Sweet, golden maple syrup is nothing less than heavenly when drizzled on pancakes or baked into our favorite vegan dessert. But maple syrup is vegan, right? Usually, this syrup sourced from the sap of maple trees is 100% vegan, but not always - learn more below.
Growing up in the 90s, my middle-class family used 'pancake syrup,' made from high-fructose corn syrup, to top our pancakes and French toast. As a kid with a serious sweet tooth, I loved it until I tried some pure maple syrup and discovered what I was missing.
Maple syrup is a seriously delicious and natural product made from the sap of maple trees, which would lead you to believe it's safe for vegan consumption. But is maple syrup vegan?
And while pure maple syrup is vegan by nature, there are plenty of maple syrup brands selling versions that have added animal products. Many vegans may be unknowingly indulging in a product with hidden animal products they believe to be plant-based.
Do vegans eat maple syrup? Follow our sweet guide below to learn more about maple syrup ingredients and how to choose the perfect vegan pancake syrup to fit your plant-based diet.
What is maple syrup?
Pure maple syrup is intensely sweet with a slightly woody flavor that comes from heating and processing sap from the maple tree.
We often top pancakes with maple syrup, but it is also delicious anywhere you'd like to add a little sweetness, from salad dressing to cocktails and so much more! This vegan syrup makes an excellent substitute for sugar in plenty of recipes, but you may need to do a little adjusting as it is liquid, which can change the texture of a recipe that calls for dry granules of white or brown sugar.
What is maple syrup made of?
We refer to the sap as xylem sap, and it's the sole ingredient in a bottle of pure maple syrup. Some brands add in some other ingredients, like sugar and dairy.
How is maple syrup made?
Maple syrup's history is as rich as its taste - colonial settlers first began tapping maple trees to extract their sap back in the 1700s. Though the process is now more modernized, producers still spend every spring tapping their trees to remove some maple sap or, more accurately, a lot of maple sap.
Where does maple syrup come from?
The most commonly used trees for maple syrup production are black, red, and sugar maple. Canada has most of them - much American syrup comes from our northern friends and Canadian producers.
It takes a long time to make pure maple syrup, as the maple tree changes seasonally, and sap is only available in the spring, as the starches that feed the tree all winter are converted back to liquid sap. The sugaring season is around four to six weeks long, which leaves a pretty small window for producers to tap their trees and extract that deliciously sweet sap!
Steps to Maple Syrup Production
- Tree Tapping. Producers drill small holes in the trees near the tail end of winter, as freezing and thawing help pressurize the sap stores. The sap flows out a tap placed in the hole and enters a storage tank. Sometimes vacuum pumps perform the extraction.
- Reverse Osmosis. Reverse osmosis reduces the water content in the storage tank. The sap is full of water and only 2% sugar - as much as 40 gallons of sap produces just one gallon of organic maple syrup.
- Evaporation. Even more water evaporates through the boiling process.
- Filtration. Filters remove any sugar sands or solid pieces that form in the syrup.
- Sugar Density Measurement. Producers measure the syrup to ensure it meets commercial standards - at least 66% sugar density - with a hydrometer. Producers may perform more filtering if needed.
- Grading Process. The USDA grades all maple syrup based on a few different measurements; taste, quality, and color. Then, the syrup is ready for shipment and selling.
Is maple syrup good for you?
Maple syrup is concentrated sugar. As you can imagine, sugar, no matter the quality, should be consumed in moderation as excess sugar consumption can contribute to weight gain, blood sugar issues, and increased risk of several diseases and conditions, including heart disease.
Pure maple syrup is 60% sugar by volume or more!
So is maple syrup healthy? Well, we're not going to suggest you run out to your nearest maple tree and put your mouth under the spout, but we do believe in dietary balance, and for many of us, that includes enjoying some sugar from time to time.
As far as sugar quality goes, maple syrup is a healthier substitute than white sugar.
Refined white sugar no longer contains any nutrients, but maple syrup still maintains some nutritional value, even through the boiling process.
It even makes an excellent vegan honey substitute, as it contains around ⅓ fewer calories and a slightly lower glycemic index, meaning it won't mess as badly with your blood sugar.
A few more reasons to substitute with vegan maple syrup:
- High in vitamin B2, riboflavin, which helps metabolic functions;
- High in manganese to support brain function;
- High in zinc, to support immune system function;
- Contains potassium and calcium to aid bone health and hypertension reduction;
- Contains antioxidants to fight premature aging, toxins, and free radicals;
- Has a lower glycemic index than any refined white or brown sugar and honey.
While we don't tout maple syrup as a healthy product, it's one of the best choices if you're going to indulge in a naturally-sweetened treat!
Is maple syrup vegan?
Usually yes, but not always.
While it seems like the answer is clear, it depends on what a brand adds to their ingredients and how they produce their syrup.
During the sap boiling process, the water evaporates and leaves behind a sugary, thick syrup, but it also creates a lot of foam.
- Some producers use lard or animal fat to defoam the syrup, though this isn't the defoamer of choice anymore. More often than not, producers use vegetable oil to defoam instead.
- Some producers add honey or milk-derived butter flavors to their syrup, effectively making them non-vegan products.
The best way to determine if the maple syrup is vegan is by reading your labels closely and researching and contacting companies via email or Facebook as needed.
Is maple syrup vegan? Possibly not, if it contains any of these on its label or ingredients list:
- artificial or natural flavors
- more than one ingredient listed
- the title "Maple-Flavored Syrup" instead of "Maple Syrup"
- the name includes a word like "honey," "caramel, or "sweet cream"
- it is not certified vegan maple syrup or organic
Final Notes: Choosing a Vegan Maple Syrup
Now you know what to avoid in your syrup, here's what you should look for on your maple syrup labels:
- Vegan or vegan-friendly
- 100% pure maple
Though you'll see a few non-vegan brands, there are plenty of sweetly delicious maple syrup brands offering products suitable for a plant-based diet. If you have a favorite brand of maple syrup already, do some research to ensure it's plant-based - if not, try one of these products below that we already know to be vegan-friendly!
Here are our favorite vegan maple syrups:
- Kirkland Maple Syrup
- Great Value Pure Maple Syrup
- Eggo Syrup
- Wholesome Maple Syrup
- Log Cabin Maple Syrup
- Coombs Family Maple Syrup
- Stonewall Kitchen Maine Maple Syrup
- Butternut Mountain Farm Maple Syrup
- Now Real Food Organic Maple Syrup
- Maple Grove Farms Maple Syrup
We hope you enjoy taste testing all of these brands on a delicious stack of vegan pancakes!