In recent years, coconut sugar has been promoted as a healthier sweetening option when compared to cane sugar. Is this true? Will both of these sugars work equally well in most or all applications? These are a couple of the questions that we will answer in this edition of SPICEography Showdown.
How does coconut sugar differ from cane sugar?
The first big difference between coconut sugar and cane sugar is the fact that they have different sources. While they are both technically sugar, they obviously come from different plants. Coconut sugar comes from the reduced sap of the coconut palm, while cane sugar comes from reduced sugar cane juice.
Another big difference between them is the sweetness. Coconut sugar is noticeably less sweet than cane sugar. According to some estimates, it has about 75 percent of cane sugar’s sweetness. The reduced sweetness may have to do with the fact that coconut sugar comes with nutrients that are not found in cane or sugar or not found in the same concentrations. Along with its sweetness, coconut sugar has caramel and toffee notes; cane sugar is simply sweet.
Coconut sugar also has a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, which means that it takes longer to spike blood sugar when compared to cane sugar. Coconut sugar supposedly has a glycemic index of 35 while cane sugar has one of 60. While some experts doubt the veracity of those numbers, the fact that coconut sugar contains inulin may slow down the rate at which it is absorbed into the bloodstream to a certain extent. Cane sugar does not contain inulin. Note that even with its additional vitamins and minerals, coconut sugar is far from being a nutritional powerhouse. The nutrients it contains are present in trace amounts.
Can you use coconut sugar in place of cane sugar and vice versa?
Both coconut sugar and cane sugar are sweeteners, which means that their primary flavor is that of sweetness. Because of this, they can be used interchangeably in a broad range of applications. However, they are not identical and this means that they are not ideal substitutes for each other in every instance. The difference in sweetness is one factor to keep in mind.
Because coconut sugar is not as sweet as cane sugar, you may need to use more of it to get the same level of sweetness. In a cake recipe where you will creaming butter and sugar, using more sugar will probably result in a longer mixing time. If you decide to use it in a recipe that calls for cane sugar, keep its flavor and appearance in mind. While the caramel flavor notes and golden brown color of coconut sugar may be welcome additions to some recipes, they may be negatives in others.
Cane sugar can be used in place of coconut sugar, but you will need to use less of it. You will also not get the color and flavor notes that you would get from coconut sugar. In addition, you will not benefit from the inulin component of coconut sugar.
When should you use coconut sugar and when should you use cane sugar?
Use coconut sugar in dishes where you want its deeper, richer flavor and darker color. Examples of dishes where coconut sugar would be at home include chocolate desserts, oatmeal and barbecue sauces. Cane sugar is better suited for foods where you want only the sweetness of sugar with no other flavor notes. Use it in dishes that are supposed to have a paler color and clean, simple flavors.