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Palm / Coconut / Arenga / Jaggery / Coconut Blossom Sugar: this sugar is gaining in popularity due to its low glycemic index (without being high in fructose), high nutrient value, and push from NGO’s and producer groups to boost the industry. It has been used for quite some time in South Asia. This sugar is made from collecting the sap from palm flowers (and not the fruit of the palm itself, such as date or coconut). It’s then boiled to a concentrated form and then further processed to its dry, granulated form. Due to the very high mineral content (even higher than whole can sugar), it has a low glycemic index of 35 (agave ranges from 27-41, honey 55, cane sugar 68). It’s especially high in Potassium, Magnesium, Zinc and Iron and is also a natural source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and C. It’s approx. 70% sucrose, followed by fructose and glucose. It has a very rich, buttery and carmel flavor likened to butterscotch, and is considered less bitter than cane sugar. When purchasing, be aware that Thai coconut sugar is frequently blended with white cane sugar or malt sugar. In Thai cuisine, palm and coconut sugar are used interchangeably. According to Kasma Loha-unchit: Although the names are used interchangeably, palm sugar and coconut sugar are not the same. One comes from the palmyra or sugar palm and the other from coconut palm, but both are produced from the sweet, watery sap that drips from cut flower buds. The FAO (Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) claims coconut sugar is the single most sustainable sweetener in the world (produces an average of 50-75% more sugar per acre than cane sugar and use less than 1/5th the nutrients for that production). A few good brands (100% palm, not mixed) currently available are Ultimate Superfoods (which will soon be re-branded under the name Ojio), Navitas, and Big Tree Farms (SweetTree).
Rapadura / Panela / Jaggery (usually palm, sometimes cane) / Papelσn / Whole Cane Sugar: evaporated sugar cane juice. It’s extracted from the sugar cane using a press or composting process and is then evaporated to dry and form granules (not heated or spun like regular white sugar, thus most vitamins and minerals have been retained). Because of little processing it maintains its natural balance of sucrose, glucose, and fructose, and still contains components to aid in digestion. It is metabolized more slowly than white sugar, and therefore will not affect your blood sugar levels like white sugar. This is metabolized by the water kefir the slowest as well, allowing for a more even ferment (especially in hotter weather) and tends to promote the most growth and health. It is also called Raspadura or Tapa Dulce. One prominent brand that sells this sugar type (even going so far as to compost the sugar rather than heat it) is Rapunzel.
Muscavado / Turbinado / Demarara / Sucanat / Raw Sugar: more refined cane juice than Rapadura but less refined than white sugar. The cane juice is heated until crystals form and then spun to separate from the syrup (producing molasses). The crystals are later added back with some of the molasses in artificial proportions. The molasses contains vitamins and minerals, making this still a decent option for water kefir, however it may or may not be more beneficial than simply white sugar plus molasses, or brown sugar. Keep in mind the term ‘raw’ is used quite loosely, mostly to designate that it hasn’t been stripped of its minerals – all sugar is processed if its in a granulated form. A truly raw form of sugar would be the sugar cane stalk itself (such as the raw swizzle sticks, which are pre-peeled strips of raw cane sugar).
White sugar: processed and refined cane juice. The cane juice is heated until crystals form and then spun to seperate the molasses. The crystals are then spun again, dissolved, and boiled to crystallize further a couple more times, each time removing almost all traces of the molasses (the vitamin and mineral components naturally found in sugar cane juice). Water kefir often needs supplements in their diet if they are to be fed all white sugar. You may need to add in baking soda and calcium as well as including the dried fruit and lemon each time to ensure enough minerals are provided.
Molasses: the thick syrup byproduct of sugar cane juice that has been boiled 1-3 times, separating the crystals from the syrupy juice. It is still mostly sucrose by calories, but contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals, unlike the crystals. Blackstrap molasses (the darkest, most rich) is the result of white sugar that has been processed to its fullest extent, leaving almost all of the available vitamins and minerals behind in the molasses. It is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and some iron (for both you and your grains). This is metabolized slightly faster than Rapadura, because it has been heated and somewhat processed (it’s the byproduct of the processed white sugar crystals). Sulphured molasses is made from young sugar cane, which requires sulphur dioxide to preserve it. Unsulphured molasses is made of mature sugar cane which does not require the help of sulphur dioxide to preserve it. Water kefir works well with a blend of the highly concentrated Blackstrap molasses and white sugar. Blending it with unrefined sugar such as Rapadura can result in too many minerals.
Brown sugar (light or dark): white sugar mixed with varying amounts of molasses, this is why its sticky and moist.
Confectioner’s / Powdered / Icing / Castor / Superfine: refined white sugar of different sizes – most being very fine and very quickly absorbed by whomever is digesting them. This is not a healthy option for anyone or for water kefir.
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