Festive treats have long been synonymous with sweetness but this Dhanteras, Diwali or Bhai Dooj, it is time we redefine what that sweetness means. Discovering sugar alternatives like – wild honey, jaggery, Gulkand, coconut sugar and date syrup is not just a culinary exploration; it’s a journey towards healthier celebrations and there’s no better time than this festive season to begin.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Satyajit Hange, Co-Founder and Farmer at Two Brothers Organic Farms, shared, “Among all natural sweeteners, honey is a true standout, and it’s loaded with taste and health benefits. Today, different types of honey, such as Acacia Honey, Indian Berry Honey, Wild Onion Honey and Mustard Honey, are available in the market and you can pick one based on your preference and incorporate it into your tea, sorbet, barfis and kheer, instead of traditional sugar. Similarly, the rich taste and smooth texture of iron-rich jaggery, particularly date palm jaggery is the best way to sweeten laddoos, kheer, halwa and homemade mithai to jazz up our festive culinary experience.”
He suggested, “Gulkand can be mixed with yogurt and sorbet to prepare delectable beverages like lassi and tasty thandai and even as sweet toppings. The gentle sweetness of Gulkand is perfect for cooling down those hectic festive moments – as it not only makes our dishes taste better but also does wonders for heartburn and acidity. In addition, the tropical vibes of coconut sugar and the nutritious and caramel-like charm of date syrup are other popular natural sweeteners to explore this festive season. For instance, when baking sweets you can swap regular sugar with coconut sugar and use date syrup or nolen gur as a topping over laddoos and halwa for a rich caramel-like taste. Incorporating these natural sweeteners into festive celebrations would be a lifestyle shift and a conscious choice that centers around the understanding that health and indulgence can coexist and that we can celebrate the festivities without guilt.”
Asserting that as we navigate the festive season it would be optimal to choose healthier alternatives to white sugar, Chandni Haldurai, Head of Nutrition at Cure.fit, recommended three sugar substitutes which not only hit the mark but carry a wealth of essential nutrients –
1. Jaggery: A timeless traditional favourite for Indian households and especially our dadis everywhere, jaggery is a natural sweetener that stands as an excellent alternative to white sugar. Packed with a multitude of micronutrients, it provides a healthier sweetness option, perfect for the festive season. It also blends in seamlessly with homemade Indian sweets such as ‘gulab jamun,’ ‘laddoos,’ ‘rasogulla’, ‘sandesh’ and ‘payasam, pretty much every Indian sweet really!
2. Dates: These dried fruits not only introduce a rich, natural sweetness to your dishes but also offer a substantial source of iron and various other essential micronutrients. Dates can be finely chopped and used as a sweetener in your desserts. They can also be the star ingredient in date and nut laddoos, another great option would be to mix in dates with almonds, cashews, pistachios or blend in shakes as well. Dates can also be stuffed with nuts or coconut for an exotic sweet dish, this is also a quick, easy and healthy dessert to top off a festive meal.
3. Fresh Fruits like Bananas: Including fresh fruits like bananas in your festive treats brings a double benefit. They contribute a natural sweetness while also delivering a significant dose of fiber, potassium, and prebiotic properties. This adds a healthy touch to your celebratory spread. Banana slices can be added to sweet rice dishes, they can be blended into a creamy smoothie or shakes, or even a delicious banana-based halwa. Another quick recipe would be banana chips which are made by cutting raw banana into thin wafer strips and frying them.
As the holiday season approaches, the desire for delightful baked desserts often leaves individuals wondering how to balance their love for sweet treats with their commitment to health. Hence, Gurpreet Kaur, Founder of GEGGLE – PrabhGun GlutenFree Organics, suggested –
- Organic Jaggery: A Sweet Symphony of Health and Taste
Organic jaggery, also known as Khaand, is a natural sweetener derived from sugarcane juice or palm sap. It is an unrefined sugar alternative that can significantly enhance the gluten-free indulgence experience while being a healthy alternative. With organic jaggery as an addition to baked desserts, you can infuse your treats with a distinctive caramel-like flavour.
- Dates: Nature’s Candy with Nutritional Prowess
Dates are nature’s candy, brimming with natural sweetness and a myriad of health benefits. They can be combined with nutritious ingredients such as fruits, nuts, figs, oats, flax seeds, millets, and whole grains, ensuring that one can savour guilt-free desserts and sweets throughout the festive season. Coupled with a honey drizzle, dates are a great energy booster with vitamins and minerals.
- Raisins: Sweet Enhancements with Health in Every Bite
Raisins, dried grapes, are a delightful and guilt-free way to enhance the flavour of your gluten-free creations. Raisins in every bite would bring forth an exquisite fusion of flavours that harmonise seamlessly with ingredients like pistachios, honey, almonds, cashews, and mixed seeds. Dark chocolate infused with raisins is high in micronutrients and anti-oxidants, with a low glycaemic index.
While these natural sweeteners offer numerous health benefits, it is important to consume them in moderation, just like any sweetener, as they still provide calories and sugar content. However, their natural mineral content and unrefined nature make them a preferred choice over highly processed sugars for those seeking to enjoy sweets while maintaining a health-conscious approach to their diet.