Recently there have been a lot of questions about sucanat, also called dehydrated or crystallized cane sugar. Questions such as “what the heck is crystallized cane juice if not sugar?”. Products like Florida Crystals are on the Co-op selves and in some of our deli products. We sell several types of “sugar” in our bulk bins, and now people are beginning to ask why. One member claims that it “sounds close enough to sugar to be sugar.” This member is right…sort of.
It takes a lot of labor to produce standard white sugar. Various other types of sugars are created first as part of that process. Cane is harvested and ground into small pieces which are dehydrated. At this point, crystallized cane juice, also called sucanat, is formed. Then the sugar is milled. After the first couple millings, the end product is called Turbinado sugar. Florida Crystals is a brand name of turbinado sugar. The sugar is milled again—up to ten times total—and bleached to create white sugar. In addition, white sugar is crushed with animal bones to get those “perfect” crystals, which is the reason products made with sugar are not considered vegan. Often, processed brown sugar is white sugar to which molasses has been added. Maple sugar is not from sugar cane at all; it comes from crystallized maple syrup. Similarly, date sugar comes from grinding up crystallized dates.)
The nutrition levels of the different sugars vary with their degree of processing. Sucanat ranks the highest, containing less sucrose than white sugar. This means it metabolizes at a slower rate. White sugar enters the bloodstream quicker, giving you a more drastic sugar high and corresponding sugar low. Turbinado rates within the two, although closer to white sugar. And brown sugar, ranks the same as white sugar both in terms of metabolism and nutrition.
Unmilled or partially milled sugars have become very popular in recent years due to their increased use in diet centers and cookbooks, especially whole foods cookbooks. Also, many strict vegetarians choose to use alternatives. The substitutes can be used in any recipe that calls for white sugar.
However, while sucanat and turbinado are healthier than white sugar, they are still not health food. Sucanat contains only trace minerals and is not a significant source of any nutrient. Sugar contains no nutrients of note and adds only empty calories to the diet.
Information from “Stop the Sugar Blues” by Melissa Diane Smith