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Are you baking deadly cookies? Better check the pantry

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Something could be going terribly wrong in pantries across Portland. Questionable sugar could result in the consumption and exchange of deadly cookies from well-meaning holiday bakers.

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Cookies are not a health food, but an essential ingredient could be turning those delicious cookies into poison. Aside from having a high proportion of sugar and fat, which can lead to health problems like diabetes, homemade cookies are relatively innocuous when made with quality, minimally processed ingredients and consumed in moderation.

What is this deadly ingredient?

Sugar made from beets is the questionable ingredient finding its way into cookies and other foods across Portland, and the rest of the United States. As a leading producer of sugar beet seed, the Willamette Valley plays a crucial role in the production of this subpar ingredient.

Two companies produce the majority of sugar beet seeds planted in the United States, and these companies operate right on the doorsteps of Portland cooks. West Coast Beet Seed Company in Salem, Oregon and Beta Seed, a seed research company headquartered in Minnesota, actively grow sugar beet seeds throughout the Willamette Valley. (ACSC n.d.)

A look at the sugar beet

Sugar beets have been an important crop to the US economy and have helped ensure a constant, inexpensive flow of sugar right into the mouth of consumers. For generations, the sugar was acceptable, although inferior in quality to cane sugar.

  • In the 2011/2012 growing cycle, sugar beets accounted for 56% of domestic sugar production, adding up to 4.446 million metric tons of sugar.
  • The plant grows in far more places than sugar cane, such as Michigan and Utah, it is understandable why there is more sugar from beets than sugar cane on the market. (ERS 2013)

What could be so bad about an inexpensive, easy-to-grow sugar?

Nearly all sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. When Monsanto released its patented genetically modified beet in 2008, growers enthusiastically embraced it. By 2009, only two seed growers grew conventional seed for West Coast Beet Seed Company. (Wilkins 2010) Presumably, the rest were producing genetically modified seed.

Sugar beets' genetic modifications allow them to withstand applications of Round-up®, the glyphosate-based herbicide, also produced by Monsanto. Crops often receive excessive application of the deadly chemical to control weeds. When the beets grow, they absorb the chemical, and it stays in the sugar despite processing.

A study published on 18 April, 2013 found that glyphosate’s “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body…Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.” (Samsel and Seneff 2013).

Beyond health implications, patents protect genetically modified seeds, and so their growth and distribution feeds the profits of private corporations.

So, one can conclude that baking cookies with sugar beet sugar can pose significant risks to health and supports the profits of the same biotech companies that produced chemical agents such as agent orange and saccharin. Nobody wants that in a cookie!

How to solve the sugar beet sugar problem

To avoid baking deadly cookies, customers can buy cane sugar instead of plain sugar. If the bag says "can sugar" than it is made from sugar cane. Unspecified sugars are probably beet, and that goes for sugar listed on food labels as well.

Although a bit more expensive than beet sugar, it has none of the genetically modified traits found in beet sugar and farming is conducted in a more conventional manner with far less, if any, glyphosate. Additionally, it does not support the line the pockets of biotech industry executives.

Most importantly, cane sugar is a superior product to use. Though the differences are subtle, professional bakers prefer cane sugar because it is purer and tends to result in moister, more consistent baked goods.

Now go get baking – and try these locally sourced cookie recipes

Go pick up a new bag of cane sugar and start baking, for Santa will be here soon. If you need some ideas, consider these locally sourced recipes brought to you by Portland area bloggers. Check out the slideshow for pictures.

  1. White Chocolate Cherry Almond Teacakes: As the winner of Missy Maki’s recent cookie contest, this cookie is guaranteed to be a hit. Embellished with almonds, white chocolate and dried cherries, this short dough cookie is super easy. Once baked, the finished cookie is dunked in powdered (cane) sugar. PDX Food Love's gorgeous pictures and clear directions make this a fun, simple cookie to bake.
  2. Royal Pine and Parm Holiday Honey Sandwich Cookies: For an unusual and sophisticated thriller on a holiday cookie plate, check out this recipe posted by Spoon and Saucer, which was also a contestant on Missy Maki's contest. Beautifully walking the line between sweet and savory, these cookies utilize fresh pine, which makes them perfect for the holidays.
  3. Berry Thumbprints: Ultra-healthy ingredients like walnuts, flaxseed and oats, make these cookies almost a guilt free indulgence. Since they are hand formed, they are also perfect for making with children. This simple, clean recipe from The Hearts Kitchen is ideal for Santa’s plate as well as everyday snacking. (Gluten-free)
  4. Peanut Butter Balls: Chocolate and peanut butter, an enduring combination, come together in this delicious no-bake cookie recipe from Hot Kitchen. Dipped in chocolate, then rolled in peanuts and Maldon sea salt, these cookies are truly addictive. Since there is no baking involved, these are also perfect for making with kids.

Suggested reading about sugar beets:

A Tale of Two Seed Farmers: Organic Vs. Engineered

Genetically Engineering the Sweet Stuff

SUGAR, SUGAR / Cane and beet share the same chemistry but act differently in the kitchen

Sugar beet industry converts to 100% GMO, disallows non-GMO


ACSC. "American Crystal Sugar Company." Sugarbeet Agronomy: Producing Sugarbeet Seed. n.d.

ERS. "USDA Economic Research Service." Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables: U.S. Sugar Supply and Use, Table 24b. December 10, 2013.

Samsel, Anthony, and Stephanie Seneff. "Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases." Entropy. Vol. 15. no. 1416-1463. 2013.

Wilkins, Dave. Beet seed stock a mystery. October 29, 2010. (accessed December 14, 2013).



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