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Published: Tuesday, 4/28/2009

Sweet thoughts on beverages

Before the 1960s, sucrose was used almost exclusively to sweeten soft drinks and other products, but the use of less expensive high-fructose corn syrup increased over the years. It now accounts for half the sugars used in the United States, according to Chow Line, an online publication of Ohio State University.

A 2004 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that high-fructose corn syrup might be linked to weight gain. But subsequent studies say that it is not much different from regular sugar as far as its effect on the body.

That issue is still being debated.

Meanwhile, some food brands are replacing high fructose corn syrup. Log Cabin syrup line is replacing high-fructose corn syrup with natural sugar. The reformulation was driven by growing consumer concerns about the corn syrup.

Soda pop has seen a downturn in popularity.

According to a report by Mintel, a company that tracks flavor and ingredient trends in the restaurant industry, today s adults are switching from calorie-laden soda to other, often lighter beverages. From 2003 to 2008, Mintel estimates the regular carbonated soft drink market lost 15.6 million adult drinkers. During that same period, the number of diet soda drinkers grew: 7.8 million more adults reported drinking diet soda in 2008 than in 2003.

Regular soda is associated with empty calories and artificial ingredients. But the greatest changes in Americans drinking habits have occurred outside the soft drink market. There has been rapid growth in the numbers of people who drink non-soda options such as bottled water and energy and sports drinks. Many say they are drinking these beverages to manage weight or other health conditions.

But it should be noted that a can of an energy drink can contain 100 mg of caffeine as well as taurine and sugars. To compare, a 6-ounce cup of coffee can have 60 to 120 mg of caffeine, depending on how it is brewed, according to Ohio State University s Chow Line. Researchers believe consumption of energy drinks could alter the effectiveness of some medications.

Many people are concerned about high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Health and wellness issues are in the forefront of their minds, according to Mintel.

Here s a new twist on sweetners that I discovered in Coffee Love: 50 Ways to Drink Your Java by Daniel Young (Wiley, $17.95). It s a chemistry lesson learned by iced tea and iced coffee drinkers alike: Granulated sugar does not dissolve in cold liquid, he writes. Recently coffee shops have adopted the solution of using simple sugar syrup. Combine one cup granulated sugar and one cup water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let it cool and transfer it to a clean lidded jar or a syrup dispenser. Add a teaspoon or two to iced tea or iced coffee. The simple syrup lasts refrigerated for up to a month.

If that sounds a lot like the Simple Syrup that you use in a Mint Julep on Kentucky Derby Day Saturday, you are right.

From the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, the classic Mint Julep (circa 1905) is made with one teaspoon simple syrup and two ounces bourbon with bruised mint and plenty of ice.

Note that the Mojito, the Cuban cocktail made with rum, lime juice, mint leaves, and club soda, can also be sweetened with simple syrup. Maybe that s a Southern thing Simple Syrup.

I don t want to discount honey or maple syrup as natural sweeteners. But it is nice to know you can use simple syrup in place of artificial sweeteners, sugar, or high fructose corn syrup for iced tea, iced coffee, and those Mint Julep and Mojito libations.



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