Friday, March 6, 2009

Sugar Free

I've mentioned previously that we don't do sugar, and since I'm bunkered down in my bedroom pretending there's not a mouse on the loose in my house, I thought I'd share a bit more info on the topic. (If I'm lucky, I'll have totally forgotten the "you know what" and be convinced my dog will "fix" the problem if it attempts to entire my abode!) 
Going sugar free is something we've done, half heartedly for a while. In fact, we used a lot of Splenda, probably too much, but the price of it isn't exactly cheap. Add to that it has some interesting side effects. Okay, so do most chemicals if we choose to eat them, but the point for me was that it was a pointless gesture to do something healthy for my family if, in the long run, it wasn't truly healthy. This led to a new line of thinking, mainly towards products like stevia and honey.

Stevia wasn't entirely new to me, my mother had used it in the past. However, it wasn't exactly reliable because it's sweetness power was unreal, too much made things bitter, to little, the same effect. I was worried about spending money on a product that would be a problem to use. I'm a bit of a research freak, and did mine before setting out to buy a bottle. I decided I wanted powder, mainly because I felt I'd get the biggest bang for my buck.

Problem number one arose. The health food store I most often frequented only had tablets and liquid. I asked if she carried powder. While she said no (she's always amused by my questions.. you should see her response to questions like, "Don't you have blueberry tea?" and "Why can't you get the other version of these chocolate chips in?"), she did offer to order it for me. 

Problem number two. When someone in Tasmania says they'll order it for you. Don't just take for granted that it will be in when expected. Despite the countless boats I watch, daily, come into harbor. Despite the planes I see land a mere five minutes from my house, stock is always delayed. I don't blame the shop keepers, but it's a frustrating thing. It took about three extra days for my stevia to arrive.

The brand that I purchased is Nirvana. I only say this because I refuse to use any other brand. Mainly because I know how this brand works. I know it has no fillers (beware, some do), I know where it's made, and I can get it at a wholesale price. Add all that to the fact that once, and I mean only once, I tried another brand while awaiting a bottle to arrive, and it was iffy stuff. It's still in my cupboard saved for emergencies. Dire emergencies. Perhaps even life threatening ones, like "it's so cold my feet stuck to the floor and I absolutely must make hot cocoa" kinda of emergencies. (They exist, I promise!)

With all that said, we do use stevia quite prominently. For a while I was only using it on a few recipes, and on the rest we tended to use honey. Catch is, honey is pricey. I have to use a mild honey or my honey hater won't eat the food I make. Plus, honey has more calories then sugar. (Okay, so that might not bug some of you, but it bugged me.) That doesn't mean we don't use honey, we still go through about 1.5 kilos of honey a month (you really don't want to know how many pounds that is, and if you all ready know. Close your mouth before you swallow a fly!)

The downside to using any natural sweetener is finding a recipe. Seriously. My library has The Stevia Cookbook, but honestly I was unimpressed with it. It mainly told me how to make marinades and dressings. It wasn't helpful in the baked good area, and that's where I needed help. Somehow saying to my four year old who can't eat sugar, "Here have a dab of dressing instead!" just wasn't going to cut it for him.

Again, I'm a research freak. So I set to work. I gathered recipes, checked out books from library (that was a limited resource!), scanned the internet, etc. By the time I was done I had accumulated enough different recipes that I was satisfied with the results. We currently own three different (store bought) natural sweetener cookbooks. I have one (maybe two) more in my "someday maybe" list, and we also have a homemade cookbook as well. That one is full of recipes we've tried, tweaked, saved, etc. 

So, what are those cookbooks? The Stevia cookbook I purchased is awesome. We've yet to even put a dent in the book, and everything we've tried has been well enjoyed. My personal favorite at this stage is the Hot Cocoa recipe. It uses a meager 1/2 t of stevia and  2 T of honey. The kids love it, and the recipe makes enough to serve all four of us and have a mug or two's worth left over.

We also own a cookbook that uses fruit for sweetening with. Seriously. Sometimes it's just mashed fruit and other times it's a fruit juice concentrate. This was a small problem, because I can't just nip into the shop and pick up a bottle or can of concentrate. I have to make a trip to the health food store. It costs me 10 dollars a bottle for apple juice concentrate, 10 for cherry concentrate, and I believe it's more like 15-20 for blueberry concentrate. The book is called Sweet and Sugar Free.

