Maple syrup is made from the sap of red, black or sugar maple trees. Pure maple syrup contains only evaporated maple tree sap. It is most commonly enjoyed as a topping for pancakes and waffles, and is also used as a sweetening agent in baked goods. Many recipes use maple syrup in place of traditional white sugar because of its touted nutritional superiority.
The main components of maple syrup are sucrose and water, with smaller and varying amounts of the simple sugars glucose and fructose. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database, the macronutrient nutritional value of maple syrup per 100 grams, or approximately 3.5 ounces, is 260 calories, 0.04 grams of protein, 0.06 grams of fat and 67.04 grams of carbohydrates. From the total carbohydrate count, 60.44 grams may be attributed to sugars, with zero grams of dietary fiber.
Maple syrup is high in manganese and zinc, with 100 grams of syrup offering 22 percent and 3.7 percent of the recommended daily values, respectively. Manganese is an important cofactor for several enzymes that are needed for energy production and antioxidant defenses. Zinc is essential for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies of these minerals may lower white blood cell counts and subsequently reduce immune system responses.
In comparison with honey, another common sweetener, maple syrup is lower in sodium, making it suitable for low-sodium diets. The syrup also has 15 times more calcium than honey.
In addition to its mineral content, pure maple syrup is a source of several vitamins. Vitamins are organic nutrients essential for cell functioning. The most notable vitamins in maple syrup include niacin, B5, B2, folic acid, B6, biotin and vitamin A. Niacin and both of the B vitamins assist in the energy metabolism of body cells. B5 is a component of a significant enzyme that enables the release of energy from the energy nutrients. Vitamin B6 is important in protein and amino acid metabolism and enables conversion of one type of amino acid to another kind that is needed in higher amounts. Vitamin A is significant for vision and for maintaining the skin and the linings of the body, such as the stomach lining.
Pure maple syrup is a natural, organic food with no reduction, processing or removal of any of its components. Other pancake syrups found in grocery stores commonly contain ingredients such as cellulose gum, benzoate, sorbic acid and sodium hexametaphosphate. Raw food enthusiasts often include maple syrup in their diet as a natural source of sugar. It is also common in recipes for allergy-free foods.
Researchers from the University of Rhode Island have found more than 20 compounds in maple syrup that are associated with human health. Many of these antioxidant compounds are also believed to have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and antibacterial properties. These researchers have also recently discovered that maple syrup is a source of phenolics, a class of antioxidants that are found in berries. Navindra Seeram, a researcher at the university who specializes in medicinal plants, speculates that "the sugar maple is wounded when it is tapped for its sap, and that it secretes phenolics as a defense mechanism."