Healthy Cranberry Sauce – The Almond Eater

Healthy Cranberry Sauce is naturally sweetened with maple syrup and features 6 simple ingredients. It’s sweet, tangy, and lightly spiced with cinnamon and orange zest.

a bowl of cranberry sauce topped with orange zest

Healthy Cranberry Sauce is the best cranberry sauce! Why? Because it’s made without refined sugar and features fresh, seasonal winter ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen.

All you need are 6 ingredients to make homemade cranberry sauce. It’s so easy, you’ll never turn to canned cranberry sauce again. Simply cook the cranberries on the stove, then season with orange zest, vanilla, cinnamon, or any classic winter flavors you love. There are endless flavor variations to choose from!

Even though it’s naturally sweetened with maple syrup, this low sugar cranberry sauce is just as sweet and tart as the classic. It’s traditionally paired with the turkey on Thanksgiving but goes just as well in cranberry chai thumbprint cookies and an autumn harvest bowl.

Recipe features

  • Naturally sweetened with maple syrup, and flavored with warm spices and fresh orange zest.
  • Easy to make with fresh or frozen cranberries in just 10 minutes.
  • Make it the day before Thanksgiving or months in advance! It stores and freezes really well.
ingredients to make cranberry sauce like fresh cranberries and an orange


For the full ingredients list, scroll down to the recipe card below.

Cranberries – I like using fresh cranberries because they’re so abundant during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but frozen cranberries work just as well and taste the same.

Maple syrup – This is used in place of regular white sugar to keep the cranberry sauce refined sugar free. You can use honey instead, or replace it with another natural sweetener, like coconut sugar or stevia.

Orange zest – The citrus brightens up the flavor and helps balance the tartness. Go ahead and add a splash of orange juice or Grand Marnier if you love the tangy orange flavor here.

Step-by-step instructions

Step 1: Place the cranberries in a pot. Add the cranberries, maple syrup, and water to a saucepan on the stove.

Step 2: Boil. Bring the mixture up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

cooked cranberries in a saucepan

Step 3: Wait for it to thicken. Keep simmering until the cranberries are beginning to break down and the mixture is turning into a thick sauce. 

Step 4: Add the flavor. Stir in the orange zest and other optional flavors (like vanilla and cinnamon) to the finished sauce. Enjoy! 

cooked fresh cranberries in a saucepan with a rubber spatula

Tips and FAQs

  • Mix up the seasonings and warm flavors as you like! Stir in a pinch of nutmeg, cloves, allspice, lemon zest, or a splash of orange or apple juice.
  • Add a tablespoon of orange liqueur, dark rum, amaretto, or bourbon to give the sauce more depth.
  • You can even stir in chopped nuts, diced apples, or raisins at the end for some texture.
  • If the sauce still doesn’t taste quite sweet enough, increase the amount of maple syrup to ½ cup.
  • Make the cranberry sauce at least 1 day or up to 3 days before serving. This way, it will set nicely and all of the flavors will have a chance to mingle together.

Cranberry sauce with frozen cranberries

Go ahead and replace the fresh cranberries with the same amount of frozen cranberries. No need to thaw them, either. Just toss them in the pot and cook as directed.

Frozen cranberries have excess moisture, which means they may take longer to thicken. In this case, just give them a few extra minutes to simmer on the stove.

How do you make low sugar cranberry sauce taste sweet?

It’s all thanks to the maple syrup and vanilla, really. Real maple syrup is a natural sweetener that will give the sauce a sweet flavor without any refined sugar. Vanilla extract only enhances this sweetness!

How do you use cranberry sauce?

Turkey and cranberries are practically made for each other. It’s why cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving staple! Place a dollop of sauce on each slice of turkey at the holiday dinner or spread it onto leftover turkey sandwiches the next day.

You can also treat leftover cranberry sauce like jam. Use it in thumbprint cookies, overnight oats, a brie grilled cheese, yogurt breakfast bowls, on top of pancakes, spread on toast, or on top of a bowl of oatmeal

cooked cranberries in a bowl with a spoon topped with orange zest


Refrigerator: Let it cool, then transfer the sauce to an airtight container. It will stay fresh for up to 1 week in the fridge.

Freezer: It also freezes well for up to 6 months! Let the leftovers thaw in the fridge, give it a quick stir, adjust the flavors as necessary, then serve.

More healthy holiday side dishes

If you made this recipe, be sure to leave a comment and star rating below. Thanks!

a bowl of cranberry sauce topped with orange zest

Healthy Cranberry Sauce


Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Servings: 6


  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • cup water
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract optional
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon optional


  • Add the cranberries, water and maple syrup to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Then, reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened to your liking. Last, stir in the orange zest.

  • Enjoy as-is, or stir in the vanilla and cinnamon if using.


*Calories are per serving and are an estimation
*You can also use frozen cranberries if you prefer; just know that you may need to cook them for a bit longer


Calories: 65kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 0.3g | Fat: 0.1g | Saturated Fat: 0.01g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.03g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01g | Sodium: 4mg | Potassium: 79mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 39IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 23mg | Iron: 0.2mg

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