What do You Need to Know When You’re Buying Your Syrup?

Don’t forget this important reminder: make sure you’re purchasing 100 percent all-natural maple syrup.

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by AdobeStock/Kate Wilcox

Make sure you’re purchasing 100 percent all-natural maple syrup. It’s an added bonus if you can assure that your syrup was made by a single-source producer, which you can’t do if you’re grabbing your syrup off a big box store shelf or buying online, where one syrup bottle can be a mix of syrups from hundreds of different sugarmakers.

You might consider stocking up, or even buy in bulk, when you find syrup you love. You can keep unopened maple syrup in a cabinet or cool, dark place for a long time. Mine has been fine in my root cellar for years at a time. Once you’ve opened your syrup, however, you do want to make sure you keep it sealed tightly in the refrigerator, or mold will start to form on that sugary deliciousness.

Just how sweet is syrup?

A crazy thing happened a few years ago in San Francisco. A whole bunch of scientific-minded professionals put their heads together and shared their findings at a huge symposium focused entirely on (drum roll please) maple syrup. It was the first worldwide symposium to focus exclusively on the health benefits of that ambrosial yumminess we boil down from tree sap.

I’ve done some deciphering of the notes from the symposium and, honestly, maple syrup continues to impress the hand-knit socks off of me.

It’s so impressive that I’ve weeded through the scientific jargon, talked to some experts, and boiled it down to some syrup adjectives you really need to know. According to these scientists, just look at all the things you can call this amber ambrosial sugar, in addition to delicious:

Antimicrobial. Maple syrup may offer a medical solution to the ever-growing problem of superbugs by improving the effectiveness of antibiotics — possibly as much as 90 percent! While this benefit doesn’t help me when I’m slathering maple syrup on my pancakes, the fact that someday I may be able to take an antibiotic capsule, infused with maple extract, to ward off a bacterial infection is pretty exciting.

Antioxidant-rich. Science has known for a while that plant-based foods are the best sources for antioxidants, so of course, maple syrup (which comes directly from a maple tree) would be teeming with antioxidants. Some of the antioxidants in maple syrup are found nowhere else in nature.

Functional. Functional foods are foods that offer us more than just basic nutrition. A food has to have some other positive effect on our health for scientists to label it “functional.” Take oatmeal. Because it’s full of soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol, it’s a functional food. Other examples have to be modified to be “functional,” like orange juice that has added calcium to improve bone health. For multiple reasons, and without any fortifying, pure maple is definitely a functional food. So when I choose to sweeten my drink or my cake or my meat glaze with all-natural maple syrup instead of refined sugar, I’m also adding essential vitamins and minerals to my diet that I’d never find in a refined sweetener.

Immune-boosting. Maple syrup is also full of polyphenols, which improve the body’s ability to fight numerous health conditions, so maple boosts our immune system. When I’m feeling lousy or fighting off a cold, I need to add more sticky sweet maple to my day.

Prebiotic. Scientists discovered a complex carbohydrate, inulin, in maple syrup. Inulin is a natural fiber that works as a prebiotic. Maple syrup has carbohydrates that feed the good bacteria in my gut. Since the good bacteria pretty much call the shots in my intestines, maple syrup indirectly helps me digest nutrients, synthesize vitamins, manage my weight, make my bones stronger, fight against carcinogens, and keep my brain healthy.

Probiotic. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are good bacteria for our guts, and maple syrup has many. I’ve been fermenting my drinks (kombucha and switchel) and our family’s been eating a lot more slow-fermented sourdough bread. You see, probiotics have a powerful impact on our overall digestive health, even reducing depression, improving skin, and promoting heart health. I love hearing that I can increase our probiotics by just switching our sweetener to maple.

Anti-diabetic. There are polyphenols in maple syrup that deter the way our bodies convert some carbohydrates to sugar. In fact, syrup is more effective at this than berries. Type 2 diabetes is still prevalent in our society, so finding a potential anti-diabetic compound in maple syrup is a pretty big deal. Not to mention that maple falls low on the glycemic scale. Basically, foods that fall low (55 or under) on this scale are better for us, even if we have no signs of diabetes. In fact, consuming foods that are lower on the glycemic index (and lower in carbohydrates) helps us prevent prediabetes. So where does maple fall? A sweet 54. Honey? 58. Refined sugar? 65. And, another bonus, maple contains fewer carbohydrates than the others as well.

Anti-inflammatory. Researchers have found special anti-inflammatory properties inside maple syrup. Umm, does this mean maple syrup is kind of like gooey delicious ibuprofen that I can pour on my pancakes?

Polyphenolic. I might have just made up a word, but you get the gist. The truth is that one little tablespoon of maple syrup has almost 20 mg of polyphenols. It just gets better every day, as ongoing research keeps finding more benefits to polyphenols. These micronutrients are essential to our overall health.

How to use maple syrup in any recipe

Maple syrup is fantastic to bake with, as long as you know a few important basics. Just remember the three “R”s:

  1. Replace 1 cup of sugar with 2/3 to 3/4 cup of maple syrup.
  2. Remove about 3 tablespoons of liquid from the recipe.
  3. Reduce your oven temperature by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, because maple syrup caramelizes at a lower temperature than refined sugar does.

I’ve done the hard work and figured out these details for you for the recipes included in this book. You’re welcome.

Michelle’s Tip on Tap

Won’t my baked goods all just taste like maple if I use maple syrup in place of refined sugar?

The difference in taste is often subtle. If I really want to be sure to have a maple flavor in a baked good, I will add maple extract, even when I use maple syrup in place of sugar. The plus side is that I can improve the nutritional value of everything I make by substituting maple syrup in place of refined sugar.

Also from Sweet Maple:

Reprinted with permission from Sweet Maple: Backyard Sugarmaking from Tap to Table by Michelle Visser and published by Lyons Press, 2019.