The Sugar-Free Elephant In the Room
As Bald Baker is getting closer and closer to commercializing its products, I become more and more anxious about it. I'm currently working with a group of students from my Alma-mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, and they asked me: "what is my leap of faith?" to which I replied "The assumption I'm making is that consumers will be receptive, from a financial and from a psychological perspective, to a product that is "sugar-conscious" when there are plenty of healthy alternatives, or low-cost alternatives to compete with. Is sugar-conscious enough of a differentiator to make a profitable business out of?"
My Chief Cookie Officer and I are about to run a guantlet: forget the investment cash outlays, but to be vulnerable to a harsh market with harsh feedback (these days, everyone's a critic thanks to Food Network), to face logistical issues scaling recipes and working with very large industrial-grade equipment and to go to battle to try win your dollar using a branding strategy that is well... unique, but perhaps more aptly, unproven.
All because we removed sugar.
We believe sugar is the great evil in our society; not because of what it is, but because of its drug-like addictive properties and our predisposition to indulge irresponsibly. Sugar is like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic: only 25% can be seen. The rest is hidden in places you wouldn't think, like spaghetti sauces, cole slaw, yogurt, dried fruit, most breads, etc. The United States Department of Agriculture has stated that the average American consumes between 150 to 170 pounds of refined sugars in one year! Bamboocorefitness.com wrote an interesting article putting that into perspective: in the early 1800's, the average was 4-6 lbs per person per year! Not surprising that 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. In his book The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes notes that Diabetes was considered an epidemic... IN 1917!!! 100 years later and it can only be considered an international disaster.
So, our Elephant isn't actually sugar, it's what we've used to replace it, namely two different blends of sugar-substitutes: the first branded under the name Sola and second known as Lakanto. I promise that I'm not being paid or am in any way obligated to them, but honestly, they both look like sugar, taste like sugar, bake like sugar... but they're not sugar. In fact, they contain 75% fewer calories than sugar and most importantly, unlike sugar, neither create the blood sugar response that sugar does. The ingredients contain natural sweeteners, like monkfruit and stevia extracts, and sweeteners derived from fermenting lactose, glucose or sucrose known as sugar alcohols or polyols (including erythritol (prounounced 'er-reeth-re-tol') and maltitol.
At first glance, using these ingredients contradict our value of not baking with anything you can't spell or pronounce, but the spirit remains: use natural ingredients to produce a naturally delicious product. Foodinsight.org created a beautifully produced fact sheet based heavily on a journal article written by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics called "Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners." Kitchen Stewardship sums up the sugar alcohols quite nicely in their article Xylitol, Erythritol, Sortibol...What's That "Ol" About? What it comes down to is that western society is finally taking notice and taking action to substitute sugars with acceptable alternatives. Like any other ingredient on this planet, mass consumption may have side effects. Specific to Polyols are bloating or other gastric effects, but these pale in comparison to what sugar does to your system in similar, if not much fewer quantities.
If you've ever put a packet of Stevia in your coffee, or used it to bake with, you'll notice that up to 99% of it is actually erythritol. Every sugar-free gum uses xylitol. Most sugar-free chocolates are sweetened with maltitol. It's more common than you think. Why is that?
These alternatives to sugar generally have far fewer calories, do not spike your blood glucose levels, have little to no effect on your tooth enamel, bake well, taste great and are relatively easy to purchase. Are these the be all and end all? Definitely not. However, we feel very comfortable using products with these benefits, are derived from natural sources and can be incorporated delightfully into our products and we hope that you will too. I am elated that the world is waking up the true nature of sugar and is actively exploring alternatives to help people avoid sugar, live more confidently and most importantly, continue enjoying delicious goods that they deserve.
If you have had any experience baking with these ingredients or enjoying these ingredients, I'd love to hear from you.