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A little while ago I had a conversation with someone who told me they had decided to give up eating refined sugar. If you’re not eating refined sugar it very likely means you’re sourcing your food naturally, and that is always a good thing. We have a bit of a situation over here with bulk candy bins every which way we turn in Stockholm, so not eating refined sugar is a conversation I frequently have with myself when I am trying to avoid them.

Talking about sugar purely in the sense of what happens to it when you put it into your body, I think there is a bit of a misconception about refined sugars being unhealthy and unrefined sugars being better for you. The thing is that when you ingest sugars, your body can’t tell whether those sugars are naturally sourced or whether they are refined. What your body knows is what type of sugar it is. A monosaccharide? A disaccharide? A polysaccharide? Then it goes about breaking it down. The more complex sugars take longer to break down than simple sugars, which absorb into the blood stream very quickly and are often though of as ’empty calories’ depending on their source.

So, am I saying go ahead and load up on refined sugars since your body doesn’t discriminate? No. Naturally sourced sugars are better for the planet, and in general I trust things that nature has made way more than I trust scientifically derived ‘food like substances’. But I like talking about food science, and I also wanted you all to understand that when I say these muffins have no sugar in them, I am lying to you.

What I mean when I say there is no sugar in these muffins is that I haven’t put any in. None. Not even a teaspoon.  But that’s not to say that there isn’t any sugar in them at all. There is naturally occurring sugar in the flour and the bran and the oats and the milk. And there is definitely sugar in the bananas and the dates, which is where these muffins get their sweetness.

I was experimenting with a new muffin recipe and I had some very ripe bananas on hand, so those went in for moisture. I also had some dates, which I boiled and then mashed a bit to break them down, and those went in for sweetness. And I did add a few tablespoons of brown sugar. When we ate the muffins it was difficult to tell that there was so little sugar in them, and it made me wonder if they needed it at all. Then I remembered an old recipe I used to make for sticky date pudding (yum!) where dates are boiled with water and then a teaspoon of baking soda is added to the pot. The reaction between the baking soda and the hot water first causes a fun foamy reaction, and then, once it’s sat for a while, the reaction causes the dates to break down into almost a paste. Or a jam. A jammy paste.  So I decided to try that technique with this muffin recipe, and the results were good. Really really good.

I didn’t tell Paul that the muffins were free from added sugar until after he’d eaten a few. He couldn’t tell. I made another batch and had the same results. Then I emailed the recipe to my sister in law for testing outside of my own kitchen, and the report was positive. The thing I love about these muffins is that not only is all of the sweetness derived naturally, but they are still low in fat, high in fibre, have a nice lightness to them, and they taste fantastic. Let me tell you in all seriousness that this has become my New Favourite Muffin Recipe. It truly has usurped all others, and I really hope you will try them, and let me know how they go!

Sugar has a tumultuous history marked by slavery, child labour, and ongoing disastrous economical and environmental consequences for sugar producing regions of the world. I’m not going to go into that aspect of sugar deeply here, but I do think that educated consumerism is important so I’ll point you over here for some interesting reads about sugar. And bananas. And more.

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No Sugar Banana Branners Recipe:

In the interest of accuracy and better recipe replication, I have started to weigh out a lot of my ingredients. This recipe uses 200g of chopped dates, which, crammed into a measuring cup equaled about one and a half cups. You’ll want to chop the dates before you measure them, otherwise you won’t have enough. I like to cut dates with my trusty kitchen scissors rather than a knife. There are also pre-chopped dates available at some bulk food stores, which, (anyone who has ever done the date chopping job when turning out 40lbs of Christmas cake (ahem) will agree) may just be the best thing since sliced bread.

Update!: While I was in Vancouver and Paul was making these muffins for himself, he started adding a diced banana and a handful of walnuts to these muffins when he made them, and I’ll say, it takes them to another level. It’s now a part of our standard recipe, and I’ve updated the recipe accordingly. 

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200g (1 1/2 cups) chopped pitted dates
1 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 Tbsp of soft butter OR olive oil (I’ve used both with the same results)
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups of wheat bran
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 banana, diced
1 cup walnuts, chopped

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Prepare your muffin tins, and preheat oven to 200 C/ 400 F.

In a small (but not too small!) pot, combine the dates and water and heat to boiling on high heat. As soon as the water boils, add the tsp of baking soda, and stir to combine. Marvel at the foamy science that is happening and do not be alarmed, just make sure your pot is large enough that it won’t foam over. Set mixture aside to cool.

With a hand mixer whip together mashed bananas and butter or olive oil until it is light and frothy. Add the eggs and whip to combine them. Stir in milk, bran, and oats, and set aside.

In a small bowl sift together flour with baking powder and salt.

Add the dates to the wet mixture, and stir to combine. Then add the remaining dry ingredients, and mix by hand. Mix in diced banana and walnuts. Spoon into prepared muffin tins.

Bake for 20 – 25 min, until tops are golden and a knife inserted into the middle of one of the muffins comes out clean.

Updated August 2012: This is still hands down my favourite weekday muffin, and not a week goes by that we don’t make a batch to pack along to work or school for a breakfast / snack. I just ran the recipe through a calculator out of curiosity, both with and without walnuts added, and here are the results for 1 muffin (per 12 muffin recipe):

With walnuts: 212.5 calories, 10.6 grams of fat, 6.6 grams of fiber, 5.5 grams of protein.

Without walnuts: 145.8 calories, 3.9 grams of fat, 5.9 grams of fiber, 4.0 grams of protein.

Walnuts are a rice source of monounsaturated fats (good for your heart) and a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Walnuts also have antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties which are protective against cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes. Remember that like all nuts, walnuts are calorie dense, so we’re consuming them in moderation

All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2010

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