This season was my first blackberry season. Growing up in northern BC we had salmonberries, blueberries and huckleberries… but nothing that grows as feverishly as wild blackberries. After my fair share of thorns and bloody arms I had enough berries to make jam… but what sugar to use? Honey had taken main stage on my shelves but that wouldn’t do for jam. Are there environmental and ethical factors to consider when buying sugar?
What To Consider When Buying Sugar
- Say no to sugar beets – All of the sugar beets produced in Canada are genetically modified to be resistant to glycophosate ie Roundup Ready. In Canada 10% of our sugar consumed is from beet sugar; the USA is at 50%. Initial approval of GMO sugar beets by the USDA was revoked by a federal judge for violating the law by failing to perform a full environmental impact statement for the crop. Unfortunately GMO sugar beets had crowded out the market and the USDA defied the judges order GMO sugar beets were planted galore.
- Make sure it’s labeled cane sugar – If it is not labelled cane sugar that means it is probably coming from beet sugar.
- Look for the Fair Trade symbol – In Canada 90% of our sugar consumption comes from imported cane sugar sourced from Central/South America, the Caribbean and Australia. A decrease in demand due to the introduction of artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup, government subsidies to some countries and not to others, and falling sugar prices means all this hard labour produces meagre earnings for workers in developing nations. Choosing Fairtrade guarantees a minimum price for the farmer which covers the costs of sustainable production, as well as a social premium to invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.
- Go Organic – Sugar cane production comes with its fair share of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. These agrochemicals can enter the local air, soil and water supply and pose significant risks to human health and to biodiversity. Organic cane sugar is produced without all the nasty chemicals leading to less contamination of the land, water and air.
- Support governments trying to make a difference – A $200 million Reef Rescue Program, a collaborative deal between government and growers, is playing in integral part in saving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Sugar cane production in Australia has been criticised in the past for the environmental destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. Large amounts of effluents, pesticides and sediment from sugar farms contaminates the water and the reef itself is threatened by the clearing of land, which has destroyed the wetlands that are an integral part of the reef’s ecology. The Reef Rescue Program is a shining star in minimising nutrient and chemical farm run-off, improving water quality on the reef, and enhancing the sustainability of sugar cane production for one of the worlds biggest producers.
Sugar and Nutrition
Although sugar in excess has been linked to multiple health conditions, I don’t know any dietitians that will say to avoid sugar altogether! That is because sugar tastes good and the pleasures we get from food should not be discounted. Small amounts of sugar do not appear to create damage within the body, so there is no need to avoid sugar completely. Besides sugar can be used to make foods more palatable, such as honey on rolled oats, or (homemade) jam on whole grain toast. Foods such as this jam recipe can be more than 50% sugar, so it is still best to use it in small amounts.
Brands of Sugar I Love
Health food stores are jam-packed with options for the conscious sugar buyer. Any one with the Fairtrade symbol and Organic certification gets a gold star by me. For the recipe below I used Level Ground Trading Organic Fair Trade Sugar (pictured above) which is available at most health food stores.
In Australia, Bundaburg sugar gets a better rating than CSR sugar based on humans rights, environmental sustainability and packaging. See Shop Ethical for more details.
Recipe for Homemade Wild Blackberry Jam
For my first attempt at jam I aimed for the easiest variation out there. I reduced the sugar to as much as I thought acceptable- most recipes call for at least 7 cups of sugar. Because of the reduction in sugar the jam will be more runny than traditional jam, but I kinda like it that way! I also experimented and made 2 bathes, one with the No Sugar Needed Pectin which turned out good but had a slightly jello-like texture. This jam goes perfect with my new-found-love, sunflower seed spread.
Ingredients for Wild Blackberry Jam
5 cups wild blackberries, washed and drained (or any other berry of your choice)
4.5 cups fair trade, organic sugar*
1 packet of pectin (1.75 ounces)
*for a lower sugar alternative use a No Sugar Needed Pectin which works by binding to calcium rather then sugar. By using this pectin I was able to cut the amount of sugar down by about a half (2.5 cups).
Method for Wild Blackberry Jam
Sterilize 2 x 1Litre (or 1 Quart) jars by boiling in hot water for 10 minutes, or putting in the dishwasher. Use the equivalent in smaller jars if you have these on hand. Leave the jars in the hot water until ready to use. To sterilise the lids place in boiling water, turn off the heat and let sit until ready to use.
Put the berries into a large saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring regularly. Give the berries a good mashing, so they are nice and mushy, but not completely pulp.
Start adding the pectin a little at a time. Keep stirring until all the pectin is added to the berries. Turn the heat up to high until the mixture is up to a boil. Keep stirring.
Add the correct amount of sugar all at once, keep stirring.
Bring the mixture back up to a boil. Don’t forget to keep stirring.
Boil for 1 minute.
Remove from heat. Take out the pre-boiled jars one at a time and fill leaving 1/4 of an inch at the top.
Gently tap the bottle of the jar on the counter to get ride of any bubbles. Wipe the top rim with a clean napkin. Place lids on and screw until almost tight (we want to leave a little bit of room as when we sterilise them they will tighten some more).
Once both jars are filled place them into a boiling pot of water. Make sure the water covers the top of the jars by about an inch.
Boil for 10 minutes. Remove carefully and place on a towel to dry. Let set for at least 12 hours. Tighten lids.