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Green sweeteners: 4 tips for your sweet tooth

Posted by Meg Stout on May 22, 2012
Tags: green tips

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:

1. Grow your own

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.

These days, some modern homesteaders are even hosting growing events, like the Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project. Learn how to make sugar from beets in your own kitchen.

2. Use local sweeteners

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.

3. Choose organic options

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.

4. Go raw

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.


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Carrie Sonneborn
Posts: 84
Reply #2 on : Tue May 22, 2012, 21:50:08
Local honey has the added advantage of supporting local beekeepers who are important in ameliorating colony collapse syndrome - and providing local pollinators for your garden!
Louise Stonington
Posts: 84
Sweet vegetables
Reply #1 on : Tue May 22, 2012, 22:35:55
Sweet is relative. Stop eating sugar, honey, dried fruit, and any products containing them, including sweetened cereals, juices, condiments and sauces. Eliminate white flour, and reduce fruit to a few ounces a day.. Give yourself time, a month or two. Then, you can get absolutely giddy on the sweetness of asparagus, a baked potato, toasted pecans, broiled trout, or sweet potato chips. Oh my. Eating will never be the same.