We need to talk about sugar.
It's essential for life, a delicious indulgence and it plays a huge part in how we live, from indulgent treats to the medicines that treat us... But of course, we’ve also got to consider the health implications of sugar.
Sugar has a place in most of our hearts but it is not without its downsides.
The great sugar debate is a complex one; we spent a long time debating the benefits and drawbacks of using sugars. We are very careful as to what sorts of sugar we use, how much we use, and ensure that we only get our sugar from ethical and sustainable sources.
While we know that our decision was never going to please everyone, here is our Sugar 101 to help you learn more about why we include natural sugars in our drinks!
So what are sugars? And are they bad for you?
Sugars are one category of compounds that our body needs for energy which most of us consume on a daily basis. In fact, ALL bodies use sugars for energy - even if you actively avoid eating sugar. Sugar itself is a molecule built up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen - the building blocks of the carbohydrates that we require to exist.
Sugars make up the backbone of our DNA, and they are essential for many of our metabolic processes. They’re quick to break down, and so they are what our body prefers as an energy source. The human brain alone needs around 130g of the sugar- glucose to function normally. That said, there can always be too much of a good thing, and we need to be aware of how much sugar our bodies need, and to consume it accordingly. Sugars should always be consumed as part of a balanced diet and paired with exercise - as like any source of energy - our bodies only need a finite amount before storing the excess nutrition as fat.
The WHO recommends that most of the sugar that we consume should come from fruits and vegetables, and that ‘free sugars’ like the ones in drinks and confectionery should only make up 10% of our daily energy intake. To put that into plain English, this works out at around 50g a day of added sugar for the average adult - sugars coming from fruit and veg don’t count towards this number, but juices, soft drinks, chocolate bars, and even natural sugars such as maple syrup do.
How did we start using sugar?
The oldest archaeological evidence of human settlements shows them gathering and growing fruits and foraging for honey, so we’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth. Humans have been keeping honey bees for at least 9000 years and we’ve been concentrating the sugars from fruits such as grapes, dates and pomegranates to make sweet syrups to add to their food and drinks for thousands of years.
Cane sugar was probably first grown by people in Papua New Guinea around 8000BC where people would chew sugar cane for its sweet juice, and sugar cane made its way across the world via South East Asia, China, and India - where sugar was likely first refined. Granulated sugar was even used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as medicine. The first written references in the UK can be found from 1069, and by the 15th century it had made its way around Asia, Europe and Africa, cementing its place as a luxury item.
In the 11th century, the human desire for something sweet resulted in the rise of ‘sugar of lead’, a toxic lead compound that was one of the first artificial sweeteners. It didn’t end well.
As with many other hot ticket items, people couldn’t get enough of sugar. Sugar cane was one of the first plants taken across to the West Indies by Christopher Columbus - beginning an industry that led to the enslavement of millions.
In 1747, it was discovered that the humble beetroot could be used to make sugar - and by the late 1800s sugar beet had become Europe’s main sugar source.
Nowadays, cheap alternatives to sugar exist, in the form of high fructose corn syrups and other sweeteners, but none of them quite compare to the ‘real thing’.
Why do we use sugar in our drinks?
Using sugars as sweeteners simply taste better than using artificial ones (such as aspartame) and even naturally derived sweeteners like stevia. Sugars add both flavour and texture to our drinks, and we pick our sugar sources very carefully to bring something a little extra to the table from the tart astringency of pomegranate molasses to the bittersweet caramel notes of blackstrap treacle.
We aim to use unrefined sugars that are packed full of vitamins, minerals and flavour. You’ll find watermelons, maple, birch sap, agave, pomegranate molasses and cane molasses across our different drinks - and they all bring different things to the party! If you’d like to find out more, we have a full list of ingredients for all of our drinks here.
Here’s three of our favourites…
Super rich in salts and minerals - known as electrolytes - that our body needs for healthy metabolism, watermelon is a brilliant way of replacing compounds lost during an active day or night. This superfruit is one of the richest natural sources of an amino acid called L-Citrulline - it's great for keeping your circulation in check and the blood flowing for your body, brain and soul!
Once a year in spring, artisan maple growers tap their carefully cultivated maple trees as the sap rises back into their branches. They gently collect this electrolyte-rich water which is abundant in minerals, and full of natural sweetness and flavour. This sap is reduced down to concentrate its rich flavours and make a syrup. Delicious, indulgent and completely natural.
Are sugars used for anything else?
Aside from the obvious use in desserts and drinks, sugar is also often used in curing and pickling to preserve food naturally. Fermented and cultured foods also use sugar in their process.
Sugars are needed to make bread rise, to brew beer, to cure gravlax, and for making things as broad as kimchi to yoghurt! Sugar is also the starting point for vinegar, kefir, kombucha and alcohol!
Sugar is also used in industry to make many vitamins, medicines, and food ingredients - besides just being used as a sweetener. In Brazil, sugar is even used to create the fuel for peoples cars!
What’s so wrong with sweeteners?
Sweeteners are a hugely broad category of ingredients which range from harmful to harmless.
Historically, we’ve gone to some extreme lengths to get there; from climbing thirty metre high trees to gather honey, to going as far as risking our lives with sugars adulterated with lead. Thankfully times have changed since our only alternatives to sugar were truly dangerous for us and there are many artificial sweeteners that are generally recognised as safe for us to consume. It’s true that stevia is a natural sweetener, and sucralose does come from natural sugar - but they just don't taste nearly as good, and they don’t add that indulgent texture that we all want from a drink. I think all of us can agree that pomegranates, maple and treacle are a lot more appealing than their synthetic counterparts.
To summarise, sweeteners can be good and bad. If you’re looking for a zero calorie product that has a perceived sweetness then sweeteners are the solution. If you’re not comfortable with artificial sweeteners like us, then there are some wonderful natural ingredients that can offer a sweet mouthfeel without many calories such a vanilla, oak and liquorice root. These plants all give a delicious sweetness within our drinks as they are full of delicious natural compounds such as vanillins, lactones and glycyrrhizin. However when you need real depth and indulgent mouthfeel it is almost impossible to beat fructose, sucrose, maltose - humble sugar molecule.
How ethical is it to use sugar?
We’re extremely careful about all of our sourcing, and take the time to make sure that the harvesters are paid fairly, treated well and that we look after the environment as best we can, regardless of whether it’s someone from Inverness or from Mexico harvesting our sugar sources.
We make sure that we use environmentally sustainable, ethical suppliers. We’re always looking for ways to make our sourcing even more environmentally friendly.
We’ve designed Three Spirit to be drunk by adults, however we know that excessive consumption of sugar can lead to health problems, so we always recommend consuming Three Spirit as part of a balanced lifestyle paired with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
So how much sugar is there in our drinks?
All of our drinks have less than 8.75 grams of sugar per serving and all of these come from natural sources. As a comparison, a medium sized carrot contains around 2.9 grams of sugar, a 2 inch wide beetroot contains 8 grams, a medium sized banana has over 14 grams of sugar in it and a single apple can contain as much as 23 grams of sugar!
8.75g sugars per serving.
4.45g sugars per serving.
6.35g sugars per serving.
Isn't that the same amount of sugar as a Coke?
Three Spirit drinks are designed to be consumed in much smaller measures than say a bottled soft drink. If you live in the UK - a 500ml bottle of Coke contains almost 53 grams of sugar, that’s compared to a serving of Three Spirit containing between 4.5 and 8.75g per serve depending on which drink you choose!