With so many sugar alternatives available on the market, finding the best vegan sweetener isn't an easy task - so what does maple syrup bring to the table?
Firstly, it's a natural, unprocessed sugar, but, unlike honey, it's vegan (it also happens to be lower in calories than honey).
Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Maple syrup contains 63 different antioxidants, many of which are unique to maple products. The sheer number and variety of healthy compounds makes the sweetener a powerful antioxidant cocktail. The antioxidant strength is similar to that of red Gala apples, broccoli or bananas .
Maple syrup is also a natural source of zinc (18% recommended daily allowance (RDA)), magnesium (7%), calcium (5%) and potassium (5%). The same amount of honey contains only 3% of the RDA of manganese, 2% zinc, 1% magnesium and potassium, and no calcium1.
An athletic superfuel
Maple products are increasingly becoming part of both professional and amateur sportspeople's diet and training regimes.
Here's why: as well as its other vitamin and antioxidant content, a 60ml serving of maple syrup contains 100% of your recommended daily amount (RDA) of manganese, an essential nutrient for muscle recovery.
This makes it an ideal athletic fuel - so much so that it is the official energy source for the Federation of Quebec Cyclists, and was used to replace processed sugars in the dietary programmes of Canadian Olympians training for last summer's games in Rio.
A key part of Canadian culture
It's no coincidence that the maple leaf features on Canada's national flag; the country produces 71% of the world's pure maple syrup, 91% of which comes from Quebec.
The production process is very simple: sap is extracted from the trees using a method called 'tapping', and boiled into its concentrated syrup form. It takes 40 litres of maple to produce one litre of syrup. Nothing is added - it is a pure, natural product.
Four grades available
There are four grades of pure maple syrup, measured according to the colour - which is also an indication of strength of taste.
The lighter grades are produced earliest in the six to eight week Spring harvest; the darkest grade towards the end. The lightest grade's delicate flavour is best suited to vinaigrettes and savoury dishes, while the darkest grade is ideal for baking and rich sauces or glazes.
Other maple products
As well as maple syrup, other maple products are produced, including maple sugar, maple butter (which is non-dairy), NAPSI-certified maple water (the sap), maple mustard and maple vinegar, to name but a few. Due to demand, more and more of these products are becoming available here in the UK.
More than just a pancake topping
Maple syrup's profile as a healthier, vegan sweetener is growing in the UK. It is gaining recognition as more than 'just' a pancake topping, and a great component to a balanced, vegan diet. Healthy food blogger Charlotte Roberts, whose blog Charley's Health features numerous vegan bakes, explained: "As I do a lot of healthy recipe creation and baking, my cupboards are always stocked full with natural sweeteners, and maple syrup is by far my favourite. It has wonderful nutritional properties, is completely natural and also has an absolutely incredible flavour. It works well in sweet and savoury dishes and is just really versatile to use."
Other well-known fans of maple include Deliciously Ella, Nigel Slater, Dan Doherty, Nigella Lawson and James Martin.
Good for the planet
As well as their health benefits, maple products from Canada and Quebec are having a positive environmental impact. The 34 million maple trees in production in Quebec alone absorb 962,200 metric tons of carbon monoxide each year. This cancels out the CO equivalent of 290,000 vehicles each year - that's around 10% of London's annual traffic.
Using one teaspoon of maple a day for a year guarantees the placement of two new maple trees into production, and therefore under protection.
So if you are a health and environmentally-conscious vegan looking to get the most out of your chosen sweetener, while also minding your carbon footprint, pure maple syrup from Canada and Quebec is the natural choice.
Tagged in Vegan