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Coconut sugar has caramel taste, low glycemic index

How many times a week do you hear glazed doughnuts, brownies or a slice of lemon torte call your name? Let's face it, our nation is enamored with sugar, indulging in more than 156 pounds per person per year (American statistics), much of it in “hidden” forms such as desserts and sweet drinks including pop, sports energy drinks and fruit drinks. While it is not necessary to cut sugar completely out of our diets, for health's sake it would be in our best interest to lessen overall intake as well as seek sweetening agents that have a nutritional edge. One type of sweetener that might fit into this category is coconut sugar also known simply as coco sugar.
Over the last decade, coconut sugar—used for thousands of years as a sweetener in South and Southeast Asia—has caught the attention of research scientists. While coconut sugar has a high mineral content, rich in potassium, zinc, magnesium and iron among other minerals, and as well contains several B vitamins, it would be unwise to rely on any type of sugar for these nutrients. What is particularly noteworthy when it comes to coconut sugar and its health benefits is its low glycemic index.

Measures glucose
Glycemic Index is a numerical scale that measures and ranks the glucose in the blood two or three hours after eating. Foods with a high GI will trigger a sudden increase in blood sugar levels which means they are quickly absorbed causing the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin. Much better for the body are foods with a low GI which indicates they are more slowly absorbed, thus preventing the insulin spike and helping to balance and control conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity.
The reference point the GI scale uses to measure foods is pure glucose with a GI of 100. Let's check the GI of common sweeteners using this reference point: white sugar has a GI of 80, corn syrup 75, maple syrup 54, honey 50 and coconut sugar 30-35 (depending on which sources one consults).
One factor to be considered when reviewing these indexes is that in normal diets, the food one ingests in a single meal is a mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat so the overall GI is certainly lower than that of pure white sugar, for example, even if there is some sugar in the meal. It is easy to see, however, that a diet high in sweet foods would be cause for more frequent and more pronounced spikes in blood sugar which has implications for raising serum cholesterol levels, increasing plaque deposits in the arteries and raising the risk of some cancers.

Tapping the sap
So is it possible to substitute coconut sugar for common white and brown sugars used for the majority of sweet baked goods, fruit preservation and sweetening drinks? There are several things to consider that might help you decide. Coconut sugar is produced by tapping the sap of the cut flower buds of the coconut palm tree which grows in tropical countries (the world's largest producers of coconuts are the Philippines and Indonesia), then placing it over moderate heat to evaporate the moisture content which transforms it into a thick syrup and reduced further to sugar crystals (block or soft paste form). Thus coconut sugar is most like brown sugar, with a hint of caramel but no coconut flavour. Colour, sweetness and flavour may vary slightly from one package to the next depending on harvesting and method of sap reduction. It should be noted that sourced from plantations in Southeast Asia, it is also organic.
Because the texture of coconut sugar is similar to brown sugar, it may be substituted directly, one to one, which is not the case with liquid sweetening agents such as syrups or honey, or sugar substitutes such as stevia (GI=0). Expect, however, to pay more for coconut sugar than common sugars.
You might also investigate various baking mixes for cookies, bars and muffins using coconut sugar as an ingredient.