Dextrose Doubters

April 14, 2014 § 21 Comments

“On a Year of No Sugar, why was dextrose okay?”

I’ve gotten asked this question a lot lately, and although I do detail the answer in my book, I thought it might be helpful to give everyone the quick and easy version right here.

Remember how most sugar (sucrose) is made up of roughly half glucose and half fructose? Fructose is the bad part– the part which does not satisfy your hunger, does not get used by any of the cells in the body besides the liver, and when processed by the liver creates toxic byproducts which can be traced to virtually every major American health epidemic today: hypertension, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

But dextrose…. what was that?  Lucky for me I had someone I could ask- Dr. Robert Lustig, the man behind “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” and author of the New York Times Bestselling book on the topic of sugar Fat Chance, as well as the very man who had inspired our project in the first place. The first time I communicated with Dr. Lustig was before we began our No-Sugar Year: I wrote to tell him about our upcoming project and to get a better understanding of what a Year of No Sugar could look like. Throughout our year I communicated with Dr. Lustig as questions would continue to pop up from time to time and he was very generous and answered all our questions and more.

The dextrose question wasn’t going away, and I just wasn’t confident I was going to get this one right by myself. So when Dr. Lustig wrote back regarding the dextrose issue, and assured me that “dextrose is glucose,” and therefore, for our fructose-free purposes fine, I felt reassured to be back on track.

Later on, when I read Australian author and No Sugar expert David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison, I was astonished to read that for him dextrose was not just one more mysterious ingredient found on boxes or bags at the grocery store, but a pantry staple in his no added sugar diet: he purchased dextrose and used it in cooking! I was intrigued. And after I ordered some I started experimenting with recipes he had developed as well as creating some of my own. In my book Year of No Sugar I even share, with David’s permission, his excellent coconut cake recipe, which is made using dextrose.

Year of No Sugar is specifically/ medically speaking a Year of No Added Fructose– the bad part of sugar.  Part of the real problem for many is that sugar is a word that is used in so many ways that it gets confusing fast: in addition to all the myriad names for sugar (invert sugar! date sugar! cane sugar! beet sugar! brown sugar!) there are simple sugars and complex sugars and blood sugars. How to sort it all out?

Well blood sugar levels (aka blood glucose levels) are of a great concern to people with diabetes and insulin resistance and other illnesses, so regulating glucose can be important for many people. If you suffer from one of these medical conditions, I recommend you consult your own doctor. Because my family is lucky not to suffer from one of these conditions, it was not one of the focuses for our year.

So here is the upshot: in our year, in our book, we were talking about plain old familiar Sugar, the kind that comes in the big white bag, and is dumped all-too liberally over our food supply in a wide variety of aliases— let’s call it Sugar with a capital “S.” It’s important to note that you can have Sugar without glucose and you can have glucose without Sugar, but you can’t have Sugar without fructose and you can’t have fructose without Sugar. Fructose is what makes Sugar, Sugar. We could live our whole lives entirely without fructose and never be the worse off for it.

Now, we didn’t bathe in dextrose, mind you. We didn’t free-base dextrose on our glass coffee table. We simply used this corn-based product to sweeten our occasional homemade baked goods to a much more subtle level of sweet than we ever could have imagined we’d appreciate. Dextrose is one-third the sweetness of table sugar but without the bad fructose; and, for those with gluten issues I’ll note that most dextrose is also gluten free. Other times I used brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup as these do not contain fructose either. Australian author Sarah Wilson, author of the book I Quit Sugar, also sweetens with brown rice syrup in many of her recipes.

There are so many persuasive reasons for Big Food to use added fructose— Sugar with a capitol “S”— in every place it can. But. It’s. A. Poison. And that’s the elephant in the hospital room that no one really wants to talk about.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 63

August 6, 2011 § 5 Comments

August is here and as usual my summer begins to feel a bit panicky right about now. Summer is so very fleeting here in Vermont, that I never feel like we can fit it all in: picnics and swimming and puppet shows and berry picking and parades and the Farmer’s Market and the circus and- and- AND! Technically it’s just the beginning of August, but when I look at my calendar all I can see is a high-speed runway leading directly up to the first day of school.

