Last Updated: Dec 22, 2014
Coconut sugar is a light brown to reddish brown crystalline sugar created from the sap collected from blossom stems of the coconut palm tree. It has quickly become a popular natural sweetener in recent years because of its particularly low glycemic index as well as nutrient-rich profile.
Also referred to as palm sugar or coconut palm sugar, it should not be confused with other types of palm sugar that come exclusively from certain species of date palm or the Arenga saccharifera palm tree.
Coconut palm sugar can be a healthier option and tasty sugar substitute for highly refined or processed sweeteners. As a natural sugar it provides nutritional value in the form of minerals and amino acids. In addition, it helps to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels which make it a viable consideration for some people with diabetes.
We do not advocate consuming even the "healthy" concentrated sugars, like coconut sugar, in large amounts on a regular basis.
These types of sweeteners make great alternatives to high glycemic, highly processed or artificial varieties. To maintain a health promoting diet, however, they should be consumed in small amounts.
We use them, along with stevia, to sweeten occasional dessert recipes and holiday treats and, for this purpose, they can be a convenient and improved choice over the traditionally used cane sugar or corn syrup sweeteners.
Most coconut sugars on the market are not considered a "truly raw"
product because the coconut sap is boiled before it is crystallized into
sugar form. The only company's we know of that produce a "raw" (heated
below 118°F) coconut palm sugar are the brands Coconut Secrets and Divine Organics.
This may or may not be of concern to some of you simply looking for a lower glycemic sugar substitute. It is important to note, however, that some of the nutritional benefits may be lost during the high heat boiling process.
Lower quality coconut sugar is typically heated up to temperatures of 250°F or more and we have noticed tends to be much sweeter in taste than low temperature variations. Other brands, like Sunfood, claim that their palm sugars are only heated to the point of boiling, which is approximately 212°F.
Coconut sugar has a mild caramelized, butterscotch flavor and doesn't really taste at all that much like coconut, which might seem surprising. This is most likely because the sugar is not derived from the actual coconuts themselves.
Coconut palm crystals may also vary in texture and coarseness depending on the moisture content. Most brands are not uniform in size but are quite fine with some larger granules mixed in.
The glycemic index (GI) is the standard measurement used to rank how fast blood sugar levels rise after we drink or eat a particular type of beverage or food over a 2-3 hour period of time. (*) The higher a food raises blood sugar, the higher its glycemic index.
Concentrated sweeteners naturally have a higher GI compared to other foods, so it is important to select types that are released slowly into the bloodstream with a lower GI of 55 or less. These are the most beneficial to consume, especially if you enjoy them on an ongoing basis.
Coconut sugar has a GI of 35, which is naturally lower in comparison to cane sugar (GI 58-65) and high fructose corn syrup (GI 87-100).
In addition, the presence of Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and the polysaccharide inulin, a prebiotic fiber that aids in the process of digestion, are key factors that help maintain lower glycemic levels. This is especially the case for low temp heated raw coconut palm sugar as it has close to the original nutrient content of the fresh sap.
Moreover, these prebiotic constituents help to feed and increase the healthy flora in our intestines." All inulin-type prebiotics, including FOS, are generally thought to stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria species. Bifidobacteria are considered beneficial bacteria." (Source)
Low glycemic sweeteners are better choices for most people, but they are especially good for diabetics and those wanting to loose excess body weight. Because coconut sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream at a significantly slower rate, there are none of the high and low glucose fluctuations often associated with other sweeteners. Spikes in blood sugar are also often associated with addictive eating behaviors and cravings for more sugar soon afterwards.
There are other natural sugar substitutes that we would recommend, such as stevia, xylitol or yacon syrup, that can be used with coconut crystals in recipes to lower the GI even more.
In addition, coconut sugar contains the low glycemic carbohydrate called inositol, which adds to its sweet taste. Inositol is necessary for normal nerve function and is especially beneficial to diabetics as it helps to relieve diabetic neuropathy.
