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During a long emergency, anything that is sweet is going to be a welcome sign of normality. At the moment we take it for granted that we can get something as basic as sugar no matter where we are at.
The United States pays very high prices for real sugar.
In other countries, high fructose corn syrup is not what is used to sweeten everything. Sugar that is imported is subject to high tariffs so the cost is higher for us than other places around the world. Combine this with the fact that we have a lot of corn grown by big agriculture and their arsenal of toxic chemicals, and that the corn crop is highly subsidized, and it is pretty clear why the cost of sugar is triple what it is in some countries.
Our main sources of sweeteners may not always be as readily available and they may get quite expensive.
High fructose corn syrup is a cheap and heavily subsidized filler that satisfies the urge for sweets. Big agriculture is going to have a hard time providing that to us if SHTF or there is a long emergency.Natural disasters that cause corn crop failures or inability to plant fields are not out of the question.
Although we have corn reserves that can help insulate us from supply issues for a season, a few years of low yields or crop failure is not out of the question. The ability to process and deliver a product are other factors at play.
Sugar in the past
In the past, sugar was highly prized and people did not get sweet goods as often. When they did get anything sweet, it was usually fruit based. Soda and sugary drinks might have been consumed weekly not daily and some people didn’t even get that.
I remember that even when I was a kid and the tiny store in my town was still recovering from a huge flood, the first items on the shelf were boxes of candy bars and sugary drinks. Nowadays, it is cheaper to buy soda than it is sparkling water.
Back in the old days, when my great-great-great-grandfather had a general store in the mountains of North Carolina, that white sugar was special and had to come a long way in a wagon. There was a reason why the sugar bowl was hidden in a lot of houses or kids were punished for raiding it. There was only so much to go around and it cost money.
At the moment white sugar is plentiful and easy to afford. This could easily change if times get tough. As a nation, we are pretty addicted to sugar.
During the holidays it is easy to find a good deal on sugar. Bags used to be in 5,10, and 20 lbs increments but now what was a 5 lb bag is a 4 lb bag. Sales can be a little weird so there may be times when it is better to buy a lot of small bags and not the larger bags. Do the math and take advantage of what sales you can. As long as sugar stays dry and free of bugs and rodents it will stay good forever.
I prefer honey for a sweetener but it is expensive. You can do better by purchasing honey locally in larger buckets. If you want it in quart jars you may be able to get a discount by purchasing a whole case.Be careful when buying honey online or from a not so well known source. It is very common for inferior honey or honey that contains actually very little real honey to be sold at a discount. To top it all off, the discount is not always that much. Try to buy honey from the USA or Canada if at all possible.
There is a difference between high fructose corn syrup and regular corn syrup. Personally I don’t use either but at the same time if you catch it on sale, Karo syrup or similar can be nice to have on hand. I will say that unless you get organic corn syrup you are getting a product that is probably genetically modified and sprayed heavily with glyphosate.
In the South, we grow quite a bit of sorghum. It is tasty stuff and can be cooked down into a nice syrup. You can grow a lot of it in a small space too. We grew enough to winter a cow over one year. Livestock really love it. You can get seeds from it for feed and use the stalks for making syrup.
This is really cheap to buy in bulk online. The blackstrap is the least expensive but it has a strong flavor that some do not care for as much as some of the baking molasses. Like honey, molasses will keep indefinitely if kept sealed.
Boiling down maple syrup used to be more common. Some people assume that you have to tap a specific type of maple tree in order to get the sap you need for syrup. The truth is that any maple tree can be tapped but Sugar Maple will yield more syrup so it is what people plant that want to produce a lot of syrup in as small an area as possible.
The higher the sugar content of the syrup, the less time it requires to be cooked down into usable syrup. One must be careful and not tap trees too much or you can weaken the tree.
