I put my pure Michigan maple syrup right next to my in-laws’ sugar-free (taste-free?) maple “syrup” in the fridge the other day and reflected on how people try so very, very hard to find a “healthy” alternative to sweets.
In the mainstream, this usually means something “low-calorie” with little nutrition in it or something with artificial sweeteners, i.e. laced with poison.
Sweets are a multi-million dollar industry.
Are you paying your dues?
I hope not. There are plenty of delicious ways to satisfy your sweet tooth without resorting to flashy marketing, fake foods, or even white sugar (although I’m not personally opposed to a little of the white stuff in moderation).
Besides that, you can always try conquering your sweet tooth and avoiding sweeteners altogether, the healthiest route.
That said, I love a little sweetness on my pancakes (among other things).
I’m fortunate enough to live in Michigan, one of the few states where maple syrup and maple sugar are truly local foods. Our raw milk farm even makes their own, although I bought two gallons for $40 each elsewhere, an incredible deal.
They were more than happy to come up from the basement to pose for a photo shoot.
This post is the latest installment in the Sweet, Sweet Summer series, where we’re exploring one natural sweetener per week until we run out!
How is Maple Syrup Made?
Have you ever seen a 40-gallon drum? It’s big enough for both my kids to fit inside, plus all their favorite stuffed animals.
Forty gallons of maple sap from a sugar maple has to be boiled down to only one gallon of maple syrup. (source: personal visit to Blandford Nature Center’s Sugar Bush tours)
The process of tapping a tree to collect sap, which is only about 1-3% sugar and 97+% water, then transporting it to a sugar shack or other raging fire, then boiling it down to the perfect density (and not too far), is a time and labor intensive endeavor.
That’s why you’re not finding real maple syrup in your grocery store on sale with the 10/$1 items like you can the fake stuff, which is made of corn syrup and water, mostly.
Maple sugar is even more expensive, because it extends the process one more step. Maple syrup must be boiled down even further until it crystalizes into sugar. Delicious, but complicated.
Is it worth the premium price?
Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup may be the healthiest sweetener yet. As much as I love baking with honey, using maple syrup is even better. The catch is that it’s often twice as expensive, so it’s a big judgment call.
Here’s a great list of all the good stuff packed into a maple tree:
- Antioxidant defense – 100% daily value of manganese in 1/4 cup (also improves HDL cholesterol)
- Heart health – high in zinc
- Immune support and anti-inflammatory properties (zinc and manganese again)
- Male reproductive health and prostate support
- Potential benefits for Type II Diabetes
- New research:
Researchers from the University of Rhode Island have found more than 20 compounds in maple syrup that are associated with human health. Many of these antioxidant compounds are also believed to have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and antibacterial properties. These researchers have also recently discovered that maple syrup is a source of phenolics, a class of antioxidants that are found in berries. source More on the new health benefits here or here…
Maple syrup comes in various grades, such as Grade A (light amber, medium and dark) and Grade B (the darkest). The lighter the color, the sweeter and less intense the flavor. However, the darker the color, the more minerals are concentrated. Many folks use Grade B for baking, when the strong flavor doesn’t come through quite as clearly as when used straight on pancakes.
Nutritional Profile of Maple Syrup
- 52 calories per Tablespoon
- 13.4 g of carbohydrates
- trace amounts of:
- B Vitamins
- Made of mostly sucrose, with only a little fructose and glucose
The Only Disadvantage…
Maple syrup isn’t allergenic, but it does have more carbs than perhaps some folks should eat. Used in moderation, though, there are more benefits than deficits to be sure.
The only disadvantage I see is it’s high cost – but then again, that teaches you to use less and conserve what you have!
Our pancake plates, for example, never look like those cleared away at an IHOP restaurant, drowning in leftover syrup. We use every last drop, or else! Here are 5 Ways to Stretch your Real Maple Syrup to help you out, too.
How to Use Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar
Easy. Pancakes. Right?
If you’re going to use two gallons of syrup, though, you’ve got to broaden your perspective a bit more. One of KS’s sponsors this month, Shiloh Farms, not only sells real maple sugar (and it’s AMAZING), but they also have lots of recipes that call for maple syrup and sugar.
The book Sprouted Baking often uses maple syrup for bread baking, where most recipes would call for brown sugar or honey – I say just try substituting in your own favorite bread recipes if you want to use more maple syrup!
I also made the best strawberry shortcakes from this book, using just a touch of maple sugar in the shortcakes and maple sugar-sweetened strawberries (a must-try), but alas, although I wanted to share that recipe with you this week, I packed up every single cookbook I have already! Shucks. Maybe next strawberry season.
Maple sugar has also been really fun on toast with cinnamon, in oatmeal, and in muffins in place of white sugar. Yum! I tend to conserve this stuff because it’s so expensive though. Just my nature!
Other ways I use maple syrup:
- Grain-free granola (recipe can be found in the newly expanded Healthy Snacks to Go eBook along with over 45 real food snack recipes – click HERE to learn more.)
- in breads
- to flavor cream cheese frosting (whip yogurt cheese with a bit of maple syrup and vanilla or almond extract)
- to sweeten real whipped cream
- in oatmeal, although I usually use no sweetener at all, just unrefined coconut oil
- on sweet potatoes and squash in the fall
- and our favorite pancake recipes: soaked whole grain pancakes, sourdough pancakes, grain-free banana Paleo pancakes, grain-free almond-apple pancakes, and gluten-free soaked buckwheat pancakes, from the top photo, an exclusive recipe that I’ll share in this month’s KS newsletter. (Sign up HERE or in the sidebar.)
How do you use your real maple syrup beyond the breakfast table?
Want to find out more about what’s going on locally? This post is linked to the West Michigan Link-Up at Natural Living Moms, where you can see what everyone else is up to.
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
Disclosure: As a monthly sponsor, Shiloh Farms gets a complimentary mention in a post, and this it it! I’m happy to share their maple sugar with you in particular, since they shared with me and oh! is it tasty! See my full disclosure statement here.
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