Mostarda di Frutta, and notes on artificial sweeteners in ketogenic diets

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While in Florence on my honeymoon many years ago I learned to love mostarda di Cremona, the sweet tangy mustardy fruit condiment. I bought a bulk kilo, hauled it home, and for many years enjoyed it with all kinds of things. Then I developed blood sugar problems and changed to a ketogenic diet and such treats were off my list of possibilities.

Recently I was looking at my beautifully laden quince tree and began to mull over the possibility of eating fruit mustards again. I have put all sorts of caveats at the end of this post, and if you want to remain low-carb please read them, because fruits are full of sugar no matter how you prepare them. But I do eat fruit and some sweeteners at times. I just keep it rare and use some medication at those times.

If you eat sugar, I recommend the classic mostarda recipe on Saveur, or any of dozens of recipes online that look good. But if you use artificial sweetener it’s a little different, which is where my directions come in.

You will need about three quarts, loosely packed,  of mixed fruit pieces. My yard is at the tail end of fruit season so I had a lot of fruit types that needed using up. I didn’t use any red or dark fruit to avoid darkening the color. I used three quinces, 4 large green tomatoes, 3 large Seckel pears, and 2 apples from my yard and bought an unripe mango, an orange, a lemon, and two kiwis to supplement. Juice the lemon.  Peel and core the rest of the fruit as necessary (I only peeled the mango and kiwis) and cut in slices. Put in a large glass or pottery bowl with  the juice of the lemon. Add two teaspoons of salt and two teaspoons of pure liquid sucralose. Toss quickly and thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside for a day,  tossing thoroughly a few times to make sure all the fruits get exposed to the lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

The next day bung the contents of the bowl into a pot, add enough cold water to cover the fruit, and bring to a boil. Reduce immediately to a simmer, and simmer until the fruit is a texture that you like. I simmered mine for about two hours, until the orange peel was softened but still fairly firm. All the other fruits held their texture and shape well except the kiwis, which got pretty soft. Drain the fruit and return it to the bowl, return the liquid to the pot, and boil down to about half its volume. If you want whole mustard seeds in the finished product, add them during the boiling. I am not sure they have any additional flavor over the powdered mustard, but I like the way they look, so I added a tablespoon.
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Now cool and taste the liquid in the pot. It needs to be quite sweet, so adjust as needed. I use Sweetleaf powdered stevia at this step. Adjust salt if needed. Add powdered yellow mustard to taste. I like a lot, and used almost half a can of Coleman’s mustard powder. After all, I want a tangy condiment, not jam. But start with a tablespoon and add more as needed, if your tolerance may be low. Pour over the fruit, cover with the towel, and steep overnight again. Taste again to make sure it’s mustardy enough to suit you, and adjust if needed. Whenever adding mustard powder, remember that the mustard flavor develops after 10-15 minutes in liquid, so add about half what you think you need, wait ten minutes, and taste again before adding more.
Put in jars and store in the refrigerator for short-term use. The true mostarda stores for a long time because sugar is a great preservative, but this one lacks that advantage. I am freezing some but don’t yet know how well that will work.
Serve with ham, roast beef or chicken, turkey, or anywhere that a touch of tangy sweetness might liven things up.

Sugar-free mostarda does not have the exquisite gloss of the sugary kind, because that comes from sugar. Sorry.
Keep in mind that my decision to stick to light-colored fruit was purely arbitrary and in retrospect I rather regret it, since some color would have livened things up. I can imagine a dark rich mostarda of plums and blackberries being utterly delicious. Also, at the final stages I decided that small chunks would be better than big slices, so I went through and snipped each slice a few times with kitchen shears. In the kitchen, things are negotiable. Results are seldom final until dinner is actually served. I borrowed a few pictures to show some possibilities:
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ADDENDUM: Notes on artificial sweeteners
If you are following a ketogenic diet for blood glucose or other health reasons, the sad truth is that no artificial sweetener is harmless. At best, they tempt you to eat too much. At worst, as is true of most sweeteners found at the grocery store, they digest just like sugar. My own glucometer shows me that any sweetener containing dextrose, maltitol, fructose, or most sugar alcohols digest just like table sugar and will send my blood glucose soaring. It may say sucralose or stevia on the label, but if it’s in crystal form, the base is usually maltitol or dextrose. Read the ingredients carefully. Pure liquid sucralose and a couple of other sweeteners don’t bump my blood sugar but have potential to induce insulin secretion, affect gut biota, and induce metabolic syndrome: see reference here. If you are trying a low carb diet but not losing or are regaining weight, check your sweeteners and, probably, stop using them.
More and more, I think that the only healthy solution is not to use them. But I do occasionally allow myself oligofructose (a chicory root derivative,) a little pure liquid sucralose, or stevia. Just don’t think of sweets as a basic right. They are a rare privilege if you want to avoid metabolic syndrome.

Fruit of all kinds needs careful thought if you have blood sugar issues. Even the lower carb fruits like berries will send my blood sugar climbing. On the other hand, I love them and want their antioxidants, and my yard is full of fruit in season. So my decision has been to keep fruit consumption low and take metformin when I do eat it. Get a glucometer and use it, test yourself after eating fruit, and discuss with your doctor if you get strikingly abnormal results. If you get normal results, then lucky you.

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