Sweeteners and tea have been in a loving partnership for centuries. In the Southern U.S. “sweet tea” (iced tea with lots of sugar added) reigns supreme. Drinkers of hot tea also find a spoonful or two can relieve that astringency some teas are prone to. So, besides sugar, what are your options? More than you might think at first.
Of course, there is the obvious one: honey. There are different kinds, ranging from the everyday clover honey to some of the more rare ones like tupillo honey. You can take your pick.
Then, there’s molasses, which is a byproduct of sugar cane processing. It’s a thick syrup that contains nutrients in addition to carbohydrates such as potassium, calcium, B-vitamins, and iron. Brown sugar contains some molasses as does raw sugar. All three are great sweetener options in your tea.
Sugars occur in more things than — well — sugar! Fruits; some vegetables like corn, beets, and the stevia plant; and true milks (the real kind from animals as opposed to the fake kind — that white-ish liquid from soy, almonds, etc.). Teas with fruits added will often be sufficiently sweet as is without a sweetener added. If you add milk to your tea, remember that you are also adding a form of sugar: lactose. So, cut back on the sugar spoonfuls.
And then, there are artificial sweeteners. Here are some common ones you’ve probably heard of:
- Aspartame, the sweetener with the “bad boy” rep, is really a very good alternative; it was developed by the Nutra-Sweet Company, and introduced as “Equal” in 1981 after US FDA approval. Despite claims of various bad effects, aspartame is perfectly safe.
- Saccharin has been around since 1958. The big drawback is the bitter taste it takes on if you use too much.
- Sucralose is marketed as “Splenda” and was approved in 1998.
- Some herbs and spices such as mint, cloves, anise, and ginger. Okay, so they’re not sweet, but they are often used to flavor teas in place of sweeteners.
The world of sweeteners is a real slug-fest sometimes. One reason is that humans seem to be born with a propensity for sweet tastes and not just in their tea. Another reason is all the health issues being bandied back and forth. “Sugar is bad.” “No, it’s not.” “Saccharin causes cancer.” “No, it doesn’t unless you’re a rat (they tend to metabolize it differently than humans do).” And on and on. The rise in diabetes made people afraid of sugar and turn to artificial sweeteners or wean themselves off of the “sweet taste,” getting used to the taste of things without it.
This slug-fest also involved cases where products were held up from final approval by the US FDA because they would be too popular or not patentable. Stevia is a key example. An extract from the stevia plant was developed jointly by Cargill, Inc., and The Coca-Cola Company, but held up from approval for years while report after report showing its effects on humans (all safe) were demanded. Finally, the substance was approved in 2008 and is now marketed under the name “Truvia.”
Sugar fact: There are only 15 calories in a level teaspoonful. As with everything, moderation is the key. If you’re like me and never go anywhere without a tea mug in hand, you could quickly over-consume. However, if you have a morning cuppa, a lunch-time cuppa, and a dinner cuppa, that’s only 45 calories added to your daily intake.
Did you know that Enya, the multi-million-CD-selling singer from Ireland, gave up sugar in her tea one year for Lent and got so used to the taste that she never went back to using it? It’s a fact — honest! (She also gave up milk in her tea.)
Here’s to a sweet teatime, no matter which sweetener, if any, you choose!
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