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Chef's Perspective: Sweet Beyond Sugar

My son was recently in a school production of Mary Poppins.  You remember – “Just a spoonful of sugar…”.  If that were written today, it might have been “a spoonful of all-natural, organic sugar substitute.”  As consumers and operators search for “cleaner” products and “better-for-you” ingredients, sugar seems to be the next ingredient on the chopping block.  The world’s collective sweet tooth isn’t going away, but it is evolving and maturing.  Sure, sweets are enticing – and even addictive!  And we know that sugar consumed in excess is often linked to weight gain, premature aging, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Some sugars are labeled raw, organic, unrefined, or vegan, but they’re all the same to your body and work the same way in the bloodstream.  Because of this, we are becoming more discerning about the source of sweetness in our foods.  
Restaurants and manufacturers can capitalize on the sweet beyond-sugar trend by incorporating various alternatives to traditional sweeteners, such as refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Ingredients such as pure maple syrup, sorghum, agave nectar, coconut sugar, honey, malted barley extracts, dried fruit, banana puree, and 100% fruit juice (no sugar added) add subtle sweetness and depth of flavor.
I love cooking with local, all-natural honey.  There are so many flavors depending on where the bees collect the nectar.  Tupelo, heather and clover honey will add flavor profiles to a dish.  I also learned “zip code honey” to further pinpoint the origin.  Honey usage is expected to grow by almost 10%.  It’s even being used in place of simple syrup behind the bar.  I like to use a ratio of 3 parts honey to 1 part water to wake up an Old Fashions or a Margarita.
Crab Cakes

Fruit can easily be used to sweeten many recipes.  Bakers often use applesauce to eliminate much of the sugar called for in a recipe.  (Be sure to buy unsweetened, plain applesauce since many varieties include added sugar). You can even enhance your Farm-to-Table platform by making your apple sauce.  Banana puree and dried fruits can be used in sweet and savory sauces. 

Some authentic, chef-inspired sauces from Custom Culinary that use some sweet innovation include Habanero Orange, Al Pastor and Korean-Style Sweet Heat.  Our newly designed website features recipes such as Cozumel Crab Cakes with Habanero Orange Remoulade Sauce and Al Pastor Pork Kabobs.  Take a stroll around for more recipes and insights. 
While I did talk about natural sugars like honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar, I did not state that they are necessarily healthy for you. They can be as addictive as refined sugar and are empty calories.  While slightly better for you, I always preach “Everything in Moderation.”  So, use your judgment, and choose what you feel is best for yourself, your staff and your patrons.
I hope you will experiment with various sweeteners beyond sugar.  Let me know what you come up with. 

Chef Mike Speranza
Mike Speranza, CEC
Corporate Executive Chef
Custom Culinary, Inc.


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