I'll be talking about sugar in this post, and let's get one thing out of the way right upfront: As far as the human body is concerned, natural sugar in any form is....sugar. The body does not know the difference between white sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, honey, or any other natural sweetener.
Natural sugar is a carbohydrate. Chemically, it's a simple compound: glucose + fructose = sugar. When the body consumes a sugar molecule, it breaks it down into three macronutrients: glucose, fructose, and galactose. The body converts sugar, and all carbohydrates, into these macronutrients for energy.
What About Honey, Honey?
Honey, often touted for its health benefits, is still a natural sugar and a carbohydrate. As a sweetener, the body does not treat it any differently than any other form of natural sugar.
However, honey does have a slight advantage in that it is lower on the glycemic index than sugar, which means it takes longer to cause a spike in blood sugar. Honey is also sweeter than sugar, so less is needed to achieve the desired level of taste. For people who are diabetic or insulin resistant, it's good to remember that it's only beneficial as a substitute if they actually use less of it.
The health benefits come from honey's antioxidant properties, enzymes, and minerals, which vary depending on whether the honey is raw or pasteurized and it's origin.
Raw sugar is also often presented as being "healthier" than white sugar. But, as you likely have already guessed, it's still a carbohydrate and still converted in the body the same as any other natural sugar.
A benefit of raw sugar is that it is less processed. This makes no difference from a nutritional standpoint. It matters from an environmental standpoint. As is true of processing wheat for flour, various chemicals are used to keep the sugar white and to remove impurities. With raw sugar, the rich brown color and molasses flavor is desirable, which means a somewhat cleaner process for getting it to market.
The Fake Stuff
The most significant advantage to using artificial sweeteners is that they're not carbohydrates, which benefits diabetics and insulin resistance folks. In this case, the body does metabolize these products very differently. Rather than converting the product into glucose, most artificial sweeteners are processed through the liver and the byproducts are passed through the urine. They're also low in calories or have no calories, which is a benefit for weight control.
The downsides to using artificial sweeteners is that even the ones derived from plants or herbs (stevia, sugar alcohols, monk fruit) can cause gas, bloating, and other undesirable side effects, particularly if too much is consumed. On a personal note, I've found that it doesn't take much of an artificial sweetener to give me swollen ankles for several days.
Ultimately though, as a baker, the main objection I have to using artificial sweeteners is the aftertaste. Much like anything artificial—whether it's artificial colors or artificial flavors—there is a distinct and very unpleasant (IMO) aftertaste that ruins the quality of the finished product.
Another objection is that for many of the mass-produced, low-calorie baked goods, the sweetener is often replaced with fat to get the same mouth feel and flavor. So, if you're counting calories, reading labels is critical because you could very well be shaving off the total calorie count but increasing your intake of unhealthy fats.
Mama Donna's Products
At Mama Donna's Bakery, when it comes to sugar, we prefer to use what comes naturally, and we make the effort to use it wisely.
The type of natural sugar we choose depends largely on the product being made. For cakes, cupcakes, and other finely textured products, our go-to sugar is superfine granulated sugar, which is also known as caster sugar or tea sugar. It's a white sugar ground into very fine crystals, so it dissolves quickly and cleanly. We also use less than what most recipes call for and have experimented extensively to use the minimum amount to achieve the right balance of sweetness. This is particularly true for products made with fruit where the natural sweetness of flavor of the fruit is given a chance to shine through.
For breads, the preference is for honey or molasses, which is just enough to make the yeast happy without adding extra sweetness to the breads. Our Multigrain Bread, Rye Breads, andBagelsare very low in sugar. Braided Brioche is supposed to be a sweeter bread, so it has a little more; and the Babka is, of course, the sweetest of the bunch.
For everything else, raw sugar gives some excellent results. It adds a deeper, richer flavor to everything from Croissants to Biscotti. Its large crystal structure makes it a great choice for sprinkling on Scones or Muffins.
If you're concerned about the amount of sugar used or just don't like things that are "too sweet," let us know! Because we bake "to order," we can customize your order to give you all the benefits of natural sugars in quantities that match your personal taste.