But this year the summer to-do list includes a few new items: experimenting with recipes, cooking at home more than ever before and finding clever ways to avoid summer staples like store-bought ketchup, mayonnaise, and hamburger buns. (And don’t even get me started on the S’mores “kits” they sell in our supermarket… as if you need to be a rocket scientist to assemble the ingredients for S’mores.)

So the other day I answered a question that’s been bothering me since we began the No Sugar project: how important is sugar to a bread recipe? I’ve been a royal pain-in-the-tookas on this one, refusing bread in restaurants over the protestations of well-intentioned waitstaff that the amount contained therein was really, very, very small. Always, there was the implication that the bread simply couldn’t be made without the sugar. I wondered, was the sugar somehow necessary to proper yeast growth? How much better would bread made with sugar really be?

I set out to find out. Using my King Arthur Flour cookbook, I prepared two batches of bread dough: one adding the called-for tablespoon of sugar in the yeast-proofing stage, the other not. During the process of the rising, kneading and baking I became convinced the sugar-containing bread would win in a walk. The yeast looked bubblier, the dough rose better, the final loaf had a better browning on the crust.

But it was like the story of the tortoise and the hare… despite looking somewhat sad and anemic throughout the entire making and baking process, in the end I found that the no-sugar loaf caught up. By leaving it in the oven a few minutes longer I got the desired browning on the crust… the loaves looked indistinguishable. When I held a taste test composed of my family and some friends, two preferred the sugar-bread, one preferred the no-sugar bread, and one said they tasted the same. Clearly the difference was subtle. Can you make good bread without that tablespoon of sugar? Yes.

The Difference An Egg Can Make!

Then this week I returned to a snack/dessert recipe I’ve always loved: Apricot-Lemon-Date Bars. I had made these much earlier in the year, substituting banana for the brown sugar, which works fine, but results in a very banana-date-y taste which- if you sweeten everything with bananas and dates for a while, like I did- gets pretty monotonous after awhile. I returned to the recipe, this time armed with my giant container of dextrose. The first time through, however, was disappointing: making the recipe by simply substituting dextrose for brown sugar resulted in a pasty, overly crumbly mess of a bar, which tasted okay but didn’t hold together nicely and didn’t brown in an appealing way.

Back to the drawing board. Between the dextrose and the dried apricots and dates the bars were plenty sweet, but what would make the crust hold together better and brown better? I decided to try adding one egg to the crust and see what happened.

Now, this is kind of a big deal for me. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a recipe follower; I’m very literal. I’m the kind of cook who waits the last ten seconds on the timer before dumping the pasta water out. Experimenting is entirely outside my comfort zone. However, I am living proof that being hungry and sweet-deprived will do wonders for one’s adventurousness in the kitchen.

You know what? It worked! The egg added just the right cohesiveness to make the crust crumbly rather than dusty, and the browning was perfect. They’re not just good- they’re really good! I am so proud of myself that it’s kind of ridiculous. You’d think I just invented the S’mores Kit.

•••••••••••••••

Eve’s Apricot Lemon Date bars

(adapted from the Date Bar recipe in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)

  • 2 cups chopped pitted dates and dried apricots
  • juice of one lemon
  • ½ cup water

•••••••••••••••

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup dextrose
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ¾ all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350.

In a saucepan combine dates, apricots, lemon juice and water. Cook covered, on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, cream together the butter and dextrose. Add egg and continue to mix. Stir in flour, salt and baking soda. Finally, add the oats and mix with your hands. Press two-thirds of the crumbly dough into an oiled 8 or 9 inch square baking pan. Spread fruit mixture over the dough. Crumble remaining dough on top. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool in pan. Cut into bars.

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