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ORGANIC SWEETENER

WHAT IS ORGANIC SWEETENER?

On my quest to discover all sweeteners in stores across the United States, I found 1000s of products. Since 2019, confused home cooks around the country have confided their challenges and worries to me. Stories of disappointments and concerns jammed up in my brain. I wondered how to help them choose and use sugar alternatives. And so, I created a series of smart kitchen tools and guides. I've learned that home cooks are often a little skeptical about sweeteners' safety, and having an organic certification tends to ease the concern. But what exactly is organic sweetener? Is organic sweetener worth it? In my opinion, yes! And here's why.

Quick Facts About Organic Sweeteners

 

  • Organic sweeteners must be sourced from plants grown according to the NOP standards. Farmers must use practices that maintain or enhance the soil and water quality while conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. They are inspected by the USDA or a certifying agency following a long list of strict rules on how they must be sourced, processed, packaged, and handled.

 

  • Organic farming practices include crop rotation. Genetically modified (GM) seeds, chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and sewage sludge are not allowed. Organic does not automatically mean "pesticide-free" or "chemical-free." A variety of sprays and powders are allowed. Still, such substances must not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. To draw a comparison: organic farmers have restricted access to 27 synthetic pest control products while over 900 are registered for use in conventional farming.

 

  • A common misconception is that organic sweeteners are unrefined and minimally processed. The claim "organic" in fact, relates not only to the way a crop is grown, but also how it is processed, handled, and packaged. Just like growing organic crops, organic processing is regulated by the NOP, and manufacturers of organic sweeteners must comply with it.

 

  • To be claimed as an organic sweetener and display the USDA's organic seal on the package label, the seller also must be certified by a NOP-authorized agent or the USDA. The name of the certifying agency must be stated on the product's label. People who sell or label a sweetener "organic" when they know it does not meet USDA standards can be fined up to $17,952 for each violation

  • What about certified organic honey? I haven't found any organic honey made in the USA, but have seen a variety imported from remote tropical regions around the world. That's because, according to one seller, the beekeeping, extraction, and storage of certified organic honey must be located in isolated areas. Foraging bee colonies have to be at least 2 miles (straight-line flight) away from any source of pesticide or herbicide contamination, such as conventional (non-organic) crops. As of 2023, there are no organic standards specific to honey in the U.S., only recommendations from 2010.  

  • Another common misconception is that certified organic sweeteners are healthier than their conventional (non-organic) counterparts. Organic turbinado sugar does not provide more nutritive value than regular turbinado (read more about organic sugar HERE). Organic stevia leaf extract is not healthier than conventional stevia extracts.

  • If you are concerned about the environmental impact of conventional farming and would even pay more for a sweetener produced following a long list of rules, organic sweeteners are for you!

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