Preventive Maintenance: Tap into maple syrup

by Karen Bowen

This spring, when you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, think about using maple syrup. It has fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey, or other sweeteners. Even though you can buy maple throughout the year in any grocery store, this is the ideal season to get the freshest batch.

As the weather warms up after winter, the sap begins to flow in the sugar, black or red maple trees. Many people tap their trees for the maple syrup season. Perfect “maple sugar weather” is when the nights are still below freezing, but the days are mild. This type of weather, which began in March this year, really gets the sap flowing.

Sometimes sap gets collected for only a few weeks, and sometimes for up to eight weeks. It depends on the weather. When the days get warmer and the nights stay above freezing, the buds begin to swell on the branches. When this happens, the baby leaves begin to form, releasing chemicals into the tree, causing the sap to lose its sweetness, thus, ending the sap gathering season.

Once the sap has been collected, it’s time to boil it down to make syrup. About 40 gallons of sap boil down to make one gallon of maple syrup. From the tree, maple sap is approximately 98 per cent water and two per cent sugar. When the syrup is finished, it is only 33 per cent water and 67 per cent sugar. Sure it’s sweet, but in reasonable quantities (two teaspoons=35 calories), it’s also good for you.


Pure maple syrup is a 100 per cent natural food. In its unrefined state, the sap is a sterile, clear liquid, providing the trees with water and nutrients prior to the buds and leaves opening in the spring. In the boiling, concentrating, and filtering processes, all those nutrients stay in the syrup. (Nutrient concentration may vary from tree to tree because of some metabolic and/or environmental differences.)

So, what makes maple syrup good for you when it’s mostly sugar? For one thing, sugar is an important source of energy. And we all like something sweet, even just once in a while. So, if you’re looking for something sweet, why not eat something sweet that’s got these nutrients, too?

Unlike most other sweeteners, maple syrup contains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

Although in just trace amounts, these vitamins are found in maple syrup: B2 (Riboflavin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), PP (Niacin, B1), Biotin, and Folic Acid.

As well, these minerals are present: trace amounts of many amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, along with zinc and manganese.

Especially noteworthy are zinc and manganese because they act as antioxidants, helping your body flush out toxins. As well, they work with your heart to decrease your chance of atherosclerosis and improve the levels of good cholesterol in your blood. This combination also builds your immune system because it improves the effectiveness of white blood cells. For the guys – not enough zinc has been linked to prostrate cancer and is recommended by many health care professionals to reduce prostrate size. Sweet medicine.

If you decide to pick up some maple syrup, here are some tips: Maple syrup is usually commercially graded based on colour, taste and consistency. Grade A has three versions: Light Amber, Medium Amber and Dark Amber (the lighter the colour, the more subtle the taste.) This is usually what you buy for home use. Grade B has a much stronger taste, and is used commercially in cooking or processed foods. Even though pure maple syrup is more expensive than ordinary pancake syrup, from a health perspective, nutritionally, it’s worth it.

You can store maple syrup in any cool, dry place before opening the container. However, once opened, it should be kept in the fridge. The freezer works well, too (just be sure to give it enough time to thaw before you want to use it.)

Now that you’ve bought some, what should you do with it? Here are some suggestions:

* Swirl some into your coffee and tea for a unique taste;

* Stir a little into your morning oatmeal. While you’re at it, why not add some nutritious nuts and raisins, too?;

* Add a dash with some cinnamon while pureeing sweet potatoes;

* Mix it with orange juice and tamari to marinade baked tofu or tempeh;

* Pour some into your rice pudding before baking;

* Use as a partial sugar substitute in baking;

* Stir-fry chicken with a touch of maple syrup; my family loves it!;

* And of course, don’t forget the old, tested and true favourite – drown your pancakes, and/or French toast in it.

This spring, when your sweet tooth calls, answer with maple syrup. With all these serving options, it easy to tap into this sweet, healthy choice.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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