Made from the boiled, dehydrated sap of coconut trees, coconut sugar has a rich, maple-like flavor and contains trace amounts of vitamin C, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron and copper. O.K., so it’s no multivitamin — this naturally caramel-colored sugar is still 70% to 79% sucrose plus an additional 3% to 9% each of fructose and glucose (the two sugars that make up sucrose) and packs 15 calories per teaspoon. But unlike its sugar-cane-derived cousins, coconut sugar does not cause your blood sugar to spike as quickly, a real plus for diabetics or anyone concerned about mood swings due to sugar overload. (Its glycemic index, which measures the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar, is a relatively low 35, versus 70 for cane sugar.) Natural enzymes and minerals in the sugar help slow its absorption into the bloodstream.
Fantastic flavor and perceived health benefits have helped coconut sugar boom in popularity across the country in recent years. I found more than five varieties at my local grocery store, including ones flavored with vanilla and fleur de sel from SweetTree. (Don’t confuse coconut sugar with palm sugar, however, which comes from the sugar palm tree and is commonly used in Thai cooking: it’s often too clumpy and messy for everyday use.) The newer granulated varieties of coconut sugar can substitute for brown sugar in recipes and are labeled anything from “coconut crystals” to “coconut sugar” to “coconut palm sugar.” All three kinds are equally delicious, but pricey, running anywhere from $4.29 to more than $8 a pound at my go-to grocery store.