That's actually rapadura sugar pictured above, not sand, but fair enough.
The other day on the co-op FB page, Ellen Anthony, our Bulk Dept buyer and a core, founding member of FH (anything she doesn't know about the co-op is a thing not worth knowing) made the observation that the "regular" (ie, white, or white-ish) granulated sugar far outsold all the other sugar varieties she has on offer in her department. My first thought (right after, "More for me!") was "Too bad, people don't realize what they're missing out on." Last year I made a batch of Rosa Jackson's green tomato jam with ginger and vanilla but knew I wanted to use something more complex and flavorful than the white sugar called for in the recipe, or the standard brown sugar. I wanted a sweetener that would lend richness but not be overpowering or "too sweet". I perused the Bulk section and chose the rapadura, which is dried sugarcane juice which has been heated at low temperatures, and from which the molasses component has not been removed. Jo Whitten's article on her blog Quirky Food explains some of the difference between rapadura, sucanant, and so-called "raw sugar" (which really isn't raw); according to her rapadura is the least processed of all the currently marketed "natural" sugars, and contains the most minerals and nutrients. Standard brown sugar, btw, is sugar that has been stripped of its molasses component to make white sugar, to which the molasses has then been added back to make brown sugar. (Got that?) I doubt that either M.C. Escher or Rube Goldberg could top that little mind-bend.
Not that I'm fooling myself that any sort of sugar, no matter how minimally processed, is truly "healthy". But in terms of the jam recipe, rapadura worked more beautifully than I could have imagined, complimenting the other ingredients, and balancing the tartness of the unripe tomatoes and lemon juice with the heat of fresh ginger and the sweetness of the vanilla bean. The result looked like this:
And the taste? Let me go through those ingredients again: green tomatoes from my garden with fresh ginger, whole vanilla bean, a splash of lemon juice, and a complex natural sugar possessing subtle molasses top notes. And still not as good as you're imagining it right now. Better. Ridiculously good on a piece of whole-grain crusty bread (from Fiddleheads, natch), slathered with homemade coconut-milk keifer, which had the consistency of whipped cream cheese and tasted like coconut-infused sour cream:
Although my favorite way to consume it tended to be straight out of the jar. (Heaven forgive my gluttony but...mercy, that was delicious.)
In any case, the moral of the story is that you can get some really wonderful, tasty, beautiful results with stuff that looks like beach sand. I've since used rapadura in a variety of baked goods or any recipe that calls for brown sugar; in cakes, quickbreads, etc it not only lends it's complex flavor but also produces a pleasingly moist crumb. This summer I made my first batch of Regan Burn's recipe for homemade root beer, and I stuck to the recipe's white sugar and molasses, as it was my first time brewing soda; however I have a bag of rapadura in the kitchen at the ready for the next batch.
Other recipes I think rapadura would be perfectly suited include Cathy Elton's vegan chocolate banana muffins, which are also low-fat; and this black sticky gingerbread from 101 Cookbooks, which is definitely NOT vegan or low-fat. (Just sayin'.)
I have not tried all the sugars on offer at the co-op, but am curious about how some of the others compare to the rapadura, or indeed to the wet sweeteners maple syrup, honey, and agave (a whole 'nother discussion by itself) in terms of flavor and characteristics. Has anyone tried coconut sugar, for instance? What's your favorite sweetener, if you still use any? (And if not - how did you wean yourself from the addiction?)
Correction 12/17/11: I had forgotten to put up the hyperlink to the root beer recipe I used (third paragraph from bottom), or credit Regan Burns for it. That has been corrected.
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Text and photos copyright 2011-2013 Janice Janostak unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.