Many legends center around the theme that a God or demigod discovered that people were becoming lazy from drinking the syrup directly from the tree rather than working and hunting and foraging for their food. As such, legend has it that the deity then added water to the syrup necessitating its processing by boiling before consumption. Other legends involve the use of the sap in cooking as the means to the first discovery.18 Indigenous tribes collected maple sap through a v-shaped incision into the bark of the tree and placement of a wedge at the bottom that lead the sap to drip into a wooden bucket placed at the base of the tree. When European colonists arrived, they learned about tapping maple trees from the Native Americans but they used a hole drilled with an auger that was plugged with a wooden spout. A bucket was hung from the spout to catch the sap as it poured out the spout. During the 1800s, many technological innovations, such as flat pans (instead of the formerly used iron kettles), improved the ease of processing maple sap. In modern times, there are many further innovations that make the process faster, easier, and cheaper including the use of tubing that transports the sap directly from the tree to the sugar shack where the processing takes place. If the sap is over boiled and most of the water is removed, all that is left is a solid sugar known as maple sugar. Maple sugar was actually the preferred form for Native Americans because it had a long shelf life and could easily be transported.
The source of maple syrup is of course the sap of several varieties for maple trees. The sap does not contain fat or protein, consisting mainly of sucrose (a disaccharide molecule that is also the chief component of white table sugar containing one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose) along with smaller amounts of free glucose and fructose that are created during the boiling process. The free glucose and fructose are responsible for the varying degrees of darkness seen in maple syrup varieties. Nutritionally, maple syrup has about 52 calories per tablespoon. Maple syrup contains significant amounts of manganese and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) as well as moderate amounts of zinc. It is a moderate antioxidant, rivaling the protective capabilities of carrots. It also contains trace amounts of magnesium, calcium, and potassium.18 Maple has a very distinct flavor and although it is unknown exactly what compounds are responsible for creating it, it is believed that the primary contributors are furanone, strawberry furanone and maltol.19 Maple syrup contains a wide variety of phytochemicals which may impart benefits to human health.20 It has a much lower glycemic index (meaning it causes a slower rise in blood sugar) than honey and is also slightly lower than white sugar.
Tips for Use
Many of the top brands of pancake syrup in the US do not contain any actual maple syrup and rely solely on corn syrup as the main sweetening ingredient. It is important to look at the ingredient list when purchasing to make sure it is pure maple syrup. While maple syrup can be substituted one-to-one for liquid sweeteners like honey, agave, molasses, or corn syrup, some adjustments must be made if substituting for granular sugars like white or brown sugar. To use maple syrup as a white or brown sugar alternative, use 2/3 cup of maple syrup for every cup of granulated sugar, reduce the quantity of liquid ingredients in the recipe (water, milk, juice) by about 1/4 cup and lower the baking temperature by 25° F. Maple sugar can be reused just like cane sugar and has similar performance in baked goods. However, because maple sugar is about twice as sweet as white cane sugar, reducing the amount by a little less than half is recommended to avoid having an overly sweet finished product.
Although the term “alcohol” is in the name, sugar alcohols are chemically different from (through structurally similar to) alcoholic beverages. More importantly, they do not contain any ethanol. Sugar alcohols occur naturally in foods and come from plant products such as fruits and berries. They are also industrially produced form sugars. Sugar alcohols are sold as white, water-soluble granular solids and look similar to white table sugar. They are used widely in the commercial food industry as bulking agents, thickeners, and sweeteners in place of sugar. Additionally, you can also find them combined with other high-intensity sweeteners to moderate the sweetness level. Most people eat sugar alcohols every day and don’t even know it. Some of the most commonly used sugar alcohols include:21
Mannitol which is found in fruits and vegetables like pineapples, olives, asparagus, carrots, sweet potatoes and even seaweed! Mannitol is less sweet than sugar by about 50-70% meaning that more must be used to provide the same level of sweetness.
Sorbitol is also found naturally in fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, dried fruits (like raisins, figs, and dates) as well as stone fruits like peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries. Commercially, it is manufactured from corn syrup. Sorbitol is about half as sweet as table sugar meaning twice as much must be used to exact the same level of sweetness. It is often found in sugar-free gums and candies.
Xylitol is also called “wood sugar” because it was first extracted from wood. It is also found in corn cobs, cereals, mushrooms, fruits and vegetables. Xylitol has about the same relative sweetness as sugar and is often found in chewing gum and toothpaste.
was originally discovered by a Scottish chemist in 1848. It is naturally found in fruits like watermelon and pears as well as fermented products like wine, cheese, and soy sauce. Erythritol is 60-70% as sweet as white sugar and is labeled as “non-caloric” (even though it does contain about .2 calories per gram) in some countries like the US and Japan.
As a sugar substitute, sugar alcohols provide fewer calories (about a half to one-third less calories in most cases) than regular sugar.21 Additionally, they convert to glucose more slowly, have little to no insulin requirements, and are not known to cause spikes in blood sugar. Sugar alcohols have other health benefits as well. Regular use of xylitol for example results in around a 75% reduction in the number of streptococcus mutant bacteria (the main bacteria associated with the development of dental cavities) in the mouth.22 It may also be helpful in both the prevention and treatment of Type II Diabetes as well as reducing fat accumulation in the abdominal area.23 Erythritol has been shown to have potent antioxidant capacity and to have a favorable impact on the vasculature.24 Due to the fact that they are not well absorbed in the digestive tract, sugar alcohols have a tendency to cause gastric distress (nausea, rumbling, diarrhea, reflux, etc.), particularly when consumed in large quantities. Some sugar alcohols have a greater tendency to cause these effects over others.
NOTE: Some sugar alcohols, particularly xylitol, are toxic to dogs. It is important not to share foods containing xylitol with dogs.
Tips for Use
Most sugar alcohols are less sweet than sugar and require a greater volume to be used to achieve the same level of sweetness. However, xylitol can be used in a one-to-one exchange with sugar. Sugar alcohols are sold in a variety of forms with granular versions being among the most popular. Sugar alcohols may change the taste of the finished product slightly so it may take some experimentation to determine appropriate amounts.
Artificial Sweeteners (i.e. sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and high fructose corn syrup)
Sold under trade names like Splenda, Nutri-Sweet, Equal, and Sweet-N-Low, these sweeteners are readily available in any restaurant, coffee shop, convenience store, or grocery store. High fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to sugar, but results in the addition of unnatural amounts of fructose to the system. The human body has limited capabilities for metabolizing fructose and when overloaded, the excess is converted to triglycerides which are then stored as body fat.25 All of them have been approved by the FDA but their use is controversial due to their potential for deleterious health effects. These products are synthetic, unnatural chemicals and their consumption can lead to a number of deleterious health effects. 26, 27 Their use should be avoided.
The food market is home to a number of different sweetener options, each with different properties, strengths, and weaknesses. With the information above you can make in an informed decision on which sweetener is best for your overall health and baking purposes.