Recently, my most talented baker friend asked me about coconut sugar. What’s the deal? Is it worth all of the hype? Coconut sugar isn’t anything new, but it sure is trendy, with a nice big health halo around it.
This coarse, sandy sugar is often found in southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Coconut sugar isn’t actually made from the coconut itself. The sugar comes from the sap of blossoms found on the coconut tree that is then heated until much of the water has evaporated. It has the look of wet sand from a Los Angeles beach and smells like graham crackers! For taste and look, the closest item to use as a substitute is brown sugar. I about fell over when I saw how much stores charge for this stuff. I’m sorry, but I am not paying $7 for a little bag of sugar. Luckily, Sprouts sells it in the bulk foods section so I could buy just the amount that I needed to make my Three Grain Granola! Score!
So, what are the claimed benefits of coconut sugar?
1. Can be used in baking.
The dark color will turn your baked goods brown, so use in items where you would use brown sugar.
2. It is supposedly low on the glycemic index. Dr Oz said so, so it must be true! (Glycemic index value, or GI, is how a carbohydrate ingredient raises blood sugar levels when measured against either white bread or glucose.)
The GI value of coconut sugar seems to range between 35-54, depending on the organization that tested it. The lower number on the range was reported by the Philippine Coconut Authority, while the higher number of 54 was reported by the official GI folks at the University of Sydney. I think the score of 54 reported by the more reputable organization is probably the most accurate. With white sugar being in the 60-65 range, the difference isn’t that huge between coconut sugar and white sugar.
The American Diabetes Association makes a great point. Even if coconut sugar is low on the Glycemic Index, most likely you’re going to be adding it to carbohydrate laden foods. They recommend that you don’t put a health halo over coconut sugar because it still contains about 15 calories and 4 grams of total carbohydrates per teaspoon and ya know what ingredient has those same stats?? Regular ol’ white sugar! Honestly, I don’t pay too much attention to the Glycemix Index because it doesn’t take into account the amount of food that is eaten or the food that you eat with the carbohydrate containing food.
3. It contains important minerals like potassium, magnesium, and phosphorous!
Does coconut sugar have enough of these minerals to make it a good source? Um, no way. I’m not going to tell you that you can replace fruits and veggies with coconut sugar. You’re not going to eat more sugar so you can get more minerals. Doesn’t work like that folks. Eat your fruits and veggies.
4. Coconut sugar is more “natural”.
Some may say that coconut sugar isn’t as “processed” as white sugar and is more “natural”. First of all, there is no legal definition of the term natural. It can apply to anything really. Your dog’s poop is natural. Does that mean you want to eat it?
5. It contains inulin. Inulin is a type of fiber, with a sweet taste, found in some plants, but most often extracted from chicory root and used to cheaply bulk up the fiber content in a ton of processed products like cereals and granola bars.
Yes, coconut sugar does contain some inulin; however, it’s not enough to make it a “health food”. Inulin and the minerals mentioned previously put coconut sugar in the category of slightly less bad than white sugar. Inulin is also highly fermentable in the gut, so if you have issues with gas and bloating, too much inulin may aggravate those symptoms.
6. Coconut sugar is a good option for vegans who avoid bulk cane sugar. Fun fact: much of the bulk cane sugar is whitened using animal bone char as a filter, which is why many vegans do not eat non-organic cane sugar.
This one is absolutely true!!
What’s my final verdict on coconut sugar? It’s still sugar. It’s still not a health food. Enjoy it if you like the taste, but use sparingly in the same way you would with any other sugar product. If you need to keep your dish vegan, coconut sugar is a good option.
Now here’s a granola recipe using coconut sugar! You can use brown sugar if coconut sugar isn’t available. Many granolas in the supermarket are laden with fat, calories and sugar, so my goal was to to lessen those components, while adding more protein through the addition of quinoa! I like to use granola, not as the star of the show, but as a crunchy garnish, or witty supporting character that makes the show a must see! It’s delicious atop yogurt (especially any flavor of Siggi’s Icelandic-style yogurt) and accompanied by fresh berries!
Full disclosure: I am a Siggi’s ambassador, but they did not compensate me to say their yogurt is delicious. It’s seriously good…yum!
Granola is a great vehicle for different types of whole grains! The addition of quinoa offers a hearty dose of protein. If coconut sugar is unavailable, brown sugar will work in a pinch.
If you love the spiciness of ginger, add 4 TBSP chopped crystallized ginger after granola is done baking.
- 2 cups old fashioned oats (use Certified Gluten Free oats for granola to be Gluten Free)
- 1/2 cup millet
- 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed in a strainer until foaminess is gone
- 1/2 cup pepitas
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (Grade B is fine)
- 1/4 cup neutral oil such as grapeseed or canola
- 1 ripe banana, peeled
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, millet, quinoa, pepitas, sunflower seeds, coconut flakes, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and salt.
- Add the coconut sugar, maple syrup, oil and banana to a blender. Blend on high speed until mixture is well blended. Pour banana mixture over the oat mixture and stir to evenly coat the oats with the liquid.
- Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Spread granola evenly across pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. I usually bake it for about an hour and 5 to 10 minutes. Be sure to stir granola every 15 minutes. After the first hour, watch granola carefully so that it doesn't brown too much. If the coconut flakes are getting too brown, remove granola from oven. Granola will will get crunchier as it cools.