I am sitting at my computer thinking about (no, actually I have decided) broaching the subject of sugar. You know by now that I am not a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, nutritionist, naturopath, dietician, and so on… I am a vegan by definition, and as such, am interested in a whole food plant based diet and the benefits it can bring to non human and human animals alike, the planet and mindful living.
So, I did some research on the definition of a whole food, plant based diet and there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Some definitions include animal products occasionally, some say whole wheat bread is okay, some say only raw food in its purest form is okay. In a future post I will tell you about my take on this important subject. In the meantime, you might want to check out this blog site.
But what I will tell you today is that I have not seen refined white sugar
appear anywhere in this rather broadly based definition. There are plenty of medical and scientific studies out there that show that not only is refined sugar not a health benefit when ingested, but that it is a health risk. How much sugar is okay? Purists would tell you that none is okay and I presume this to be true.
But, we live in a world where the facts can get all muddled up with pleasure, general eating habits (do we eat well, do we eat poorly?), social events, tradition and habit. I am not going to tell you that you should not eat sugar. I am only going to tell you about my history with sugar and what I do now.
I come from a generation of kids who, generally speaking, grew up with a lot of sugar in the home. Dessert after meals was common, although my mother did not serve dessert every day. My memory tells me that we would have it on Sundays for dinner, for special occasions, snacks and maybe a couple of times a week after meals.
My mom was a fantastic baker. Her favorites were fruit pies, jam tarts with whipped cream, butter tarts, cookies, squares, fruit crisps and the occasional French Delight (my brother called it French Fright), a culinary masterpiece of Jell-O, graham wafers crumbs, marshmallow topping and maybe some whipped cream or Dream Whip (I am a little fuzzy on the whipped cream or Dream Whip, but you get the picture-major processed sugar overload). Sometimes, on family movie nite, my mom would send one of the boys out to buy some chocolate bars to munch on, or perhaps she would make some fudge. It was always maple walnut fudge.
I developed an interest in baking when I was about twelve or thirteen. I started with bread making, which always included sugar laden cinnamon rolls, and graduated to cookies, squares, cakes (because my mother did not like to bake cakes, except for Lazy Daisy Cake which was easy, involved no icing, but was topped with a delicious concoction of coconut, cream and butter).
Can’t tell this story without giving a shout out to my “littlest sister” who would always help me on these bake-a-thons (they would take all day-I was very messy and very slow). My sister would diligently do whatever I asked of her, which was mostly clean up detail. Sorry about that “littlest sister”.
The first sweet I ever remember making for my soon-to be husband was a pie made with sour cherries from my parents’ childhood stomping grounds in Southern Ontario. Sad story short, I put the baked pie on the back burner of the stove to cool and then someone (I think it was me) turned on said back burner and burned to a crisp, the first pie I had ever made for my significant other. Boo-hoo!
As a mother and like my mother, I also provided goodies for my children-not every day, but they were definitely on the menu. I preferred making cakes to pies (less clean up) as well as all the usual sweet suspects, except for the fudge and the French Fright.
When my son and daughter were about eight and eleven, my “littlest sister” and I opened a catering business called Festin du Village. From this enterprise came home many of the leftover desserts, the experiments and sometimes a family favorite. They were stored in our freezer for the kids to serve to their friends and to enjoy themselves, of course. My daughter has a grown friend who still asks when she is visiting, if there are any “freezer cookies”.
Things have changed, much to my husband’s disappointment. I don’t bake regularly, so there is not always something in the freezer. Having goodies around 24/7 would not be a good thing. Sweets are a stumbling block for me, so better not to have them around all the time.
But I do bake- peach pie for my son’s birthday (he does not like cake), butter tarts for my daughter, Xmas and Easter cookies with my granddaughter and just about anything for my grandson, husband, son -in-law and daughter-in-law (chocolate preferred, no peaches or bananas, please) as well as goodies for my bridge group.
