Here we will look at raw sweeteners currently available, and how they can fit into a healthy diet. Raw food has become increasingly popular in recent years. Although this type of food has always been consumed, mainly as fruit and certain vegetables, the raw food diet takes this a step further by taking nearly all, or most calories in this form. To qualify as raw the food must be in its totally natural state, or else processed as little as possible, and at a temperature of approx 40 degrees Celsius or below.
Benefits of raw food diet.
So, is it possible to source genuine raw sweeteners? Almost by definition sweeteners tend to be fairly highly processed, and heat is often used, even in the packing of honey for example. There are certain sweeteners, and I have presented a list below, which loosely qualify as raw. However a certain amount of processing takes place in each case, and the honesty of the suppliers is the only guarantee that temperatures below 40 degrees were used. It is important to carefully read the labels, and to only source from reliable producers.
It is made from the Yacon tuber which grows in Peru. The tuber is ground down to extract the juice which is then heated to reduce the moisture content. Provided the heat is kept to 40 degrees or below, it qualifies as raw. It is an excellent sweetener with a very low glycemic index and many health benefits. However it is rather expensive. It is one of the best raw sweeteners available.
Stevia comes from the leaf of a plant native to South America. It has become popular in recent years and is now grown in many countries. There are raw forms of Stevia, usually the dried or powdered forms of the leaf. It has many health benefits, zero calories and a zero glycemic index. However there is a drawback - the taste, which some people find poor. It is better if mixed with other sweeteners and can be useful in certain recepies etc.
Honey, from a reputable source, is probably the most genuine raw sweetener available. No heat is required in it's production, though most commercial honey is pasteurized It is important to ensure that the label specifically states 'raw'. Honey tastes great, is very versatile and has many health benefits. However it is high glycemic, full of fructose and detrimental to teeth. So moderation is best! Many 'raw foodists' are vegan and will not consume honey, but do allow pollen.
Dates and Date Syrup.
Dates taste great and have a very high nutritional value. They can be blended at home in a food mixer with a little water and lemon juice to produce a liquid sweetener. Date syrup can also be purchased, though care needs to be taken to ensure it is raw. Dates have a very high glycemic index and so are not suitable for diabetics. They are among the most commonly used raw sweeteners.
Certain forms of Palm Sugar may be raw, though most are not as heat is used to reduce the liquid down. Palm Sugar is made from the flower blossom of the trees. The nectar is collected, and is usually boiled to remove the water and concentrate the sugar. It is truly a natural product, and is not refined in any way. It tastes great and has a lower glycemic index than ordinary sugar. However it is mostly sucrose so moderation is important.
Rapadura is made from sugar cane. As in the production of normal sugar the cane is crushed and the juice extracted. However this is not processed any further, it is simply dried and molded into solid blocks. As long as the drying temperature is 40 degrees or below it can loosely qualify as raw. It is mostly sucrose and is usually sold in solid blocks.
Carob powder is made from the pod of the Carob tree, usually grown in the mediterranean. The seeds are removed and the fleshy part of the pod dried to produce the powder. Most Carob powder is not raw, so the labels must specifically be checked to ensure this fact. Carob is not usually used as a sweetener on it's own as it has a strong chocolate like flavor. However it is excellent in recipes.
The sweetness in Carob is mostly due to the sucrose content, with a lesser amount of fructose and glucose.
Lacuma is a fruit from Peru. The powder made from the dried flesh qualifies as raw if low temperatures are used in production. It has a nice flavour and is mildly sweet. It is highly nutritious and contains many minerals and vitamins. Most of the sweetness comes from glucose, with a lesser amount of fructose and sucrose.
As long as fruit juice is freshly squeezed, or processed at low temperatures, then it qualifies as raw. Certain fruit juices are very high in fructose, particularly pear and apple so moderation is recommended. However fruit juice is an excellent sweetener and can be used in many ways to enhance a raw diet.
The above covers most raw sweeteners currently available. Monk Fruit is a new zero calorie natural sweetener that is becoming more widely available. Raw versions may become available at some time in the near future.
The Following are NOT Raw Sweeteners:
Agave Syrup is not naturally sweet. When the sap is extracted from the plant it is mostly inulin and glucose and is only mildly sweet. Like high fructose corn syrup, enzymes are used to convert the carbohydrate into fructose. So it is a highly processed food and cannot be considered as a raw sweetener regardless of the temperature used. Best avoided anyway!
Blackstrap Molasses is high in minerals and B vitamins. However it is a highly processed food and cannot be considered raw under any definition.
The sap is collected by drilling into the trunk of the Maple Tree. The liquid collected is high in water and requires plenty of heat to reduce the syrup down. Although in theory it may be possible to produce a raw maple syrup, I am not yet aware of any commercially for sale.
Brown Rice Syrup.
Brown Rice Syrup is a natural sweetener produced by fermenting cooked brown rice. Enzymes and heat are used in production, hence not raw!
Barley Malt Syrup.
Barley Malt Syrup is a natural sweetener produced by cooking sprouted barley malt. It is not raw!
I hope the above information on raw sweeteners is both useful and accurate. If you are raw food enthusiast, you may have something to add, some comments on my analysis or some views on the topic in general. If so please leave feedback on the contact page. I will be glad to update the information or add your views.