Level: Novice

Read Time: 6 minutes

For almost 6 months or so, I've been using coconut sugar (we are trying to be organic, low sugar, etc.), and the last batch of sugar I bought from my usual supplier was moist. I did not notice that until my melanger started making cracking sounds and all of a sudden stopped working. I went in with my hand (in a glove, of course!) and found almost solid clumps of sugar congregated around the center of the rotating plate and slowed down and practically stopped the rollers from rotating. I tried to break them by smushing between my fingers and restart the melanger but with the same outcome: the clumps soon reappeared. That ruined my one-day's worth of chocolate.

So far, I tried two things:

1: Put the sugar from the remaining large bags in a plastic container and left over several nights open. That did not work; actually, the sugar became ever more moist. We live in Boston where the humidity is pretty high.

2. I tried to use a heat gun but, I think, it made the matters even worse.

So, I am thinking of two more options: heating up an oven for the lowest possible temperature and keeping the sugar there, shuffling with a spoon every now and then. Or I can use white cane sugar to mix with the coconut sugar to de-humidify the latter.

Let’s clear up a misconception straight away. Coconut sugar isn't really any lower in sugar than regular table sugar, at least to any meaningful way.

Coconut sugar is also called coconut palm sugar and is a natural sugar made from coconut palm sap. It is sometimes confused with palm sugar, which is similar but made from a different type of palm tree.

Coconut sugar is made by cutting the flower of the coconut palm and the liquid sap is collected and then heated until most of the water has evaporated. The final sugar is usually brown and granulated. Sometimes, as in your case, the moisture content can be quite a bit higher to the point that the sugar crawls if put in a pile as opposed to sliding like table sugar.

Coconut sugar does retain some of the nutrients found in the coconut palm. The main ones are iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, along with some polyphenols and antioxidants. It also contains a fiber called inulin. In theory this may slow glucose absorption and explain why coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index (GI) than regular table sugar but it really isn’t all that much.

Glucose is given a GI of 100. For comparison, foods with a GI of 50 raise blood sugar levels half as much as pure glucose.

Sucrose (table sugar) has a GI of around 60. Coconut sugar typically has a value of 54. It is worth noting that value can differ between batches of coconut sugar just like the moisture.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression I am anti coconut sugar. I am not at all. I just want you going into it with the knowledge that it isn’t all that much better than sucrose if that is why you are using it. The minor amount of nutrients and slightly lower GI are just not that much given the small amounts that is there. Of course, if you like the flavor and what it adds to your chocolate then by all means use it. Just don’t have blinders on that it is hugely better. The total amount of added nutrients that will end up in your chocolate bar are such a tiny amount compared to the USDA percentages that they are negligible given the greater expense of the sugar.

But this isn’t about convincing you one way or another. It is about knowledge and talking about how to use it. I am not at all surprised that the heat gun didn’t work. There just isn’t enough energy there and most likely the time just was not sufficient to drive any water off.

As you noticed, sugar absorbs water as that is exactly your issue. I can kind of see why you might think that adding it to cane sugar might work to dry it. The granulated cane sugar is dry, it will absorb some of the water and you will be good to go. The problem is that you really have not done anything to remove the water. You have just spread out the moisture. I guess if you then only use half as much coconut sugar (because half is sucrose) then you are only adding half as much moisture, but even that is probably going to be too much for your chocolate. Combining wet sugar with dry sugar isn’t a solution.

You are on target with getting it in an oven. Do that and it should work as you are going to actually drive off the moisture and I’ve done this quite often with brown sugar, demerara and other sugars that were too wet. It will take several hours on the lowest setting in your over. There is no need to get it over 212 F. You are not actually boiling the water off, just driving off moisture which will happen at 150 F or lower (the usual low setting on most ovens). Dehydrators work on that principle. If you have a convection oven, all the better.

Finally, while we are on the subject of sugar, I want to tell you about a technique I have had great success with. I have used sugar as a great absorption medium for anything that has a little bit of moisture in it that you would not want to add direct to your chocolate for fear of seizing it. I’ve grated various citrus zests onto sugar, stirred them around and then dried the whole thing in the over. The same thing holds to adding various strongly flavored juices, again like lemon, lime or orange. As long as you don’t add so much that you dissolve the sugar, it will dry out just fine.

And should you want to a lot of juice, then you can very successfully add them the roasted nibs. I let them soak and absorb into the nibs for 12-24 hours and then dry them in a warm oven. This technique also works fantastically on alcohols – scotch, bourbon, tequila, rum. You name it and it will work great. About the only thing it doesn’t work with is syrups. Maple syrup, honey and agave will all fail as the water is just bound too tightly to the sugar and won’t drive off. Just keep that in mind.

Ok folks, that is all for this week. I am mostly back and recovered and trying to get back up to speed. I’m not 100% which is why this is out on Friday and not my normal Thursday. Please feel free to send any questions you have in and I’ll answer them and/or take them for my weekly Ask the Alchemist article.