Much of the U.S. maple crop is sold directly from producers to consumers, and that connection goes a long way to building customer loyalty to the product as well as to the individual sugarmaker. To grow the industry, whether that means increasing hand-to-hand sales or developing more wholesale markets, sugarmakers always need to be thinking about their messages – what they tell people about maple products.

One key component of the message is about diversifying the ways consumers can use maple syrup. Yes, it’s unsurpassed as a pancake and waffle topping, but thanks to the anticarbohydrate movement those kinds of breakfasts have significantly declined in popularity. The more we teach our customers about how great maple syrup is in marinades, dressings, baked items and cocktails, the more they’ll keep it on hand in their kitchens.

No matter what the latest fad diet or nutrition trend says, people love the taste of something sweet. Maple producers are in a perfect position to capitalize on this, and knowing the facts about how maple syrup stacks up against other products used for similar purposes helps us explain to our customers why our products are the superior alternative to highly processed, unhealthy sweeteners.

First, maple syrup is all-natural. There’s nothing more than concentrated sap in our products – no chemical additives, preservatives or anything else. And while sugaring equipment has gotten more sophisticated over the years, it’s still the most straightforward processing process there is – boiling away the water until it’s just right.

Pure maple products are also allergen-free – no gluten and no dairy, even in maple cream. It’s also nut-free, of course (unless you’re selling maple-coated nuts!).

Pure maple products are fat-free, and have fewer calories than other sweeteners. Maple syrup is also known for its rich “mouth-feel,” which can help reduce the eater’s desire for fatty foods. And, maple syrup’s flavor is much more appealing than that of refined sugar or corn sugars.

Maple syrup contains essential minerals not found in other sweeteners, like manganese for energy production and healthy bones, zinc for a healthy immune system, calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and potassium, which regulates water and mineral balance throughout your body.

Photo courtesy kirin_photo/istock

Maple syrup is lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners, meaning it has less of an impact on your blood sugar levels, and so does not cause the “sugar rush” or “sugar crash” that can come from eating sweet foods.

Research into the health properties of maple syrup is ongoing. One recent study found that maple syrup contains antioxidants with anticarcinogenic, antibacterial and antidiabetic properties.

In addition, consumers are becoming more aware of how their favorite foods are produced, with many of them seeking out environmentally friendly products. Again, maple syrup has an advantage over other sweeteners. Sugarmakers follow strict guidelines to protect their trees, often tapping the same trees for decades without causing them any harm. We steward hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland around the Northeast, with an eye toward forest diversity and sustainability, and we don’t use chemicals on our crops. Energy-efficient equipment, from reverse osmosis machines to high-efficiency evaporators, has significantly reduced the carbon footprint of our industry, and many sugarmakers have even installed photovoltaic solar arrays on their sugarhouses to generate electricity for their operations.

Despite all of this, natural sweeteners make up less than 1 percent of U.S. eaters’ annual consumption of sweeteners, with the rest roughly evenly split between refined sugars and corn sweeteners. Being able to communicate why maple syrup is a better alternative in terms of versatility, health and the environment will help sugarmakers educate their customers, and ultimately help the industry grow.

Cover photo courtesy tarik kizilkaya/istock