Okay, well, it may be syrup, of the high fructose corn syrup variety – with a bit of molasses. But most “syrups” in the plastic bottles in your grocery store are not maple syrup or have anything maple about them.

And that’s exactly the kind of syrup I grew up eating! Mrs. Butterworth’s, Aunt Jemima, Log Cabin… the ones that come to life in Saturday morning commercials and attempt to convince us our lives won’t be complete unless we use their syrup on our pancakes.

A couple of years ago, our lives came to a screeching halt when we learned our just-turned-one year old child had severe food allergies. He could no longer safely eat egg, milk, peanuts or soy. And that meant that most of the food we were eating was not safe for him. I had to learn how to read ingredient labels, sleuthing for offending ingredients that, if ingested, might require me to jab my child with an Epi-pen and whisk him off to the ER. And that’s when I realized how much crap we were eating. Because I actually had to read all the ingredients on the label. Every single one.

I’m reminded of how shocked I was when I really looked at the ingredients on the back of the “pancake syrup” bottle: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Molasses, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Polysorbate 60. That one was from Mrs. Butterworth’s Original.

Wow. wow. wow. Why on earth was this the first time I realized that there wasn’t any syrup in my syrup? Not the kind I wanted, anyways. When I went to replace my bottle of “syrup,” I simply needed to look up. On the top shelf were glass bottles with labels that read 100% PURE MAPLE SYRUP. And when I turned them over to read the ingredients, there was only one: Pure maple syrup.

There are different grades and the syrups come from all different places (local here from Minnesota, Vermont, even Canada). And yes, of course, the real syrup from real trees cost more money. But it’s also delicious and a little bit goes a long way. For me, it’s totally worth the couple extra bucks. And as you can see from the pic on the left, I’m not above buying the Target store brand “Archer Farms.”

I’m not out to start a syrup revolution or bring down Aunt Jemima, that’s for sure. Mostly I wanted to share my experience on the off chance that you, like me, have been simply grabbing what you were used to and haven’t been paying close attention to ingredient labels. And if that’s the case, maybe you’ll think twice the next time you go shopping.

*** Curious about the other leading pancake syrups on the market? Here are their ingredients, from the nutrition info on a reputable online grocery site.

Log Cabin Original ingredients: Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Sugar Syrup, Pure Maple Syrup, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate And Sorbic Acid (Preservatives), Invert Sugar, Natural Flavor. ((EDITED TO ADD – thanks to a friend for sharing that Log Cabin now promotes having no HFCS in their ingredients, although still contains corn syrup. Their web site confirms this, however they don’t list their ingredients online, so I can’t provide an updated list of ingredients))

Hungry Jack Regular ingredients: Syrup (Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar Syrup), Water, Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Cellulose Gum, Natural And Artificial Maple Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Sorbic Acid And Sodium Benzoate And Sulfur Dioxide (Preservatives), Artificial Color.

Aunt Jemima Original ingredients: Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Cellulose Gum, Caramel Color, Salt, Sodium Benzoate And Sorbic Acid (Preservatives), Artificial And Natural Flavors, Sodium Hexametaphosphate.

Mrs Butterworth’s Original ingredients: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Molasses, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Polysorbate 60.

You can learn more about our food allergy journey here. Let’s connect on facebook, too.

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22 Responses to “when pancake syrup isn’t really syrup”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Agreed! Pure maple syrup is really the only way to go!

  2. Colleen says:

    I think it bears noting that pure maple syrup is slightly more expensive, so people don't usually make the grab based on that. Here's a need to know: with the goooood stuff (the pure stuff, with that one magic ingredient: pure maple syrup) a little goes a long way. More bang for your buck. Also really really good to sweeten plain yogurt. Maple syrup: it's not just for pancakes anymore. Preach it Missy!!!!! I'm in your (sticky) corner!

  3. MamaBear says:

    Our park makes syrup every spring to teach people how it's done. It's labor intensive (40 gallons of sap need to be collected and cooked down in order to make 1 gallon of syrup) so more expensive, but so worth it! We let people sample it on ice cream and they love it!

    Thanks for getting the word out on the junk in the plastic bottles!

  4. Andrea J. Phillips says:

    Sneaky tip:

    When I started removing things with HFCS (and/or artificial colorings, things I couldn't pronounce, etc.) I saved the last Mrs. Butterworth container, which I refill with real maple syrup.

    I know, I know, it's plastic, and no, I wouldn't want to encourage the production of more, and yes, I prefer the glass bottles used by the pure maple syrup I buy instead.

    But it's a work-around that allows me to serve the good stuff inside a bottle that's more fun for the kids–and I'll be honest, nostalgic for me!


  5. Miss K says:

    We use a lot of raw honey or agave nectar. The raw honey has other health benefits, as well. The book "In Defense of Food" is really interesting and sort of addresses what you are talking about.

  6. Suzi says:

    Ugh, why must you open my eyes to all of the world's bad stuff!? 🙂 Can't I just enjoy my Mrs. Butterworths in peace!? KIDDING. I am becoming more aware of the chemicals we eat and it is sickening to me. I will be buying 100% pure maple syrup from now on.

  7. KayK says:

    I know, gross! Now kick back and wait to see when the HFCS police jump on the comment thread trying to defend themeselves…They always do.

