A Sweet, Sweet Summer: Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar Facts

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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.

buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup (7) (475x356)

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.

pure michigan maple syrup (2) (475x356)

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!

sweet sweet summer

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

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

maple syrup sm

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

Even though I’m very happy with the nutrition in honey, real maple syrup has fewer calories per teaspoon and a higher concentration of minerals than honey.source

  • 52 calories per Tablespoon
  • 13.4 g of carbohydrates
  • trace amounts of:
    • calcium
    • magnesium
    • iron
    • phosphorus
    • B Vitamins
  • Made of mostly sucrose, with only a little fructose and glucose

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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.

imageThe 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:

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.

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.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

36 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Debi says

    THANK YOU! This post was very informative! I was raised on what I THOUGHT was homemade “maple syrup”… water, sugar, and Maple Flavoring! We thought storebought Aunt Jemima syrup was a treat! As an adult I have seen the light and love pure maple syrup.

    One of our family’s traditional meals in the Fall is Fried Apples. (Grandpa’s favorite meal was Smoked Pork Chops, Fried Apples, and Red Potatoes. )

    A few years ago, I eliminated all processed sugars, flours, etc. from my diet and switched to sweetening with Pure Maple Syrup. I didn’t think I could change up our Fried Apples recipe, but I was wrong! Instead of using brown sugar, I used the maple syrup and was shocked to find that it didn’t taste ‘maple-y’ and it carmelized beautifully!

    Of course I also use it to sweeten many other things, such as breakfast cereals/grains, smoothie drinks and salad dressings, etc.

  2. says

    I’ve really been wanting to make the transition to pure maple syrup for a while now. Like most changes I’ve made it seems to be a bit cost prohibitive, but once the change is made it is easy to adapt to. Just a bit of curiosity…if 1 gallon of syrup requires 40 gallons of sap…how many gallons of sap does 1 sugar maple produce in a year??? Great post – love seeing the nutrition benefits broken down. That really helps me make the change!

    • Katie says

      That’s an awesome science question! It depends on the size of the tree – you can only make so many taps per inches (maybe 1 per 10 inches diameter or so?), so larger trees can produce more sap. If you overtap, you kill the tree. But I’m not sure what the average is…I’m thinking that a friend of mine tapped multiple trees on his property this year and ended up with less than a gallon of syrup, so it’s a pretty big time-consuming process! :) Katie

    • Katie says

      The label says Wenger’s Maple Syrup in Alto, MI – 893-4019. I actually buy with friends so I’ve never been to the farm myself. :) Katie

  3. says

    I love the balanced approach you bring. I was happy to read that you said “although I’m not personally opposed to a little of the white stuff [sugar] in moderation.” It really is important not to overdo it, but a little bit in moderation is ok. Plus, in Michigan there is local white (beet) sugar. Which is what I buy on the rare occasion that I buy sugar, even though I live in Ohio.

    Have you ever heard or read any comparison of beet sugar and cane sugar? I know that is not really your focus here, but I was kind of wondering.

    • Katie says

      Actually, that’s definitely part of what I should be doing in this series. I’m clueless so far, but I’m making a note of that comparison on my topic list. Thank you! :) Katie

  4. Susan Alexander says

    I am allergic to honey, so I sub maple syrup in EVERYWHERE for honey. Man, I wish I had a source like you! I buy mine from amazon.com – using their subscribe and save.

    I’m hoping when we move to NY this summer that I can find a local source for maple syrup and save some money!! 😉

  5. says

    love this post…we use m syrup for lots of things….ice cream, chocolate coconut milk and our favorite this time of year is a bit at the end of sauteed green beans….oh man! And Summerset County in PA has delicious syrup for (with a co op) $42 a gallon. Love that your detailed this with all the health benefits-been looking for something like this that I could point folks too. Blessings!

  6. Debi says

    I too would love an affordable source. Right now, the best price we’ve found in our area is Costco.

    Also, I’ve heard that it can last years and years. If I were to purchase a large 1 gal jar, can I divide it into smaller jars and ‘can’ it? Any other long-term storage ideas?

    • Katie says

      I would think canning your own would be just fine, but I’d look it up on a canning site/book to be sure. It ought to last a long time, being as natural as it is! 😉 Katie

      • Brenda/Granny Boo says

        I made 8 gallons on my indoor woodstove this year. I know that’s not recommended but it would be cost prohibitive to do it on my gas stove. I do usually finish it on my gas stove as the final bit must be watched carefully. I put it boiling hot into quart jars and use my tattler lids and rings to seal. It saves all winter in the cupboard until I use it.
        As far as what else I use it on, besides what has been mentioned, I boil some with butter and put it on popcorn. It’s yummy.

        • Debi says

          GrannyBoo :-) You are my HERO!!! I can only imagine how fragrant that must have been! Wood stove, maple boiling… oh YUM!!! and then the idea about putting it on popcorn! I will definitely do that! THANKS!!!

  7. Kari says

    Hi Katie!

    I use maple syrup to make homemade ice cream and chocolate syrup that we use on sourdough waffles, in smoothies and hot chocolate and to drizzle on vanilla ice cream. It’s amazing to me that my vanilla ice cream doesn’t taste “mapley” but it doesn’t.

