As more and more people seek to cut sugar from their diets, the search for natural and healthier alternatives has ramped up exponentially in recent years. Beyond agave and stevia, there’s another sweetener that’s garnered a lot of attention as of late—coconut sugar. But what exactly is it? And is it really that much better for you than typical cane sugar?

Coconut sugar is made from coconut palm sap. While it’s similar to palm sugar, it’s technically made from a different type of palm plant. The liquid sap is collected after cuts are made to the flower of the coconut plant. The sap is then heated until the water evaporates. What’s left are brown, granular crystals that are similar in appearance to raw sugar, though slightly smaller in size.

In terms of taste, coconut sugar doesn’t actually retain any coconut flavor. Instead, it’s much more similar to brown sugar and some claim it to have an even slight;y caramel taste. If you choose to use it in place of sugar in recipes, coconut sugar can be substituted on a 1:1 ratio. Given coconut sugar’s coarser texture, it can take longer for it to dissolve in liquids, so be mindful of that while mixing ingredients while baking as well.


But is it actually healthy? Compared to granulated sugar and high fructose corn syrup: yes, definitely. Those sweeteners just contain empty calories and supply zero nutritional value. But while coconut sugar does retain some of the nutrients found in coconuts, such as iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium, there are other sources that provide those minerals in larger amounts without coconut sugar’s high calorie count; comparable to that of regular sugar.

However, while coconut sugar is still loaded with fructose, it does have a lower glycemic index (GI) than typical sugar. GI is a measure of how quickly food raises blood sugar levels. Standard sugar has a GI of 60, while coconut sugar’s GI is around 54, though it can vary by batch and individual. This modest difference may or may not have larger long-term health implications, but more research needs to be done in this arena.

Even though the coconut craze rages on in other arenas (think coconut oil and coconut butter), it doesn’t automatically get a nutritional pass based on the fruit it’s derived from. In other words, coconut sugar is only a slightly healthier alternative than regular sugar and far from a miracle substitute. Debates continue to rage on, especially in the paleo community as to whether or not coconut sugar is an acceptable addition to the low-carb lifestyle. Ultimately, the best advice is the most cliché: Consume coconut sugar in moderation, just as you would anything else.

Related Video: How to Drink a Coconut

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jessica is a former Associate Editor at Chowhound. Follow her on Twitter @volume_knob for updates on snacks and cats.
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