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A sugar-free new year

Honey is nature's perfect alternative to sugar.

    Honey and fruit sugar made from oranges work well when baking
    Honey and fruit sugar made from oranges work well when baking

    Tradition dictates, when celebrating the New Year, that one should indulge in sweet foods - and many of the dishes we love to eat during Rosh Hashanah rely on that staple ingredient, sugar. However, as we become more aware of the negative health effects that sugar can have on our bodies, supermarkets and health food stores are finding exciting alternatives.

    Honey is nature's perfect alternative to sugar. Dipping apple into honey at Rosh Hashanah is one of those marvellous foodie traditions that gets everyone involved and in the mood.

    This year, take advantage of some new honey varieties. There is Tasmanian Leatherwood Tree Set Honey, an aromatic honey with a tangy lychee taste. Rowse offers Italian Honey from the wild forests of central northern Italy, which promises a smooth malty taste with a hint of licorice; or there is Waitrose Own Orange Blossom Honey, collected from beehives in the orange groves of Mexico - amber in colour with a sweet smooth taste.

    Manuka honey is made from nectar, gathered by bees from the flowers of the Manuka bush, more commonly known as the Tea Tree. This bush is only in flower for six weeks of the year and is indigenous only to New Zealand. Manuka honey differs from normal honey as it contains an ingredient called methylglyoxal, which has been found to be highly anti-bacterial. This super food comes in at a super price, ranging from £11.99 to over £30 depending on the amount of methylglyoxal in the product. Manuka honey is used to treat a variety of common ailments - sore throats, mouth ulcers, gum disease and skin conditions like psoriasis, and can even aid digestion.

    Agave nectar is an organically grown sweetener, squeezed from the prickly pith of Mexico's Blue Weber Agave, the same plant that is processed to make tequila. Because it is derived from fruit sugar which raises blood sugar levels slowly after eating, it is low on the glycaemic index, meaning it is released slowly into the bloodstream. It is great for drizzling on food and sweetening drinks, but can also be used in cooking and baking .

    We still sometimes want to use sugar and now there is an alternative to conventional sucrose. Fruit sugar (fructose) by Tate & Lyle, launched only 18 months ago, is made from Israeli oranges.

    Fruit sugar is low on the glycaemic index, but, when used in cooking, tastes exactly the same as caster sugar, and because it is sweeter, one can use a third less. All oven temperatures should be reduced by 25 degrees, as the fruit sugar has a lower caramelisation point, which is perfect for baking, but not suitable when making sweet sauces and jams.

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