Last month, Carrie introduced us to organic whole cane sugar as a better way to sweeten your treats than traditional refined white sugar.  Today, I want to continue this series by looking at another great alternative to refined sugar: maple syrup and maple sugar.

The maple tree is an iconic symbol of a New England autumn.  But did you know it also produces a syrup that is – believe it or not – chock full of nutrition? It’s true. There are a few legends about how maple syrup was first discovered, but whatever the history is, Native Americans were making syrup from the maple tree’s sap long before Europeans brought over honey bees.

How Maple Syrup & Sugar are Made

To make maple syrup, the tree is tapped (drained) of its sap, and the sap is heated in large flat pans in order to reduce it, just as we make reductions for sauces when we’re cooking.  Once the sap has reached 67% sugar, it is considered maple syrup.  Maple sugar is made by further heating of the syrup, until it boils and reaches 237 degrees F.  This will cause the sucrose in the syrup to become concentrated, and it will crystallize as it cools.

Photo by kylemac

Nutritional Content

So why are maple syrup and maple sugar considered better sweeteners than white sugar?  Well, it’s much less refined than sugar.  The process that the sap goes through in order to become syrup and maple sugar allows it to retain its nutrients.  Maple syrup is very high in potassium and calcium! Isn’t that amazing?  It also contains magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, citric acid, and amino acids.  Wow – this beats the nutritional content of white sugar, hands down.

Of course, it is important to note that maple syrup is about 88% sucrose; the remainder is fructose and glucose. Therefore, it is still high in sugar, so if you’re looking for an alternative sweetener that is low-sugar, this may not be the one for you. But there may be times when you are using refined white or brown sugar that you could easily use maple syrup or maple sugar instead, and you would be reaping nutritional benefits that are simply absent from refined sugar.

A few fun ways to use maple syrup & sugar:

• If you sweeten your oatmeal in the mornings at breakfast, use a little maple syrup or maple sugar instead of brown sugar to sweeten it. It’s delicious, and full of potassium and calcium, too.

• Maple syrup is also heavenly stirred into plain yogurt.  Add a few nuts and berries and you’ve got a dessert parfait.

• Toss pecans in maple syrup before toasting them and sprinkling on salad with lettuce, apple slices, and bleu cheese crumbles.

• Maple syrup can easily be substituted for white sugar in most recipes; check here for recipes, play pokies online for tips, and ideas.

Photo by Brad Haynes

Things to Know When Buying Maple Syrup/Sugar

• First of all – be sure it’s maple syrup! Brands like Log Cabin and Aunt Jemima are mostly – or completely – high fructose corn syrup with maple flavoring.  Yuck.  Always read ingredients and look for 100% Real Maple Syrup.

• Second, there are different grades of maple syrup available.  These include Grade A Light Amber, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B.  Grade A is sort of the standard syrup, but Grade B is actually higher in mineral content than Grade A! It’s darker in color, as well, and cheaper than Grade A.

• Third, formaldehyde. Yes, you read correctly.  Believe it or not, in the past, maple syrup producers used formaldehyde pellets to keep the hole from closing where the sap was flowing out.   Although this practice became illegal in the 1990’s, it is apparently still common in some areas, especially where inspections are infrequent or lax.  Certified organic farms are subject to much more stringent inspections, so if you want to be certain that your maple syrup is free of formaldehyde, then it’s best to buy organic.

Recipe: Maple Walnut Bites

Maple syrup is a wonderful sweetener.  Children especially like it!  Here is a recipe for Maple Walnut Bites – they are tasty little cookie/candies with a natural maple flavor.  If you try them, please let me know how they turn out for you!

Maple Walnut Bites
makes 64 one-inch bites

2 beaten eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter or coconut oil
1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Melt the butter and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Mix all the ingredients in the order given. Use a whisk and switch to a wooden spoon or rubber spatula when you get to the walnuts. Drop by teaspoonful onto baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Do you have a favorite use for maple syrup or maple sugar? We”d love to hear about it!