Maple syrup has been a healthy sweetener for centuries. Find out how maple syrup is made, maple syrup nutrition, and how to use maple syrup.
I once put my pure Michigan maple syrup right next to my in-laws’ sugar-free (taste-free?) maple “syrup” in the fridge and reflected on how people try so very, very hard to find a “healthy” alternative to sweets.
Seriously, we seek health in man-made “food” and then we question why our waistlines are expanding? 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). So, if you’re going to use a sweetener, why not use one that comes with a little nutritional value?
What about Maple Syrup?
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.
How is Maple Syrup Made?
Have you ever seen a 40-gallon drum? It’s big enough for 2 of 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 crystallizes into sugar. Delicious, but complicated.
Is it worth the premium price?
Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup may be the healthiest sweetener yet that I’ve researched. 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:
- High in manganese and zinc1 which help heart health and boosts the immune system
- Prebiotic inulin which is great for gut health2
- Anticancer properties with phenolics, a class of antioxidants3
Maple syrup comes in various grades, such as Grade A (light amber, medium, and dark) and Grade B (the darkest), and recently has undergone some grading system changes. No matter what you call it, 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 (now called Grade A Dark or Very Dark) when the strong flavor doesn’t come through quite as clearly as when used straight on pancakes.
Nutrition 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.4
- 52 calories per Tablespoon
- 13.4 g of carbohydrates
- Trace amounts of:
- B Vitamins
- Made of mostly sucrose, with only a little fructose and glucose5
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 past sponsors, 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.
I’ve heard that people often use 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 using just a touch of maple sugar in the shortcakes and maple sugar-sweetened strawberries, a must-try!
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 bread
- 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.
The Only Disadvantage to Using Maple Syrup
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 its 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!
How to Stretch your Real Maple Syrup (and your budget)
1. Cut maple syrup with honey (and maybe a bit of water to thin it out). Raw honey has many wonderful health benefits (see this post for info), and it’s often about half the price of real maple syrup with all the sweetness.
2. Pour your real maple syrup in shot glasses for dipping, especially good for folks who would put on too much. (Nothing makes the family budgeteer cry more than plates full of leftover real maple syrup going into the sink after a big pancake breakfast!) Try the dipping method, and then figure out if this is better for your family or just using self-control on the pouring and allowing a little bit to be “enough”. (Sometimes you end up with more on the dip than you might pour on in the first place.)
3. Try this recipe with fruit that our children’s librarian sent me, substituting other fruits depending on what you have on hand:
- 1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries
- 1 1/2 cups frozen unsweetened raspberries
- 1/2 cup real maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Heat over medium heat until berries are juicy. Blend (optional) if you want a thin syrup instead of fruity chunks. Serve warm over pancakes or waffles.
I would probably add a lot more cinnamon because (a) I love it and (b) I know it helps keep me healthy. It lasts at least a few days in the fridge, enough for leftover pancakes and stirring into plain homemade yogurt.
4. Speaking of cinnamon, dusting your pancakes or french toast with cinnamon can add such flavor and a guise of sweetness (try Ceylon cinnamon for an even sweeter experience with more health benefits!) that you may find you don’t need as much syrup to have a pleasant breakfast experience. Food Renegade’s blender pancakes include cinnamon right in the mix – heavenly!
5. Put maple syrup in a cleaned-up soy sauce bottle or some sort of glass bottle with a smaller pouring spout. This is the key – that extra little piece of plastic on the top of the bottle that prevents actual pouring and forces you to more or less “shake” the contents out.
I used to use a repurposed lime juice bottle, which did a decent job, but I started thinking more about the amount of plastic we use and wishing I could find a glass alternative. A search of my basement “bottles and jars” box came up with this idea, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was for my kiddos!
The soy sauce bottle is the perfect size for children to pick up easily, and it comes out about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon at a time, so it’s almost impossible to waste. Perhaps certain dressings bottles would work as well, and I think a wine vinegar bottle would be another contender.
- Yamamoto, T., Uemura, K., Moriyama, K., Mitamura, K., & Taga, A. (2015). Inhibitory effect of maple syrup on the cell growth and invasion of human colorectal cancer cells. Oncology Reports, 33(4), 1579-1584. doi:10.3892/or.2015.3777
- Sun, J., Ma, H., Seeram, N. P., & Rowley, D. C. (2016). Detection of Inulin, a Prebiotic Polysaccharide, in Maple Syrup. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 64(38), 7142-7147. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.6b03139
- González-Sarrías, A., Li, L., & Seeram, N. P. (2011). Effects of Maple (Acer) Plant Part Extracts on Proliferation, Apoptosis and Cell Cycle Arrest of Human Tumorigenic and Non-tumorigenic Colon Cells. Phytotherapy Research, 26(7), 995-1002. doi:10.1002/ptr.3677
- Maple Syrup | The World’s Healthiest Foods. (2007). Retrieved 2020, from web.archive.org/web/20070328105629/www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice
- Syrups, Maple Nutrition Facts & Calories. (n.d.). Retrieved 2020, from https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5602/2