At the start of 2015 I made a decision to remove processed (“refined”) sugar from my diet. This was not as straight forward a proposition as you might think because there is a huge range of foods that include processed sugar.
As a further consequence of my decision none of the recipes I have posted this year have included processed sugar. Where sweetness has been needed I have used just enough maple syrup or coconut sugar or, in the case of this recipe, a little of both. Whilst both maple syrup and coconut sugar are high in natural sugar, they have been produced naturally and retain antioxidants and beneficial minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, manganese and potassium.
In contrast, by the time it ends up on supermarket shelves refined (white) sugar is not what one could conceivably describe as a natural product.
To make it, first the raw sugar is transported in bulk to the country where the refining process takes place. That raw sugar is first washed with a concentrated syrup, then dissolved in water before being filtered. Next, the sugar syrup has its colour chemically removed. The syrup is then boiled, cooled and “seeded” with sugar crystals, causing the sugar to crystallize out. It then goes into a centrifuge to spin off any remaining liquid before the resulting sugar crystals are blow-dried with hot air and finally packaged.
Even more alarming is the process for producing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is increasingly popular with food manufacturers because it is a cheaper ingredient than sugar. HFCS is made using dried corn which is dipped in acid, filtered, spun, heated with a weak hydrochloric acid, reacted with enzymes, distilled and finally diluted, at which stage it is ready to be added to your cereal, fizzy drink, bread, cake, yoghurt, ketchup, ice cream, ready meal and so on.
There is now no longer any dispute amongst scientific researchers that excess sugar in our food has a seriously bad impact on our health. Excess fructose turns off our appetite-control mechanism, causing us to eat more than we need to and leading to insulin resistance. Sugar which isn’t burned off as energy goes straight to the liver, where it is converted to fat and causes insulin production. Over time, amongst other health problems this cycle can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
Although a link has yet to be established scientifically, the explosion in cases of Type 2 diabetes in the developed world appears to mirror the exponential increase in the number of foodstuffs which now use HCFS.
If you needed one, that’s another good reason to always read the list of ingredients on the label before you purchase processed food.
For my seventh recipe created in association with Suma Wholefoods I have chosen to make a vegan dessert, and it includes another in my occasional series of unusual vegan ice cream flavourings.
Lemon verbena, which I grow both in my garden and on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, is a herb with an intensely lemony flavour which for me almost “out-lemons” lemon, and it gives an astonishingly beautiful flavour hit to this ice cream.
I also grow blueberries on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. Although they require special treatment (blueberries need ericacious compost and can only be watered with rainwater), they continue to produce a modest crop each year.
Some of the key ingredients in this recipe have been provided by Suma from their brilliant range of organic, ethically produced products.
blueberry tart with lemon verbena ice cream
for the ice cream
for the tart
1. For the ice cream, pour the coconut milk into a saucepan. Add the coconut cream, maple syrup and lemon verbena. Stir and place over a low heat. Bring to simmering point and then immediately remove from the heat. Leave to cool and infuse.
2. When the mixture has cooled, strain into a bowl to remove the lemon verbena. Put the strained liquid in the fridge to chill for at least one hour. Pour the chilled ice cream mixture into an ice cream maker, and churn? Once it is starting to set, tip the ice cream out into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.
3. For the tarts, put the coconut oil and maple syrup in a pan over a low heat. Once melted, remove from the heat and add the ground almonds, stirring to combine. Press this mixture into each of the tart tins to create the outer shell for the tart. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3). Place the tart shells in the refrigerator for half an hour so that the coconut oil sets and the shell hardens a little. Remove from the refrigerator and cook in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the shells are a light golden brown in colour. Leave to cool.
4. Next, place 250 g of the blueberries in a separate sauce pan with the coconut sugar and one tablespoon of water. Place over a medium heat and stir to combine. As soon as the liquid begins to bubble, reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Simmer gently for a further 10 minutes, stirring every so often. Mix the cornflour with 1 teaspoonful of water and stir until you have a smooth paste. Add this to the blueberries and stir. Remove from the heat and using a wooden spoon gently crush the blueberries in the pan. Leave to cool completely.
5. Divide the cooked blueberry between the tarts. Gently scatter the reserved blueberries over the top. If you have problems removing the tarts from their tins apply a little gentle heat to the tine, either using a blow torch for a few seconds on the side of the tin or by popping them into a warm oven for a minute, and they will then easily slip out. Serve with a generous scoop of the lemon verbena ice cream.