  8. Julie K says:

    And for those who do not like maple, there are some very nice fruit syrups available from local orchards. Buying locally, you'll chiefly see berry and apple for your fruits. But the ingredients will be fruit, sugar, water, citric acid. (The sugar is a must for a fruit syrup to work and not be fruit juice).

    Minneapolis and St. Paul's farmer's markets are good sources for such things as well. We get berry syrup from an orchard near Northfield at St. Paul's market.

  9. Leah says:

    It's crazy when you actually start reading ingredients. My roommate and I recently stopped eating the "light and fit" yogurt by Dannon. I read the ingredients and it has aspartame which is generally frowned upon… I figure I'm getting that from my Diet Coke, I don't need it in my yogurt, too.

  10. Amelia Sprout says:

    In our house my husband's maple syrup addiction means I won't buy the real stuff for him. I'd have to sell anything I own of value…
    So, Log Cabin is actually HFCS free. They nixed it a couple of years go and we started eating pancakes at home again. That is our compromise. Everyone else uses the real stuff, and he gets the fake stuff. He says he like it better… weirdo.
    Growing up we made our own, my parents tapped trees on a friends property and every spring we made the neighborhood smell good. It was awesome, I can't imagine not having the good stuff. I've even debated sneaking it in to my local greesy spoon diner.

  11. Marketing Mama says:

    Great comments everyone, thanks for contributing to the conversation.

    @Colleen – I tried to address the cost factor above – and frankly, it's sad that the real stuff (of any food) costs so much more. I love how Carrie (Mama Bear) addressed how much labor is involved in making real syrup. Makes sense why it costs so much. However, price is definitely a barrier to healthy eating for many people. I would love to see it flipped around – real, healthy food is cheap and crap is expensive.

    @Andrea – loved your trick. 🙂

    @Suzi – you and I share this in common, it was only a couple years ago that I started paying attention because of need. And also, someone else in my house did the shopping. 😉

  12. Marketing Mama says:

    @KayK – they always do… just waiting for it to show up in google alerts.

    @amelia – thanks for letting me know about the Log Cabin – I just looked on their web site and saw they are promoting no HFCS. That said, there are no ingredients listed on their web site. Which pisses me off – they also list an "all natural variety – but it also doesn't say maple on the label. I'm guessing it's all natural, um, corn syrup? I'll look next time I'm at the store. In the mean time, it looks like a wolf in sheep's clothing – "all natural" and in a more traditional maple syrup container, but doesn't say maple on the front.

  13. Lisa says:

    It's only the pure maple syrup for us too. Pricier, but definitely worth it. I do think having a kid with food allergies makes a person pay more attention to the things we eat. We can't not read the labels…and then it's hard to ignore.

  14. JennyF says:

    My grandparents used to make their own maple syrup living in the north wood of Upper Peninsula Michigan. Once I got used to truly pure maple syrup from them, I could never go back to the non-syrup stuff. Now that my grandpa is gone and my grandma is closer to 90 than 80, we've had to resort to buying pure maple syrup instead of getting mason jars of it from them.

    While it is more expensive than the corn syrup versions we find that we use less of it because we don't need to use as much to get as much good flavor.

  15. Jen Wagner says:

    I grew up in SE Minnesota where we used to gather our own sap for maple syrup. When the canned jars would run out, my mom would make this simple recipe, which I use to this day. When my kids have friends over on Saturday mornings for pancakes or waffles, they rave about it!
    Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 cups of sugar and then add a heaping 1/2 tsp of Mapleine (imitation maple flavoring, found in the spice section of the grocery store). I prefer to always serve it warm. Enjoy!

  16. trishatfox says:

    The absolutely best pure maple syrup I've ever gotten (probably because I've never tried Mama Bear's) was from the Birch Bark Book Store just off the Kenwood neighborhood in Minneapolis. Louis Erdich owns it. It's from the White Earth reservation. They don't always have it, though. I should go check since we're in the "syrup season."

  17. says:

    Real Whole foods tend to be more expensive but taste SO MUCH BETTER. I look at ingredients in most everything I eat, my food allergies are not super complex and are easily avoidable, but I also look from a weight management standpoint.
    When it comes to things like syrup, like Colleen said a little of the real stuff just goes a LONG way, and I would rather use the good stuff.

    I am glad to see you point out that "syrup" and other foods aren't always what they seem to be. You Rock!

  18. rawkinmom says:

    Just found your blog!!! My latest post was about pure maple syrup too!!! I am loving your site because my story is SO similar to yours!!! Both my kids have allergies and it has been a long hard road!!! Can't wait to read through all of your posts!!!! 🙂

  19. Amber says:

    I'm a Canadian (albeit, from the West Coast), and so I view fake syrup as an offense against my national identity. Or something.

    Real maple syrup is also surprisingly good drizzled on vanilla ice cream (or non-dairy-frozen-dessert). Just saying. 😉

  20. […] make a difference with the meals I provide at home or pack for school… (little things such as learning when pancake syrup isn’t really syrup make a […]

  21. walter logan says:

    I just looked at my log cabin “original” bottle and there is no listing of “maple syrup” as indicated in your article. I grew up on log cabin and if this is stated as “Original” then someone is pulling our legs.

  22. […] looking, you’ll find this sneaky ingredient in everything from your bread to ketchup to the fake maple syrup you’re […]



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