A word of warning about the book. If you're into sweet things and you're still consuming pounds of sugar a day/week, you're not going to like the recipes. My family finds most sugar sweetened things too sweet and dubs them "icky". I know, we're total freaks, but we don't mind. We've tried a couple of these recipes with so-so results. Now, in all fairness I didn't have concentrate when i made these recipes so I used regular juice. I felt the batter was too dull even for my gang and added a half teaspoon of stevia into it. I'm hoping to try the Apple Coffee Cake again this weekend with apple juice concentrate though.

The other book, which is far less used, is entitled The "I Can't Believe This Has No Sugar" Cookbook. No, I'm not kidding. It's truly it's name. I say this is less used, because it calls for things like maple sugar, which I'd LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to try, but have no access to it. I frequent roughly 6 different health food stores (3 more regularly, one much less, and the other two when I'm desperate). Out of those six stores only one of the clerks knew what i was talking about. Bummer. I went the entire process of getting permission from customs to have it imported to my front door only to find out the company was going to take both arms and legs for shipping prices. 

With my cookbooks and recipes in hand I've now branched out and we use a wider variety of natural sweeteners. Maple syrup, brown rice syrup (or brown malt syrup), stevia, honey, and fruit. I'm sure I'm leaving something else off the list, but with one eye trained on the door and attempting to figure out how the dog could possibly be snoring at a time like this.... Oh right, back to the point.

With all that said, yes my kids still get to eat cookies and cakes. In fact we recently had a birthday party for our eldest and served chocolate blueberry cake (made with honey), vanilla ice cream (also made with honey), and gave out a lollipop in each take-home bag (also made with honey and a variety of other good for you type things!)

We have a running order of things that are often in the freezer:

Outside of the freezer we often have:

On rare occasions we even have dough nuts, and yes they are 100% sugar-free. The recipe I have came from a very old cookbook, and uses honey. They are old fashioned yeast dough nuts. The kids love them, and they are really simple to make, especially since I mixed the dough in the bread maker. However, they aren't lucky enough to get them very often! 

Now, I know you're wondering how we eat chocolate chips if we don't do sugar. As it turns out a company called SunSpire makes grain sweetened chocolate chips. They also make a variety of other shapes and flavors of chips. However, the grain sweetened ones only come in semi-sweet. The kids like them in their trail mix, the cookies, mixed into ice cream, or when they can, by the handful.

Downside? For those of us residing in Tasmania they aren't very easy to come by. You can get Sunspire chips  here, but not the grain-sweetened ones. (I've tried relentlessly to get the afore mentioned shop to carry them. Apparently they opted not to carry ANY sunspire chips now, perhaps that was their way of shutting me up entirely?! I've been waiting six months for the call to let me know they are in. Anytime I go into the shop to get something else she knows I'm the lady who placed the order for the chips?! Don't ask, I don't get it.) Oh, and for the record, Sunspire's chocolate is usually dairy free. Anyway, I have to get mine via an American address and then have it forwarded on to me. Sunspire isn't doing international shipping, at least last time I checked. Bummer again. 

With all that said, our most sugar sensitive child has been without any sugar for three months now and is back to being his normal sweet loving self. May I just say we were highly worried for a while that those horrifying nightmares I'd had while pregnant came true.. You know where you dream you gave birth to a dog, surely I'm not the only one who had that nightmare?!?! Our sugar-sensitive child would honestly growl at us if he was angry, and let's just say that when he has sugar everything makes him angry. Funny thing is he recognizes it now too, and simply tells people he's 'lergic to sugar'.

Now, if I could just get my hands on unsweetened chocolate so I could sweeten it with a bit of stevia and make him some chocolate coins, he'd be in 7th heaven! Mind you, he's usually okay as long as he gets his muffles for breakfast and a chocolate cookie from time to time! 


susan said...

Thank you for this post! I am researching stevia and saw your favorite. Can you tell me which product(s) you use from Nirvana? Do you just use the Pure Stevia Extract Powder? I wonder if I can find it in the U.S. Or maybe they will ship it to me - I have to figure out the conversion for the dollars! :)

Kendra said...

Hi Susan,

I only use the Powdered Extract, which is organic so two thumbs up from us! :D You can use this handy little currency converter which makes figuring the prices out lots easier! This is the same stevia I use in all the recipes I post, make, discuss. :)