We all like a sweet treat now and then, some of us more than others. But for baking, cooking, and adding to your coffee what's the best sweetener? Well from an environmental impact perspective and from a health perspective we think maple sugar is the clear winner.
Maple sugar is made by boiling down maple syrup, stirring until it crystalizes, and sifting. Nothing is added and no extensive processing. Maple syrup is made from boiling the sap of maple trees, again nothing added and no extensive processing. The maple trees are in a natural forest that require no outside resources (like fertilization, irrigation, or yearly planting) and provides all the great benefits that forests provide like storing carbon, purifying water, cleaning our air and providing habitat for wildlife and native plants. And Maple sugar is made right here in the USA.
Contrast maple sugar production to refined white sugar production (or corn syrup). Sugar is grown and produced throughout the world on mega-plantations by large corporations. US production is mainly in Louisiana and Florida and we also imports about 3 million metric tons a year. Sugarcane farming is extremely resource intensive, the sugar cane then needs to be milled, which is also an extensive process, then sent to refinery for final conversion to refined white sugar. According to the World Wildlife Association:
More than 145 million tonnes of sugar (sucrose) is produced per year in about 120 countries.... The cultivation and processing of sugar produces environmental impacts through the loss of natural habitats, intensive use of water; heavy use of agrochemicals, discharge and runoff of polluted effluent and air pollution. This leads to the degradation of wildlife, soil, air and water where sugar is produced and in downstream ecosystems. Although many of the environmental impacts of cane and beet cultivation are generic to agriculture, some impacts are distinct, particularly in their severity. Impacts relating to irrigation of sugar cane and pollution runoff are of particular concern.
How about health and nutrition? Again maple sugar is the clear winner. Maple Sugar is made from only maple syrup which is made from only boiling down and concentrating maple sap. All of the minerals and nutrients that the tree needs for survival are concentrated in maple syrup. In addition maple syrup contains antioxidants and has a lower glycemic index. Visit our page on the Health Benefits of Maple Syrup for more information. Cane sugar has almost no nutritional value and its high processing and refinement make it suspect for containing harmful chemicals.
So in summary, refined white sugar production requires huge amounts of resources that take a steep toll on our natural ecosystems. It is a highly processed food and has almost no nutritional value. Maple sugar, on the other hand, comes from the trees in a natural forest, requires no additional resources like irrigation, pesticides, or fertilizers, and contains healthy minerals and nutrients.
We know maple sugar is more expensive than mass produced refined white sugar, but we think everyone should consider using it for some or all of their sweetener needs.