    I just have to say, I think you are amazing: moving, getting ready to have a baby, taking care of your family, living with your in-laws AND keeping up with your blog. I don’t know how you do it, but I am so thankful that you do!

  8. says

    Okay, we go through a ridiculous amount of maple syrup! It took us just over 2 months to go through a full gallon…. Testing desserts for an upcoming cookbook and eating ice cream daily didn’t help that. (Yes, ice cream is our “other” favorite use…though we only use about 1/4 c. in each 1.5 quart batch, which we all split, so….)

    I did find sources in Amish country as low as $38/gal. Typical around here at farmer’s markets is $48 – $50/gal. Costco breaks down to $48/gal if you buy it by the quart (not grade B though). I’m in Ohio so it’s also local and that contributes to the lower prices.

    btw I am due Aug. 5, very close to you. :) Except they are expecting me to go early! So we’ll see.

  9. says

    THANK YOU! You put the facts behind all my thoughts on how maple syrup just feels and tastes better for the family. And cost-prohibition aside, we only eat the real stuff or go without!

    I hope everything is going well with your almost-with-us-baby and living with your in-laws. Nesting is tough when you’re not in your nest.

    Many thoughts & prayers your direction!

  10. Rebekah says

    We love maple syrup, but I don’t buy much of it because of the cost. When I do, though, I go for Grade B. I actually prefer the stronger flavor!

  11. Katie says

    I consume very little sugar, and most of what I do consume is in the form of fruit. However, even though I don’t eat it much, I do love maple syrup! I make a batch of granola bars (based on your recipe!) every other week or so for my mom, to give her a much healthier snack alternative to the peanut butter and ritz crackers she previously took to work with her. Maple syrup in place of honey is fantastic, I think – the flavor isn’t too strong but comes through just enough!

  12. says

    I love maple syrup. My favorite salad dressing these days is olive oil, apple cider vinegar, real maple syrup, and Dijon mustard. Sometimes i throw in poppy seeds for variety. It’s fabulous!

  13. says

    So crazy, I was just researching Maple syrup yesterday. I couldn’t decide if I would rather use Honey or Maple syrup and discovered I knew nothing about how either was really MADE. It was a very informative research quest :)
    BUT, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and just waited a day because here you are! With all the info I dug up yesterday haha. Still, a great post with great info.
    You have a really, really great blog btw! Thanks for sharing :)

  14. Brittany says

    Our favorite non-breakfast use for maple syrup is probably ice cream. Also, sometimes hubby and I will use it in “sweet rice” (leftover rice, milk, maple syrup and cinnamon) for a snack after the kiddos are in bed. And we like it in homemade hot cocoa. I love maple syrup!

  15. Rebecca Miller says

    I have heard reference to “raw” maple syrup. Do you know anything about that? Is that real oe just another gimmick? Love this post! Thank you!

    • Katie says

      Rebecca, I saw something on a site saying that raw foods enthusiasts like maple syrup, and I thought it was odd. I’ve never heard of raw syrup – how would you evaporate the water? :) Katie

  16. Tanya says

    Thanks for the info.

    I get my maple syrup from Costco or Trader Joe’s. And I’ve had it go bad, even stored in the fridge. It has gotten mold in the lid. And my daughter goes through it pretty quickly on her waffles.

    • Katie says

      The syrup jug we got last year said that if mold forms on top, boil it, skim it, and consume safely. ??? World’s Healthiest Foods says don’t eat it if any mold forms anywhere. Good luck! :) Katie

  17. says

    Katie, what an excellent, thorough post! I just love your blog – you’re so full of helpful information and encouragement! Blessings, kel

  18. says

    Ever heard of the using organic maple syrup and baking soda to treat cancer? We got an article about it from a naturopath friend. I’ve also looked a bit on the web…would definitely be worth a try! I’ve even thought about trying it a bit anyway to keep an acid environment in our bodies everyday…haven’t bought any maple syrup yet…maybe with our next Azure Standard order!

    • Katie says

      Beth, Wow, that’s a new one on me…thank goodness I can’t actually try it out, right? My mom is looking curiously into the pH of our body and what is optimal and how to get it there…so you just take a bit of baking soda with maple syrup to help the medicine go down, or what? Thanks! Katie

  19. says

    That picture of your two gallons of syrup has me drooling and jealous! I’m in Fl – not so close to local maple syrup…
    I love using maple syrup – it’s our main sweetener, along with honey. I prefer it for baking, and it’s so wonderful knowing that there are health benefits along with the sweetness. When my son licks his pancake plate clean, it makes me feel better knowing he’s getting more than just sweet goodness :) He’ll do the same at relatives’ houses, with their fake syrup, and it makes me cringe (and cry on the inside ;))!

    • Katie says

      I’d be right with you on that cringe! 😉 Would you believe we went to Fla. in the spring and saw maple syrup at the Farmer’s market? I thought it was funny – guy had a Vermont family farm too, so it was at least not totally randomly “imported” from the north. :) Katie

  20. says

    Thank you for the info here Katie. I had no idea that there were some great health benefits to our Maple Syrup. I will feel much better about the kids eating it now and am excited to try using it in some new ways (such as on and in my ice cream)!

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