Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Homemade Sodas, Sorbets and What About Sweeteners

Getting the kids off (or never starting them on) commercials sodas and sweets can be a challenge. Here are two simple ideas using concentrated frozen fruit juices — the ones with no sugar added, just the natural sweetness of the fruit. If, for instance, your son likes orange soda and your daughter likes berries, orange juice concentrate or kiwi/strawberry concentrate can make great tasting sodas in which you control the contents. See my discussion on natural sweeteners vs. unnatural or unhealthy ones below.

1 part juice concentrate, thawed but chilled
3 parts chilled sparkling water, seltzer or club soda of choice (club soda has added sodium)
Optional berries
Berries can be added for fun, a couple of blueberries for instance can bounce around in the bubbles.
Mix 1/4 cup concentrate and 3/4 cup of sparkling water in a tall glass, add ice, berries and a straw.
For adults you can infuse or add herbs like spearmint, basil or cilantro to make cocktail mixers.

Fruit and herb combinations:
Berries (all) — basil, rosemary, thyme or lavender
Orange — rosemary, thyme or savory

If using a ice cream mixer be sure to have the tumbler frozen ahead of time or whatever the manufacturer's recommendations are. Frozen juices taste less sweet than when drunk as a beverage. The sugar/honey addition should be done to taste. Hint: try 1/4 cup of sugar or honey to 3 cups reconstituted juice. It is fun to experiment with different juices, cut up fruit, and different natural sweeteners.

6 ounces juice concentrate
18 ounces cold water
Optional sweetener of choice*
Optional half cup minced fruit (cutting the fruit in small bits makes it easier for the machine to do its mixing/freezing)

Sweetener must be fully dissolved in liquid - bring 4 ounces of the water to just a high simmer, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, or 3 tablespoons honey or agave nectar, or 2 tablespoons of molasses, stir to completely dissolve. Cool slightly then add to rest of water, stir, add juice and chill.

Mix juice concentrate and water, stir to combine well and chill.

If using an ice cream maker, start mixer and slowly pour in the liquid, wait about 5 minutes to let the freezing get going well, then add fruit. These makers do not freeze the mix solid, 3 cups of liquid will make 4 cups of sorbet. Remove, pack into a 32 ounce container, cover and freeze.

If no ice cream maker, pour liquid in a pan big enough to keep the liquid at a depth of no more than 1 inch. Freeze for 2 hours, remove and scrap lightly with a fork to break up crystals. Re-freeze for 1 hour, repeat scrap and add fruit. Continue to re-freeze, and scrap every hour until the sorbet resembles shaved ice. Remove and place loosely in covered container and freeze.

When serving allow to sit at room temperature about 10 minutes to soften. Serve with more fruit if desired. A fun option is sorbet sparklers (photo). Place a generous scoop of sorbet in pretty clear glass, like a wine goblet. Top with sparkling apple cider or sparkling water (Adults can use a sparkling wine.)


FIRST No High-Fructose Corn Syrup. The studies are showing not only problems with the way our bodies deal with HFCS (links to childhood obesity and early onset diabetes), but also what appears to be an addictive factor. See "Why No HFCS" below.

Karo Syrup — the one grandmom and mom have used since 1902 for baking has different ingredients depending on which version you are using. Karo Dark does not contain HFCS. Karo Light does. Karo "Lite" has no HFCS but has splenda (sucralose). I suggested to their customer care person they find a replacement for sucralose and I would be happy to use the "lite" version for light uses.

Sugar, honey, agave nectar, molasses, stevia are all traditional, old and mostly natural sweetening agents (even honey is technically manufactured by the bees).

Stevia and agave nectar are considered safe for most diabetics (be sure to check with your doctor). Agave nectar is used in the same proportions as honey (3/4 volume of cane sugar). Stevia (used as a fresh or dry leaf - not powder or liquid), can be infused as one would make tea steeping to the desired strength and strained out if you like. Start with approximately 2 tablespoons dried leaf replacing 1 cup of sugar. Steep for 20 minutes in hot liquid, taste and if needed steep 5-10 minutes longer. Stevia leaf is so naturally sweet that when used only in water — as making the sweet liquid above, it can be reused one more time to make tea or sweeten other beverages.

Every time I read how the ‘new' products (meant to control ‘a problem') are now showing to be biochemically worse (look at the literature about margarine vs. butter) I can't help but go back to the old ways. Certainly not every old way is a better way, but I would rather use real sugar, honey, etc. and real butter or olive oil than the chemically-created alternatives.

One of the reasons I became so passionate about herbs and spices was the idea of bringing out the real flavor of food before adding all the salt and fat generations since WWII got into because they were eating more and more manufactured food instead of what is referred to as "scratch' cooking. Herbs and spices ‘lift' the food taste and satisfaction by enhancing the natural flavor. Rosemary for instance brings out the best taste in any starchy food like rice, pasta or potatoes.

One of the taste sensors of our tongue is sweet. It was put there for a reason! And sweeteners have their long-respected places in our diets. They give us a satisfaction which, before humans figured out how bake, they could only get from fruits and raiding bee hives.

As with all food choices, we have a responsibility to use wisdom with not only our own eating habits but also any children over whom we have a responsibility to care for. As Barbara Kingsolver commented in her book Animal, Vegetable Miracle — what is being accomplished by "picking up junk food on the way to the soccer game?"

Oh, just in case you are thinking About Splenda? In a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Splenda, "the Sugar Association claims that sucralose, the sweetening ingredient in Splenda, is a man-made chlorocarbon and that a complex process is required to first convert sucrose (sugar) into a number of different intermediary chemicals before using "phosgene gas - a deadly weapon used during World War II - as the chlorinating agent to yield sucralose." Trial is set for January 6, 2009

A recent commercial from the manufactures association of HFCS' is obviously trying to dispel fears, but I thought it was interesting that the very quiet final comment was ‘in moderation' by the actress.

Soda and food manufactures moved to HFCS because it was cheaper. I think it is also interesting that Coke's plants in Mexico use good old fashioned cane sugar as a sweetener because our southern neighbors do not like the taste of the HFCS. Remember when the Coke folks got such flack when they first introduced the ‘new' and improved version of Coke back in the 80s with the new sweetener, they had to bring back the "classic?" They just waited until folks got used to the taste of the ‘new' stuff and apparently quietly took the classic off the market.

The site for processors of HFCS has this statistic: "According to the USDA, high fructose corn syrup accounts for roughly 41% of all caloric (nutritive) sweeteners consumed in the U.S." —

Well that's no surprise is it? According to the Center For Disease and Control: "two NHANES surveys (1976–1980 and 2003–2004) show that the prevalence of overweight is increasing: for children aged 2–5 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 13.9%; for those aged 6–11 years, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 18.8%; and for those aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 17.4%"

And as a general population increase: "In 2007, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; three of these states (Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%." —

Moderation? Who are they kidding? The HFCS producers have been so successful at selling the cheapness of their product that more and more food processors are hopping on the HFCS band-wagon. How do you moderate something which is now gradually replacing other sugars in manufactured products to the extent that pretty soon you will not have an option?

"According to a commentary in the April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, between 1970 and 1990, the consumption of HFCS increased over 1,000 percent." — and because HFCS does not trigger the chemical Leptin which tells your body you are full, it easy much easier to overeat. —
Other references:
High-fructose corn syrup's dangers:
-- LS Gross, Amer J Clin Nutr 2004;79:774-9.
-- Bray, George A. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:537-43

I recommend that you do your own research and not just take my word for it.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady