liver must transform fructose into glucose before it can be burned for energy. And if you eat more than your liver can handle, the overload can lead to a range of metabolic problems.
One more small benefit: while table sugar has basically no nutritional value, coconut sugar actually contains small amounts of iron, zinc, and potassium. Although, by small I mean very small, so don’t skip your leafy greens.
What’s the catch?
As you might have figured out from the glycemic index comparison, table sugar and coconut sugar aren’t that far off from each other, nutritionally speaking. Coconut sugar still raises your blood sugar significantly, if not as high as white sugar, and is similar, if slightly lower, to table sugar in its fructose count.
I still think it makes a good option for people who prefer natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar over the white, processed stuff — but alas, coconut sugar isn’t an excuse to eat countless caramel turtle brownies as I’d been hoping.
How do I use coconut sugar?
If you want to give it a shot, I’ve been enjoying the Coconut Palm Sugar from Better Body Foods (available at our affiliate Amazon or a local health food store or smaller market) and have been finding ways to use it.
Just know that when you’re cooking or baking, coconut sugar isn’t an exact, one-to-one substitute for the traditional table sugar, or sucrose though most recipes will tell you it is. So start with 1:1 but feel free to experiment just a bit in your baking.
Baked goods with coconut sugar can turn out drier than their white sugar counterparts and yes, they taste vaguely of coconut. So when it comes to coconut sugar, I suggest you use it in foods that need to be just slightly sweetened — think iced tea, granola, fruit, muffins — or find a lightened-up version of a classic baked good recipe that’s developed especially for coconut sugar.
If you’re looking for inspiration, you can’t go wrong with any of these 5 recipes for coconut sugar-based treats at the Kitchn, especially if you’re looking to make your diet ever-so-slightly more natural.
Top photo: Jonas Dücker via Unsplash