It’s been a longtime star of the breakfast table, but Americans are finding more ways—and reasons—than ever to enjoy maple syrup. As refined white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) get an increasingly bad rap for their negative effects on health, consumers are turning to maple syrup as an alternative sweetener. In 2020, U.S. maple farmers produced 4.4 million gallons of the sweet stuff, up 200,000 gallons from 2019.
But is it actually good for you? Compared with refined white sugar and HFCS, yes. Maple syrup is considered a low-glycemic food—meaning it causes a minimal blood-sugar spike—while table sugar and HFCS are high-glycemic foods. Maple syrup also contains minerals, most notably your full daily dose of manganese per serving and about a quarter of your zinc. Plus, it harbors 24 distinct antioxidants, which squash chronic inflammation.
It’s still a form of sugar, though, so it’s wise to use it in moderation. Also, check labels to ensure you’re getting the healthiest kind. (See “Straight A’s” for how to choose the flavor-type you prefer.) Look for “100% Pure” maple syrup or its equivalent, and avoid the words “maple-flavored.” Translation: contains not-as-good-for-you maple-flavored sugar.
Most farmers don’t use pesticides or chemicals on their maple trees, but organic products adhere to stricter standards of equipment and the defoamers used when the sap is boiled to make syrup.
Keep It Fresh
Nearly all maple syrup experts recommend storing maple syrup in the fridge once opened because it can get moldy. That said, if you go through it fairly quickly, you can probably get away with keeping it in your pantry. You can also freeze it—it thickens but stays pourable. Glass packaging tends to extend the shelf life far beyond plastic.
Used to be maple syrup came in Grades A, B and C, differentiating how strong the maple flavor was. But around 2015, the system was revamped, and now everyone gets an A. Here’s how the new A grades break down, from mildest to boldest.
Grade A: Golden Color, Delicate Taste.
Comes from the earliest spring harvest.
Former Name: Grade A: Fancy
Grade A: Amber Color, Rich Taste.
Darker color and fuller flavor. Most common type for table syrup.
Former Name: Grade A: Medium Amber
Grade A: Dark Color, Robust Flavor. Harvested later in the season. Hearty, brown-sugar-like taste.
Former Name: Grade B
Grade A: Very Dark, Strong Flavor. Mostly used commercially, so it’s hard to find in stores. Good for baking.
Former Name: Grade C