Natural Sweetener Smack Down: Brown Rice Syrup & Gluten-Free, Vegan Chocolate Chickpea Blondies
If ever there was a lovely sin, sugar gluttony would surely be mine. I marvel at my ability to drain daily Super Big Gulps of Dr. Pepper back in my teen years. How does a human body even hold that much extra liquid? Today, I eat more fruit and sweet vegetables than I ever did in my teens and early 20s, and my taste buds appreciate the simple flavors of seasonal produce. Since changing my diet 11 years ago, I eat a lot less sugar, but I still enjoy desserts and chocolates. In an effort to understand the differences between my sweet mistresses, I’m logging in the second of my natural sweetener series today.
A Wikipedia search revealed “Brown rice syrup, also known as rice syrup, is a sweetener derived by culturing cooked rice with enzymes (usually from dried barley sprouts) to break down the starches, then straining off the liquid and reducing it by cooking until the desired consistency is reached. The final product is 45% maltose, 3% glucose, and 52% maltotriose.” According to Lundberg, one of the top producers of Brown Rice Syrup (BRS) and organic whole grains in the US, the thick, caramel-like syrup is “a nutritive sweetener about one half as sweet as sugar.”
I find this to be a little misleading. While the glucose composition is very low, there isn’t much nutrition to speak of in BRS. It’s not like you’re adding fiber, protein, or vitamins to your dessert. Though it is said to have a low glycemic index (25), it is not recommended for diabetics, since its sweetness comes from maltose, which can still cause blood sugar spikes. BRS can legally be labeled on foods as only a carbohydrate because it is made from rice, which is a starch, not a sugar. However, your body will still respond to it as a sugar, so don’t think this is a “free ride” food. Take caution with any added sweeteners, whether you buy them from the health food store or the corner convenience mart.
According to Mercola.com, “The World’s #1 Free Natural Health Newsletter”: “Brown rice syrup is another culprit that has a ‘healthier’ sound – but it is far from healthy. In my opinion, you should stay away from it. Besides, it’s known to contain MSG.” Dr. Joseph Mercola doesn’t offer any evidence to back up his claim that BRS is unhealthy, and only mentions that it might contain MSG. This might be true of processed foods, as MSG can be hidden on labels as almost anything (yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable extract are just a couple of names to look out for). HOWEVER, if you are buying jars of organic brown rice syrup, there’s no MSG hiding inside.
Here’s what I like about Brown Rice Syrup: It has a gorgeous buttery, caramel flavor that lends itself well to baking. Because of the low glucose content, it doesn’t affect my energy levels very much. For me, it is a mild sweetener. For someone with serious blood-sugar issues, like diabetics, this sweetener should be used sparingly. Find BRS in your health food store’s baking aisle, or order it by the case or by the bottle here on Amazon.
To use BRS in cooking: Substitute rice syrup in place of sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup or molasses. To substitute sugar, use 1¼ cup rice syrup for one cup sugar, using ¼ cup less of another liquid in the recipe.
Chocolate Chick Blondies
These gluten free bars are dense and full of nutrition. The chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) offer substantial protein and replace the flour normally found in dessert bars. Once you cut them, these squares can be individually wrapped and frozen for later. Make a double batch and freeze half for a road trip, picnic or upcoming potluck. Preparation time: 30 minutes Yield: 6-8 servings Canola, sunflower or unrefined coconut oil 15 ounces (1 can) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed 1/2 cup brown rice syrup 1/2 cup apple sauce 1/4 cup almond or peanut butter (crunchy is best) 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/3 cup ground flax seeds 2 Tablespoons brown rice flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1 cup non-dairy chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Lightly coat an 8-inch baking pan with oil.
- Combine all ingredients, except chocolate chips, in a food processor. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides a few times.
- Pour the batter into the pan and stir in the chocolate chips.
- Bake for 25 minutes.
- Cool to room temperature on the counter, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before slicing into 8 squares.