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(Please Don’t) Pour Some Sugar On Me

From time to time, we receive Customer Comments which identify the use of sugar in our prepared foods and ask why we use it. For reasons that may seem obvious, we get fewer comments regarding bakery goods than in our Deli foods, but we do get them. Sugar has become a controversial ingredient, seemingly regardless of the source or degree of processing, though most people do draw some differentiation between, say, dextrose (synthesized corn sugar, biochemically identical to blood sugar) and fructose (occurring naturally in fruit, but also commercially processed and sold “pure”). It has been labelled a toxin and labelled as evil, identified bya some scholars as the primary culprit of some of our most debilitating and widespread health conditions. Possibly a reaction to the rapid growth of sugar consumption worldwide in the last century, some have opted to try to exclude it entirely from their diets.

There’s no question that sugar, whatever the variety, has become a crutch for food manufacturers when looking for ways to increase the appeal of their products. The reason isn’t complicated; people love the way it tastes and makes them feel when they’re eating. It may uniformly violate Hemingway’s credo on moral acts, but it works. There’s sugar “hidden” everywhere in manufacturedfoods, adding bit by bit to the tally. About 70% of added sugar consumption now comes from food, including sugars added to foods which aren’t “sweet” in the traditional sense of the word—breads, soups, salad dressings, sauces, crackers—the list goes on. At root (no pun intended), it’s an inexpensive way to buy a perception of delicious taste and keep people buying the food. Over time, it adds up.

At the Kitchen
At Willy Street Co-op’s Production Kitchen, we have made very occasional use of added sugars in our Deli foods. Again, to be very clear, I’m not referring to bakery—while the bakery does certainly use a variety of sweeteners other than sugar, we use sugar as it has traditionally been used in bakery in those products. Some examples are:

  • Meatloaf Glaze: We add 1 c. per 7 lb. batch to our meatloaf glaze

  • Sumi Salad: We add 2/3 c per 6 lb. batch to this popular slaw

The reason, more or less, is the same as for any cook or kitchen, large or small: flavor. We don’t add it to base ingredients that permeate our preparations, it isn’t in our dressings, sauces, marinades or soups (a broth base we discontinued over a year ago did contain some—gone), usually using honey to sweeten when needed (again, infrequently). There are some dishes where it seems to make sense, to sweeten or make more complex a flavor profile. They are few and far between, but they’re there.

Removing all added processed sugar
My general reaction, operating from a point of control over ingredient content in much of the menu, has been that moderate use of sugar is not a harmful thing and, in the amounts found in our food, poses no real health risk to our Owners and customers. I’ve said as much in responses to customer concerns, and, not surprisingly, did not find common ground with those calling for removal of all sugars from our food. However, based on the consistency of these concerns, and the already minimal and incidental benefit that sugars bring to our Deli foods, I’ve decided to remove all added, processed sugar from the savory foods prepared by Willy Street Co-op’s Delis starting January 2nd, 2014.

Honey will continue to be used as a sweetener in Deli foods, though still sparingly. It’s a way to add the sweetness we’re looking for while adding at least some nutritive content—vitamins, in this case—that refined sugar contains none of. It tastes sweeter, so amounts can usually be reduced when substituting it, and is absorbed into your body more slowly due to its lower glycemic index, resulting in more gradual changes in blood sugar level. To be very clear, though, it isn’t a sugar substitute that benefits diabetics and isn’t an actual, substantive source of nutrition. We’re interested in hearing about other alternative sweeteners that are also clean and minimally processed, so if you have a favorite, please let us know.
Have a sweet New Year!

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