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Why you don’t want aunts in the pantry

Have you ever heard of "food imposters?"


They are substances pretending to be food...

and there are many food imposters lurking out there!


One of the most blatant offenders is pancake/waffle syrup.  Notice we didn't say maple syrup?!  That is because we want you to take a close look at the ingredients of the commercially produced pancake/waffle syrups.  For example, here are the ingredients for Aunt Jemima syrup:

Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, cellulose gum, caramel color, salt, natural and artificial flavor, sodium benzoate and sorbic acid (preservatives), sodium hexametaphosphate.

Umm, where exactly is the maple syrup?  And, hexameta what?!  Sounds appetizing right?  Not surprising, there is 15 grams of sugar (all added sugar) in just 2 Tbsp.  That is almost 4 tsp of sugar!  And, that is only 2 Tbsp!

You may be thinking, "Good thing I buy the lite version."

We hate to break it to you...and, you knew this was coming.  Here are the ingredients:  High fructose corn syrup, water, cellulose gum, salt, natural and artificial flavor, caramel color, sorbic acid and sodium benzoate (preservatives), sodium hexametaphosphate.  Still no maple syrup!  While the calories are lower (so they can call it "lite"), it still has 12 grams of sugar (all added sugar).

For all those Mrs. Butterworth's fans out there, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but the same thing is going on in your bottles!

And, what about that "All Natural" syrup?

Sounds simple and healthy, right?  Several years ago on Thanksgiving, we went to Kansas City to spend the holiday with our parents.  We were making a Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash that called for pure maple syrup and we needed them to pick some up at the store.  When we arrived, they were bursting with pride that they had found the pure maple syrup.  It said “All Natural Table Syrup.”  We hated to burst their bubble, but they had been tricked!  This “All Natural Table Syrup” had zero maple syrup in it!  Food industry marketers win again!


A REAL food alternative is pure maple syrup (straight from the maple trees).  Here is its ingredient:

100% pure maple syrup.

That's it!  One ingredient!

Pure maple syrup is a natural sweetener that can be used to add sweetness to a variety of REAL meals, and it also provides certain health benefits (including minerals that help your immune system as well as a variety of antioxidants).  The only processing that occurs is boiling the tree sap to remove some of the naturally occurring water.


How much is too much?

It is important to remember that maple syrup is still sugar, so don't go overboard.  And, when it comes to sugar, we prefer to use natural sugar, favoring the closest to natural forms as possible, such as maple syrup, honey, dates, molasses, date sugar, coconut sugar and cane sugar...just try to limit it to 6-9 tsp per day (for women and men respectively).  When your focus is REAL food, a little goes a long way, and it's easy to live within these amounts.


More than just a breakfast topping!

Of course, maple syrup is fabulous with pancakes and waffles.  And it is also great in salad dressings, sauces, granola, nuts, seafood, applesauce and overnight oats.  It also goes great with any vegetable including Brussels sprouts, acorn squash and sweet potatoes.  Plus, there are many, many more ideas in Eat REAL America's recipes!


A few tips to know:

  • When our family first switched to REAL maple syrup, our kids did raise an eyebrow and yours may too.  We used this as an opportunity to explain REAL food to our kids, and we said goodbye to the old "syrup."  Amazing...they adapted well and now they prefer it!  We will forewarn you, many REAL maple syrup bottles are not made for young kids to pour their own.  By this, we mean the opening is HUGE and they can easily pour half of the bottle onto their pancakes.  So, we purchased a clear plastic squeeze bottle with a small tip opening (found at most discount stores) to pour the syrup into - and it works great!


  • The price!  Sure, it does cost more, and keep in mind, you will use less.  A LOT LESS!  While 1/4 cup of the imposter stuff seems like a good amount, REAL maple syrup is much sweeter.  You'll only require 1 Tablespoon (or maybe 2) to provide the sweetness you need for pancakes or waffles.  "A little dab will do ya" is certainly true about REAL maple syrup!


  • Another thing to keep in mind, REAL maple syrup needs to be stored in the refrigerator, unlike the imposters that can live in the pantry for 12 months and still be fine to eat!


Beware, there's more!

What are some other food imposters to be on the lookout for?  Check out our coaching tips to help you navigate this list:


And, the next time you are at the store, look at those ingredients and leave the food imposters on the shelf!


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4 Responses to Why you don’t want aunts in the pantry

    • Great question! We are planning an entire coaching tip dedicated to this topic in the next few weeks. There are several considerations including our health, the environmental impacts and animal treatment, not to mention taste. Meat alternatives have existed for a long time…everything from beans and legumes to mushrooms to tempeh and tofu and others. In recent years, the meat alternatives have continued to evolve, including many processed meat alternatives that are becoming more popular and readily available. Like everything, the ingredients and degree of processing matter. As far as health considerations, it depends what you are comparing it to. Compared to processed meats, there are likely health benefits by switching to the meat alternatives. However, if you are comparing it to well-treated, grass-fed and finished animals, the health benefits are less likely. There are some wonderful “meat alternative” meals you can make using whole (REAL) ingredients. On Eat REAL America, check out the Chickpea & Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers, the Black Bean & Butternut Sliders and the Surprise Spaghetti Bolognese as a few delicious examples. Until we can expand more on this topic, our view is that these meat alternatives are probably better than processed meats, but not as good as whole – REAL – ingredients. Hope this helps and thanks again for asking!

  1. Another thing to keep in mind, REAL maple syrup needs to be stored in the refrigerator. It’s reassuring that the REAL maple syrup doesn’t have so many preservatives in it that it can live in the pantry for 12 months and still be fine to eat!

    I am confused-is maple syrup to be in refrigerator or in the pantry for 12 months??

    • Barb – Thank you for asking for clarification, and we have updated the coaching tip to make this more clear! REAL maple syrup needs to stay in the refrigerator because it DOESN’T have all of the preservatives to make it fine to eat after living in the pantry for 12 months. Hope that helps! Thank you again!

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