My Dad uses Stevia at times. You can get it in liquid form or mixed with maltodextrin in a powdery crystal format that is made to replace standard granulated sugar in baked goods. I have only baked with it once and while it did sweeten, there seemed to be a bit of a flavor in the granulated form that I did not care for. It also changes the texture a bit. I would say that baking with it yielded cupcakes that were not as light and fluffy as when standard sugar is used.
The dried malted barley extracts that are commonly used for brewing beer at home are excellent sweeteners and one of the better choices for those that are diabetic. You can get malted barley in light, Amber, or Dark formats depending on the flavor you prefer. The dried form is easy to store and keeps for a long time if kept dry and protected from bugs and rodents. It is very sweet and calorie dense. I would much rather eat a spoonful of malt powder than a spoonful of white sugar. If it gets wet or moderately moist and then dries out again it will be rock solid and you will have to dissolve it slowly in hot water to make it usable again.
This is basically white sugar that has molasses added to it. It is great for baking and has a distinct flavor. It is usually sold in bags of no more than 2 lbs at the regular grocery store. It has more of a tendency to clump up than white sugar so you may have to bust it apart or just dissolve it as is.
Fruit For Sweetening
Of course some of the most basic and plentiful sweeteners out there come from fruit. This is a good way to satisfy your sweet tooth while getting some additional nutritional benefits such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Apples are the most wide-ranging and plentiful source of fruit sugar in the United States. They are found wild and there are so many varieties that are adapted to various climates, making them an important fruit to look towards when typical sweets and sweeteners are not available. Apples are sweet enough that even without adding sugar, the juice will make an apple cider with 5% alcohol too.
Prunes are really sweet and a good source of fiber. A single plum tree can yield a lot of fruit that can be easily dehydrated and consumed throughout the year.
Sweeteners for Short to Moderate Food Storage
I don’t think it is good to always think that everything in prepper food stashes should always have a 10 year or longer shelf life. That is just missing out on good eating and deals. Sure you should have some items that are for long-term emergencies but there is nothing wrong with having items that keep for 2-5 years. You just have to remember to use items and replace with fresher shelf life. The vast majority of situations that you and your family might have to deal with are going to be much shorter term than a real SHTF scenario.
For better storage, you can read our guide on how to store sugar for the long term.
Canned or Bottled Pineapple Juice
This is some of the least expensive juice in the grocery store. The canned and bottled varieties that we recently bought are good for 2 years. I think if you get it very close to the manufacture date you can get 3 years out of it. We keep some of this on hand all the time to make sauces and glazes. Pineapple juice is super sweet to just drink but it makes a great addition to fizzy water or blended with other juices.
Concentrated Canned Juice Mixes
The 12 oz cans of grape juice or apple juice concentrates made by Welch’s store well and undiluted, they are quite sweet. These can be used to add fruit flavor and sweetness to a lot of things you cook or if you want to flavor fizzy water or add just a little flavor and sweetness to regular water during a long emergency.
Depending on where you live, there may be other sweeteners that are available to you. I know that there are plenty of fancy sweeteners at the grocery store now but I also know that chances are I am not going to be able to get agave syrup during SHTF and it is a lot more expensive than other sweeteners that I can stash back.
Learning To Make Do With Less Sweeteners
There are some major advantages to reducing your overall sugar intake. Obesity is one of the leading causes for health issues in the United States. Tooth decay can be expensive to fix at the dentist, painful, and even deadly if let go. During SHTF you are going to want to be in the best physical condition possible considering your age and any pre existing conditions and considerations.
I can tell you from experience that if you start to reduce your intake of sweeteners and salty foods, you will get to the point where if you have to eat something that has the typical amount that most people consume, it will taste overwhelming.
Matt and I gave up high fructose corn syrup years ago as well as highly processed salty foods. I will not say we don’t eat any salty mass-produced foods, but it is rare. Even frozen pizzas are way too salty for us no matter what brand we buy.
Your taste buds get used to certain things so in the beginning, you may miss sweeteners a lot but it will get a lot better the longer you stick to your plan.