So, that brings me to the subject of sugar.
We already know that sugar has no nutritional value (except perhaps for the iron in blackstrap molasses), but is it vegan? I actively work at never knowingly ingesting anything that was produced or processed using non human animal products.
I learned sometime ago, through a limited search on the subject, that sugar is sometimes filtered through bone char. “Bone char (Latin: carbo animalis), also known as bone black, ivory black, animal charcoal, or abaiser, is a granular material produced by charring animal bones that are subsequently ground into a powder.” * The sugar is filtered through this bone char in order to remove the last bit of molasses, thus achieving the pristine white colour of the processed sugar that we all know and love.
Well, off to the grocery store I go looking for an alternative. I discovered that Wholesome Sweetners makes a free-trade sugar that is organic and cruelty free. Granted it is more expensive, about five dollars for a not so big bag, but I really don’t use that much sugar anymore, so it is worth it to me.
I have been using this product for a few months and have been satisfied with it. It is darker in colour than white sugar, so it can change slightly the colour of certain baked goods-like sugar cookies for instance-they will be more a caramel colour than a white to golden colour.
Creating and working on this blog has sent me back to do some research on sugar and happily, I have discovered that Redpath (except for their plant in Vancouver) and Lantic Sugar, the two major sugar companies in Canada process their sugar without the use of bone char-so, it is suitable for vegans. Their brown and icing sugar are also cruelty free. Yay!! This is good news. To learn more exactly how the sugar is whitened without the use of bone char, please click the following link:
So you ask, being that there is no nutritional benefit in buying the more expensive product, will I go back to the white refined sugar that has been in households for generations?-probably!! I will see how I feel when the bag I just bought is finished.
Some of the other types of sugar that I use in my cooking and baking are:
Unsulfered Blackstrap Molasses: I use it because the iron content is high and it is unsulphered., which means less processing and a shorter ingredient list. I always try to use products that are less processed than their counterparts. A word to the wise. This molasses is quite strong in flavour, so you may have to adjust the amounts used in any given recipe.
Oganic Raw Blue Agave Syrup: I was introduced to this syrup (sort of looks like corn syrup) when I started experimenting with vegan cooking. It comes from the agave plant and is supposed to have more nutrient value than white sugar. Many experts dispute this, but I use it because , “it is produced at temperatures below 118 °F (48 °C) to protect the natural enzymes, so this variety could be considered an appropriate sweetener for raw foodists.” *
|Brown rice and Agave Syrups|
Brown Rice Syrup: This very sticky and sweet syrup is reserved for a vegan version of the my mom’s butter tarts-the ones that my daughter and many family members so loved. If we were lucky there was a tin of these fresh wonders sitting on top of the fridge when we arrived for a visit. If we were really, really lucky Mom would be sitting on the front step waiting for us to arrive-ah, home! There is nothing in this world quite like it.
Maple Syrup– Rumors abound that producers of this home grown Quebec elixir, use lard as a de-foaming agent. I have not found any evidence of this, so I will assume the best.
So, after this long discourse, you are probably wondering if I really do bake. There are no pictures to prove it, no recipes, no step by step. Well, yes I do bake and this is what I will be serving up in my next post. Stay tuned.
GRAMMIE ANNIE’S VEGAN VIEW
In this age of instant info on the internet, we have all manner of resources at our fingertips to help us increase our knowledge about that which we are passionate. When doing research on the internet, always try to verify said information on more than one site. Check out the websites of the companies whose products you are using, as well as the websites of nutritionists, doctors, naturopathic doctors and scientists. See what is out there and reflect on what how this information can help on this journey we call life.
Here are two links that I believe are worth checking out.
Until next time,
May all beings be happy and free.
* Wikipedia -definition of bone char
* Wikipedia-definition of Raw Agave Syrup
THE SKINNY ON PROCESSED SUGAR (VEGAN AND OTHERWISE)