A few weeks ago, I stumbled on an Eater article that struck a chord. The article is about the phrase “not-too-sweet” and its cultural significance in the American-Asian community. Unsurprisingly, as a member of the Chinese diaspora, I was drawn to the article by how relatable the title is. It’s very common to hear elders in my family praise desserts as “not-too-sweet.” In my adulthood I’ve unwittingly assumed this colloquial saying in describing desserts that are perfectly satiating. But I won’t restate what has already been captured by Eater writers on the cultural significance of the phrase “Not Too Sweet.” Instead, this blog will shed light on the use and function of sugars and sweeteners from both a culinary and physiological standpoint. As with any good thing, moderation is key. We'll also discuss the downsides of excessive sugar intake.
In the vibrant world of Asian cuisine, the role of sugar and sweeteners extends beyond mere sweetness—it's a culinary cornerstone that provides balance, texture, and flavour. Whether it's the delicate sweetness in a teriyaki glaze, the caramelized notes of a soy-based marinade, or the hint of sweetness in a Thai curry, sugar elevates the taste profile, making a simple meal a sensory delight. Sweetness tempers the spiciness of some dishes, cuts through the acidity of sauces, and enhances the umami experience. The skillful use of sweeteners is what transforms a good dish into an unforgettable culinary experience.
While there are many types of sweeteners including honey, molasses, jaggery, palm sugar, and fruit-based sweeteners, nowadays refined white sugar tends to be the most commonly used. In Asia, refined white sugar was considered a luxury and beyond the reach of many households until it was popularized through colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. In desserts, sweeteners are a canvas for showcasing traditional sweets, from delicate Japanese wagashi to the rich and diverse array of Indian mithai. Understanding the cultural nuances of sugar and alternative sweeteners allows for a more authentic and respectful approach to crafting asian cuisine and desserts.
Sugar is key for physiological processes including energy production, cognitive function, metabolism, and insulin regulation. Within our bodies, sugar, primarily in the form of glucose, is the fuel that powers cellular activities. From the rapid energy needs of muscle contractions to the constant demands of brain function, glucose is the body's preferred energy source. The brain is a voracious consumer of energy and relies heavily on glucose for optimal function. A well-balanced diet that includes natural sugars supports cognitive processes, enhancing memory, concentration, and overall mental acuity. Sugar also contributes to metabolic processes, with insulin playing a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels. Proper incorporation of sugars into your diet helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, promoting overall metabolic health.
Despite the importance of glucose in supporting critical body functions, the widespread use of added sugars in our food is posing significant risk to the health of people. Overconsumption of added sugars has also led to an increase in people with diabetes. In Canada, over 3.4 million Canadians live with diabetes, and this number is expected to rise. Additionally, excessive sugar intake is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in Canada. Approximately 27% of Canadians are classified as obese, and the correlation between high sugar consumption and obesity is well-established. Processed foods, often high in hidden sugars, contribute to weight gain and related health issues. The convenience of fast food and the prevalence of sugary drinks further contribute to an environment where excessive sugar intake has become the norm.
While these health risks may be jarring, the good thing is that having more information allows us to be more intentional about our consumption of sugars, especially added sugars. The next time you pick up a meal or snack, take a moment to read the nutrition label. When one serving of a product contains 20% or more of your daily recommended intake of sugars..that’s a lot! Health Canada has also recently made it mandatory for industry to label products that are “high in sugar”. Look out for these warning symbols as you make purchasing decisions for snacks and other food products.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your sugar intake, consider ordering a Mi BOWL meal! Our meals are nutritionally balanced and focus on reducing the use of sugars and added sugars without compromising flavour. We carefully balance the use of sweeteners with an awareness of their impact on our health, allowing for creation of food that delights the palate without compromising your overall well-being. Let's savor the sweetness of life in moderation!