The flavor of coconut palm sugar works very well in most recipes that call for cane sugar and the consistency is very similar. Xylitol also offers this option to a certain degree, but the taste is not as flavorful in our opinion.
As a white sugar alternative, some say it can be used in a 1:1 ratio replacement in baked goods or raw recipes. This is more or less true for the non-raw palm sugar brands, but when trying to get the same level of sweetness as that of white sugar you would need more like 1 1/4 :1 when using the raw crystals.
Sugar cane is additionally higher in fructose content than coconut palm. In general it is best to keep fructose consumption to a minimum, cane sugar is about 50% fructose compared to the 3-9% fructose in palm sugar.
Raw versions in our opinion are not as sweet as the highly heated varieties that extremely concentrate the sugars. They can also be more beneficial health-wise as they contain a greater amount of enzymes and nutrients.
The rich volcanic soils that coconut palm trees grow in are full of nutrients and are the primary source of food for these tall resilient trees. The sap and nectar, from which the sugar is created, is therefore considerably high in amino acids, minerals, vitamins and trace elements. This is especially true for the low temperature heated crystals.
High quality coconut sugars are known to contain good amounts of magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium and are a natural source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, C and amino acids (especially glutamine).
As we mentioned, the sugar crystals are also rich in inositol (vitamin B8), which is known to be helpful for inflammation, high cholesterol, diabetes as well as depression.
sugar does not come from the actual coconut like many
believe, but is provided by the sweet stem sap of the "coconut palm blossom",
the flower that blooms to make the actual coconut. This is not the same palm tree species that produces "red palm oil" and is only distantly related to desert palm tree fruit or date palm.
The group of yellow flower clusters, called the inflorescence, are at the very top of the Coco Nucifera palm tree. When the blossoms are mature, the nectar must be skillfully retrieved by climbing to the top of the coconut palm several times a day. The tapped sap, referred to as a "toddy", is slowly extracted over a period of time by tapping the end of a cut flower blossom stem.
Coconut nectar is produced by slowly heating this sap between 105°F-250°F (or more depending on the company) for a period of time between 1 1/2 - 3 hours to thicken it into syrup. This process also causes the sap to deepen in color.
High quality "raw" coconut sugar is only heated to a temperature of approximately 105°F-110°F, which is the lower end of this heat spectrum. The nectar or syrup is further evaporated to remove the water content which forms a light caramel-colored crystallized sugar.
fresh milky sap, called a toddy, is commonly consumed fresh or fermented by native
peoples in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to make "palm wine or
coconut vodka." It can also be used to make vinegar or a soy sauce-like condiment.
It is best to buy low-temp processed organic coconut palm sugar that is ecologically grown. This helps ensure quality and that it is not processed with additives or preservatives that are common when evaporating sugars for mass production.
The Coco Nucifera palms are not harmed through the sap tapping process. Once tapped, however, the coconut blossoms, which would normally produce coconuts at some point, do not continue to further develop as fruit. That is to say that coconut palms, used to make coconut products such as coconut oil, cannot produce both coconuts and coconut sugar simultaneously.
What this means is that all trees used to make coconut sugar or nectar are usually designated for such purposes. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, coconut palm sugar crops are said to produce 50-75 percent more sugar per acre than cane sugar and also use a lower percentage of nutrients from the soils they grow in.
For raw dehydrated cookie making, we have to say, that coconut palm
sugar is one of our preferred favorites, helping to transform any
traditional cookie recipe into a more nutritiously sweetened version.
The sugar blends well into most desserts and is very tasty in our coconut lemon bar recipe, blended half and half with raw honey as well as in our raw peanut butter cookies. It is notably delicious in any recipe using carob powder, cacao or when making raw chocolate.
Coconut crystals dissolve easily in liquid and are convenient to use for sweetening drinks and herbal teas.
You can also, over time, begin mixing it with other sweeteners like monk fruit, yacon, lucuma or stevia to create the perfect combination of sweetness that may be more in line with your current health goals.