Rediscovering the “Safe” Sugar

9 February 2016   |   Michelle Jean, co-founder of Zesa Raw, a ‘fair-free trade’ social enterprise

Unrefined cane sugar, the product of a centuries-old process, has had a long journey in and out of obscurity.

Organic cane farmers from Costa Rica and Zesa Raw are returning it to the prominence it deserves.

Unrefined cane sugar, the least processed form of sugar, was once the fortune of plantation owners, a jealously guarded secret sold to middle and wealthy classes. As demand grew, the sugar spread across the globe and unrefined cane sugar was engineered and processed into refined white sugar, which became the norm.

But today, unrefined sugar is back with the trendsetters as a less-processed alternative with subtle flavors of molasses and a low glycemic load.

Depending on the country you’re in, its name varies. In Latin America, it comes in a large, hard blocks you can find in markets and is called panela, rapadura or papelon; in India, where the process originated, it is called jaggery. The rapadou of Haiti is soft and sold in a bread-loaf shape. Though we’ve found no one who has perfected the process of unrefined sugar that retains 100 percent molasses quite like our friends at APOYA, a small Fairtrade cooperative in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica, as a country, is focused on sustainable agriculture, striving to maintain a balance between producing goods and preserving the diverse flora and fauna that make the country a top tourist destination.

The farmers of APOYA and the mill we partner with have created perfectly-sized, unrefined “Rapadou” Cane Truffles that are soft, hand-milled and irregularly-shaped to resemble truffles. Our single distilled dark cane syrup with the consistency and viscosity of maple syrup – but less sweet, light and airy-textured – is great on waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, coffee and more.

Our products are a testament to the craftsmanship of the small-scale family farmers we work with. The APOYA Cooperative is made up of just 19 members (15 men and 4 women) who cultivate an average of 4 acres of sugar cane.

At Zesa Raw, we like to consider ourselves “fair-free trade” social entrepreneurs who respect and appreciate tropical crops. We work in the US, Haiti and Sweden. Besides our sugars, we also source specialty coffee and cacao from Haiti and will soon begin importing rapadou from Haiti. Our products deliver on our sourcing goals, including:

  • Sustainable small-scale farmers;
  • Bought on Fairtrade or direct trade terms;
  • Organic, non-GMO, kosher, vegan
  • High-quality

In addition, our packaging is handled by an incredibly operated 40-year-old company that works with adults with developmental disabilities in a pristine facility in New Holland, PA.

Zesa – meaning balanced in Sanskrit – and Raw reflect the purity of our products and our mission, something that Zesa Raw strives to imbue in each of our products.


We’re in this together

Fairtrade America partners with brands on the journey to certification and beyond. We can help with everything from finding a certified supply chain to marketing your newly certified product.

Get in Touch

Explore More