5 a.m. And Rethinking Sweet

A couple weeks ago I woke at 5 am. (It has not happened since and there are no signs it will happen again.) But I was brewing coffee before the sun and my neighbor’s dog, rose. (In my more forgiving moments, I think of him as my own sweet urban rooster).

There is something about being productive at 5 am that is very foreign to me and I unfortunately have only the coffee to thank for that state.  But I’ve been making a concerted effort to cut back, not on early mornings, but on coffee and its accomplice, sugar.

But rather than looking for a “healthier” sweetener, I’m discovering spices and flavors that will distract my taste buds and make them not want sugar. Because the thing about simply replacing one sweetener with another, is it keeps the addiction alive. So I’m training my mouth to get better at detecting “sweet” in places it’s not used to looking and in so doing recalibrate the sugar dials. It’s kind of like holding the reset button down for a couple weeks.

These flavors have lately been making their way into my food:

Cinnamon. I’ve been adding a dash to coffee grinds as they brew. It doesn’t replace sugar but it seems to make the coffee less bitter so I’m using less. Thanks to KD for first introducing me to this morning habit by casually slipping it into the pot.

Vanilla Powder. It looks like a pile of dirt and tastes like a vanilla sundae. I discovered this magic dust at the tiny Whole Spice in Napa and I’m hooked.  I sprinkle it on plain yogurt and no longer miss the honey. I’ve not tried it in smoothies but can imagine it would be divine. It’s hard to find at regular stores, but you can buy vanilla beans and crush them or buy the powder from their online store here. It’s not cheap but you need but a wee amount to get the hit. Vanilla extract wont quite do the trick, since the alcohol has a dulling effect on the sweetness.

(Update: I was recently send some powder and whole beans from a wonderful company called Indri Vanilla. Divine! Check out their online store. )

See the powder in use.

Chipotle Peppers. I’ve found almost nowhere that the chipotle does not belong. I’ve added them to lentils, squash soup, homemade salsa, and chile. There is something about the smokey flavor that registers “sweet”. I don’t know why, but it does.

Yesterday I added a dried chipotle to quinoa as it cooked and it gave it an exotic, smokey, Mexican accent. See the ensemble here, Smokey Quinoa and Zucchini.

Coconut Oil. It’s no secret that I am deeply infatuated with the entire coconut family.  I especially love the oil for sauteing greens. Flash sautee them in a touch of coconut oil with a dash of salt, and a hint of sweet emerges.  Unlike olive oil which loses almost all its olive flavor when heated, coconut oil (due to its high smoke point)  retains its flavor. Try cooking scrambled eggs with it for ” breakfast on the beach”.

Nutmeg. I tossed this into an omelet one day on a whim and now the jar stays next to the stove. I’d added it to quiche in the past, but not until lately has it been making its way regularly into breakfast eggs.

Fruit. This may not belong on the list since it already bring its own sugar, but a tip to get more sweetness out of it is to heat it slightly. On oatmeal days, I add a few raisins while it’s cooking . Try warming up berries just slightly before adding them to yogurt, then let them cool and you’ll get the sweet juice in addition to the berries.

I do admit that if I’m tired, letting go of  the “real” source of sweet is far harder than when I’m rested, which raises the question of whether a 5 am wake up is actually a healthy habit in the long run…

Share your own recos for living a sweet life with less sweet … or healthier forms of sugar you’re using that pack more of a sweet punch?


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