Saturday, December 20, 2014

Speaking of sweeteners

This what I'm using in my coffee now. The post about agave nectar reminded me this can of pure cane syrup was sitting in the cabinet. The Younger Daughter gave it to us while she was living in Texas. I've had old-fashioned cane syrup before -- I bought a pint jar at the Jarrell Plantation in Georgia (a really nifty state park, incidentally) a few years ago -- and knew that it had a stronger flavor than most commercial syrups. Cane syrup is what you get when you crush sugar cane and boil down the juice. In commercial sugar production, the juice is centrifuged -- the lighter-colored sugar rises to the top and eventually becomes refined sugar. The darker solids that sink end up as molasses. Cane syrup is what happens when you boil cane juice to evaporate liquids and stabilize the sugars without using a centrifuge. You end up with a product that tastes vaguely like molasses, but is lighter in color and doesn't have as strong a taste. The Jarrell Plantation, incidentally, does living history demonstrations of how sugar cane was crushed and processed in the antebellum South. I'm not sure if that's the source of the bottled cane syrup in their gift shop, but it could be. The process for making cane syrup is remarkably simple: you need something to crush the cane, something to catch the juice as it runs off, and a huge cast iron kettle in which to boil that juice down.

Mule-powered cane crusher
In any case, we'd been gifted with the can of cane syrup, it had migrated to the back of the cabinet and forgotten, and then I had the agave experience. So now I'm using cane syrup in my morning coffee. How does it compare with other sweeteners? Not surprisingly, the calorie count is about the same. The Helm Farms syrup does have a vague molasses-like flavor, but it's just a hint. It's not as strong as the flavor of the Jarrell syrup.

When I was Googling cane syrup, I found a New York Times article that quoted cane syrup aficionados who claimed old-fashioned ribbon cane syrup was much, much better than refined sugar. According to one person, sugar has a bitter taste compared to cane syrup. He also claimed to be able to tell exactly which field sugar cane had been harvested from by the taste of the syrup, kind of like wine snobs who swear they can tell which hillside in Burgundy produced a certain vintage. Apparently, if you want to use an authentic sweetener down South, you should be using cane syrup in your tea, your baking, and anything else that requires a form of sugar. I don't know if I'd go that far. At this point, I'm feeling the same way about the cane syrup as I did about the agave: it's working in the coffee, but am I going to actively seek more out once the current supply runs out? Probably not. I know there are still commercial cane mills out there that produce ribbon cane syrup -- you can buy Steen's cane syrup through Amazon if you don't live in the South -- but why bother, especially once the cane syrup is gone, I've got an industrial size jug of Sysco honey the Older Daughter gave us a few months ago.*

Although what I should probably work on is eliminating both the sweetener and the coffee from my diet. I don't need the empty calories and the caffeine is not good for my SVT. Oh well. I managed to break my Dr. Pepper addiction. Maybe someday I'll manage to step away from caffeine completely. (And the proverbial pigs will fly.)

*A slight digression: I know people who would freak if they heard me talk about using cane syrup that was more than a year or two old or honey that's been sitting in a cabinet for god knows how long. News flash, people, sugar doesn't rot. Neither does honey. They're what gets used to preserve other things. Honey is the only food that for sure never rots. Archeologists have found jars in Egyptian tombs where the honey was 3,000 years old and still good. I'm not sure if pure sugar falls into that same category, but I'm willing to bet that it does. If archeologists someday find a sugar canister that's thousands of years old, the sugar in it may have turned into a rock from absorbing moisture, but it's still going to be perfectly edible sugar. 

1 comment:

  1. I think Roger's Golden Syrup is made from sugar cane. It is the syrup of western Canadian folklore. Kids carried their lunches to school in the syrup cans. Homesteaders used it to choke down otherwise dull fare. Can't buy it in eastern Canada, don't know about USA. We bring it to Ukraine as I miss it otherwise.


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