Where does the sugar in your morning coffee come from? Imagine if it grew in your own backyard.
That’s right: you can harvest sugar, and likely cut carbon emissions, even if you live in a cold climate. But that’s not all. Here are four ways to “green” your sweetener, from the unusual to the common sensible:
Sugar beets may not be the most attractive vegetable, with their gnarled white tubers and reaching roots. But they are just the treat if you live in a chilly region and have an available patch of land.
Like sugarcane, beets produce sucrose, the familiar organic compound in table sugar. Though it sounds strange now, growing beets for sugar is an American tradition. Historically, when sugarcane was far more expensive, they were a fixture in many backyards. Today more than half of the sugar in the U.S. comes from sugar beets.
Perhaps home gardening is not for you, but you still want to use local products produced nearby. By doing so, you will reduce the carbon emissions from shipping and support your community. In addition, these products are often harvested on a small, sustainable scale and minimally packaged.
Sugarcane is grown in tropical and subtropical areas, but there are good alternatives if you live in a cool climate. In the Northeast U.S., genuine maple syrup is an excellent choice. You can also find honey at farmer’s markets across the country.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, sugarcane cultivation is responsible for “more biodiversity loss than any other crop.” The farming process harms natural habitats and causes toxic runoff of pesticides and herbicides. But sustainable farming practices are becoming more widespread.
Organic sugarcane is farmed without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. In addition, most organic sugar is crystallized from evaporated cane juice, which reduces processing time and its resulting carbon emissions. Bonus: organic sugar is reputed to contain vitamins and minerals usually lost in the refining process.
Look for organic sugar at your grocery store or coop.
Less processing usually means less carbon emissions, so “raw” and minimally refined sweeteners can be a good choice. Raw sugar, for example, requires fewer manufacturing steps and often includes minerals stripped from its more processed counterparts. Raw honey boasts nutrients and antibacterial properties, and it requires no heat at all to process.
By considering the origins of sugar, we can make informed choices, cut carbon emissions, and even participate in the process. Perhaps it will make those treats taste a little more sweet.