Your Guide to The Different Types of Maple Syrup and Their Benefits
As fall comes sweeping in on a cool breeze, there’s nothing better than fuzzy socks, a cozy sweater, and enjoying fall flavors. Although pumpkin spice may get most of the attention, it would be wrong to forget about another classic autumn flavor: maple. Whether you pour it onto pancakes or use it as a sugar alternative to sweeten drinks, maple syrup is undoubtably a staple of the season.
Let’s take a deeper dive into this delightful sweet syrup, how it can fit into a healthy diet, and how you can enjoy it to its full potential.
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Is Maple Syrup Better For You Than Sugar?
While maple syrup shouldn’t be considered healthy, it is a another option if you’re looking to try a less processed sugar. Maple syrup is slightly higher in calories than table sugar, but packs a unique punch of sweetness.
For comparison, one tablespoon of maple syrup contains 52 calories, while a tablespoon of table sugar contains 49 calories. The beauty of maple syrup is it brings not only the sweet to the table but a distinctive flavor you won’t find with any other sweetener. But it is important to remember that maple syrup is still packed with a decent amount of calories similar to table sugar, so enjoy it in moderation.
And although maple syrup has a lower sugar content than table sugar, it doesn’t mean it’s less sweet. Some people find that when they use real maple syrup as a sweetener, they actually use less than what a recipe calls for, because of how sweet maple syrup can taste to our tongue.
Unlike artificial sweeteners and calorie-free sugars, “the natural, sweet taste of maple syrup triggers the normal sugar consumption signals so that you actually get a feeling of satisfaction and fullness from the sugar consumption,” says Kylie Burke a certified holistic health coach and owner of Radiant and Abundant.
Real Maple Syrup vs. Maple Flavored Syrup
Maple syrup can be a great alternative to other sweeteners, not all maple syrups are created equal. “Make sure to use PURE maple syrup not ‘maple-flavored syrup,'” Burke says. “You want to get maple syrup that only contains maple syrup — not sugar, cane syrup, or the worst, high fructose corn syrup.”
The real deal is often more expensive, but if you go for a knock-off, you’re buying a much less healthy option that’s likely made with lots of extra sugar.
Maple Syrup Benefits
Maple syrup is a great sugar alternative due to it’s slightly lower sugar and calorie content, but that’s just the beginning of its benefits.
1. Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants
One of the benefits of maple syrup is that it offers up a variety of healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are lacking in sugar and other sugar substitutes.
One tablespoon of pure maple syrup contains:
- Manganese: 33% of recommended daily intake
- Zinc: 6% of recommended daily intake
- Traces of calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Pro tip: choosing a maple syrup that’s darker in color can have more health benefits, as it contains more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, according to Burke.
2. Distinct and Varied Flavor
Pure maple syrup has a very distinct taste that can be a delicious, fall-flavored addition to many food — not just pancakes and waffles.
And unlike regular sugar, the flavor of maple syrup can vary depending on what region it came from and what time of year it was harvested. Maple syrup can have notes of toffee, caramel, honey, and even apple — all of which makes it a great pair with many other foods.
Maple Syrup Grades
Before 2014, pure maple syrup was graded using letters A, B, and C to denote the color, with A being the lightest, and C being the darkest. Many buyers found this confusing, so the grading system was recently updated. Now, maple syrup only comes in Grade A and B:
- Grade A maple syrup comes in four color and flavor profiles, which are denoted in the second part of the grade name.
- Grade B is only available to be sold at a commercial level.
This type of Grade A maple syrup is the lightest in color with the faintest of flavors, making it perfect for using as a sugar alternative in recipes where maple flavor isn’t desired.
Grade A: Amber Color and Rich Flavor
The next level of Grade A maple syrup has a slightly darker color and a little more maple flavor. Drizzle this one over pancakes or waffles, or use it as a sugar substitute to add in a slight taste of maple.
Grade A: Dark Color and Robust Flavor
For maple-lovers or recipes where a maple flavor will complement the other ingredients, you’ll want to look for this Grade A maple syrup, which has a stronger flavor and color. However, it’s still not as intense or thick as the last grade.
Grade A: Very Dark and Strong Flavor
While maple syrup is often used as a sugar substitute, it’s also sometimes used to replace molasses in recipes. For those recipes, you’ll want to choose this last Grade A option for maple syrup which will have the darkest color and strongest flavor. This is also a great option when making maple candies or other things that are heavily maple-flavored.
When to Use Maple Syrup as a Substitute
There are many options and ways to use maple syrup as a sugar substitute. You can replace sugar with maple syrup in baking, cooking, as a sweetener, and in sauces.
1. In Baking
When baking with maple syrup as a replacement for sugar, you have to be careful to adjust the recipe to accommodate the extra liquid of the maple syrup. If the recipe doesn’t call for liquid, you should usually increase the flour by 1 tablespoon for every quarter cup of maple syrup.
As well, consider using room temperature maple syrup when baking as cold maple syrup can cause butter and other ingredients to clump.
2. To Sweeten a Beverage
The next time you’ve made a pot of hot tea or are mixing up a cocktail, reach for the bottle of maple syrup instead of honey or granulated sugar. Maple syrup can impart a rich, caramel-y flavor that will complement many Fall-inspired beverages.
3. As a Snack Topping
The sweetness of maple syrup pairs well with many other flavors, including cheese! The next time you’re putting together a charcuterie board for a gathering add a drizzle of maple syrup over the cheese and meats to bring in a hint of sweet.
4. When Cooking
Whether you’re cooking up some cruciferous vegetables with sulfurous flavor, or some bitter green veggies, the sweetness of maple syrup can cut strong flavors and create a delicious pairing.
Maple syrup is a great alternative to other sweeteners when cooking because of its texture, pourability, and ability to be easily measured.
Some ideas for cooking with maple syrup from Burke:
- Roasted or grilled Brussel sprouts with balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, chili flakes, and some salt to taste.
- Cabbage steamed with maple syrup and other complementary spices.
Don’t forget to taste as you cook! “Something I encourage all of my clients to do is taste their food as they make it,” Burke says. “Our taste buds are all different and our tolerances or sweetness, salty, spicy, and bitter flavors are also all different. So don’t load up on sugar (or even maple syrup) just because the recipe says to. Taste it along the way and see where you enjoy the sweetness.”