Foodie news | A guide to natural sweeteners | SierraSun.com

Foodie news | A guide to natural sweeteners

Chef Heather Hunsaker
Special to the Sun-

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Eating healthily doesnand#8217;t have to be all about counting calories and depriving yourself of sweet treats. A healthy, well-balanced diet and lifestyle should also include natural, wholesome foods. This includes switching to sweeteners that are environmentally friendly, less processed, and healthier than refined white or brown sugar. Below is a guide to the most common natural sweeteners to help you choose a sweetener that is right for you.

Maple syrup is the sap from maple trees which is collected, filtered and boiled down into sweet syrup with a distinct flavor. Donand#8217;t be confused by maple-flavored syrups or pancake syrup; these syrups are imitations and are made from high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Real, pure maple syrup contains no additives and comes in two grades. Grade A is sweeter, lighter in color and has a less robust flavor. Grade B is darker in color and has a stronger maple flavor. Maple syrup has fewer calories and a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals such as zinc, manganese, and calcium than found in its sweet counterpart, honey.

Honey is the oldest known natural sweetener and has great health benefits. It is made from nectar of flowers collected by bees. Honey can have different flavors and shades of color depending on where the bees get their pollen. Since honey is three times sweeter than refined white sugar, it should be used sparingly.

Molasses is the product leftover when sugarcane is boiled, cooled and removed of its crystals. It is then boiled again, resulting in dark, caramel-flavored molasses. Similar to maple syrup, molasses is available in different grades based on the boiling process. Light molasses is from the first boiling, while dark molasses is from the second boiling and blackstrap molasses comes from the third.

Agave nectar has gained popularity in the last few years as a multi-purpose natural sweetener. This sweet syrup is made from juice harvested from the core of the Mexican agave plant and then heated and processed. Agave nectar is similar to honey in that it ranges in color from light to dark and raw varieties, but it is sweeter and much thinner than honey.

Donand#8217;t deprive yourself of the sweetness of life. Choose an all-natural variety! The recipe below combines honey, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard to make a sweet and slightly tangy sauce that is perfect with pork chops!

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Honey Maple Pork Chops

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Serves 4

8 boneless pork chops, sliced 1/4 inch thick

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

salt and pepper, to taste-

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper and add to skillet. Cook pork chops 1-2 minutes per side just to brown.

Combine remaining ingredients and pour over pork chops in skillet. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer pork chops in sauce for 20-25 minutes, or until sauce is thick and pork chops are cooked through.

and#8212; Chef Heather Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family friendly meals since she was nine years old in her motherand#8217;s kitchen. She is an avid crockpotter and knows how to get food on the table in a pinch. She currently serves as a writer and recipe developer for meal planning site http://www.foodonthetable.com.