It's a plentiful, sustainable and renewable resource. Its harvest supports local agriculture and local traditions alike, and its sugars are healthy and host to a variety of wellness benefits. It's story is definitely not factory-manufactured: It takes a mature tree (some 40 to 50 years in age), the right temperatures (as in below freezing), and a long winter season to produce the kind of maple syrup that can be passed from one person to another around the breakfast table.
In its most classic form, maple syrup comes from the sap of the sugar maple tree, or acer saccharum, which is typically found in the Eastern U.S. or Southern Canada. The sap's sugar content fluctuates between 2 and 4 percent, but its overall sugar content depends on factors such as the tree's natural sweetness and the cold temperatures reached the winter prior. In fact, it's the sustained below-freezing temperatures that help give the tree's sap its sweetness, but it's when the daytime temperatures begin to warm -- up into about the 40s -- that the tree is tapped and the sap is collected. After that, the sap is distilled, yet just some 30 to 40 liters of sap boiled down produce just one liter of syrup.
In today's world of empty calories, processed foods and artificial sweeteners, maple syrup can be the stuff of dreams, (which may be why it can also cost up to $60 a gallon for high-end varieties). It could also be why maple sugar is moving beyond the breakfast table to a new place on the healthy-living spectrum.
It's not just sticky
Maple syrup is easily digested and, according to the University of Rhode Island, offers multiple health benefits. Consider that a URI researcher discovered that it contains 34 new compounds that are beneficial to human health. That's in addition to 20 other beneficial compounds that had already been recently discovered. One of these newly-discovered compounds is Quebecol, which was named after the Canadian province where much of the world's maple syrup production occurs -- Quebec.
"Quebecol has a unique chemical structure or skeleton never before identified in nature," researcher Navindra Seeram said in a URI press release. "I believe the process of concentrating the maple sap into maple syrup is what creates Quebecol. There is beneficial and interesting chemistry going on when the boiling process occurs. I believe the heat forms this unique compound."
Better than a banana?
In addition to the recent work at URI, maple syrup has also been shown to have other benefits. Don't know what to do when you suddenly have a banana shortage in the house? Well, just turn to maple syrup. Just 60 milliliters of maple syrup contains more potassium than a banana and more calcium than an equivalent amount of milk, according to Get Real Maple. Additionally, according to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, this same amount also provides:
- 100 percent of your daily recommended value of manganese (more than found in honey, sugar or brown sugar), which helps in antioxidant and energy production in the body and is necessary for healthy brain and nerve function
- 37 percent of your daily riboflavin, an important part of the metabolic process
- 18 percent of your daily zinc, which helps boost your immune system
Beyond those benefits, maple syrup may also help to fight disease, like:
- Cancer. Maple syrup is a prolific source of antioxidants. A study from the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi found that maple syrup's antioxidant capabilities can inhibit the damage caused by overproduction of nitric oxide in the body, preventing the proliferation of certain cancer cells.
- Diabetes. Maple syrup actually lowers blood glucose levels thanks to the presence of abscisic acid, which boosts insulin production and increases insulin sensitivity in fat cells.
- Heart disease. High zinc levels in maple syrup can help to balance out the body. A study from the Department of Medicine at the University of Turku in Finland found a direct relationship between low serum zinc levels and the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
Working it in
How exactly do you work maple sugar into your diet? After all, it's not like you can just schedule it in like an evening work-out. There are plenty of ways to incorporate maple sugar into your diet -- from the breakfast table to snacks, as well as through school lunches, soups, sports drinks and even savory dinners and cocktails.
- Baking: Substitute equal amounts of maple syrup for sugar in almost any baking recipe. For every cup (approx. .25 liters) of maple syrup used in a recipe, reduce the other liquids, like water, milk or juice, by a quarter cup (about 60 ml). If you're substituting for other liquid sweeteners like honey or molasses, simply use the same amount of maple syrup.
- Gazpacho. This typically tomato-oriented, cold soup is a wonderful summer treat on the hottest of hot days. Substitute orange juice and maple syrup in a four-to-one ratio (e.g., one cup orange juice to one quarter cup maple syrup) for the amount of tomatoes and tomato juice the recipe calls for.
- Glazes and caramelizing. Brush any meat you're about to bake with maple syrup for an unforgettable glaze. Just caramelized some onions? Stir in some maple syrup as you finish up.
- Sports drink. Maple syrup's high levels of vitamins and electrolytes can make it a great pre-, post- and during-workout drink. Mix up 3.5 cups of water with a quarter cup each of maple syrup and orange juice, add the juice of one lime (about 30 ml) and a pinch of salt, shake vigorously and fuel your body like a champ, according to the website PureCanadaMaple.com.
- Cocktails. Maple syrup has been used to sweeten cocktails for generations, according to the Wall Street Journal. Like simple syrup, it's used to balance out sour, heavy-citrus notes in a drink. Unlike simple syrup, it imparts a caramel, classically maple flavor. Combine three parts Canadian whiskey, one part lemon juice and one part maple syrup in a shaker with ice and pour out a glorious drink called a Maple Leaf.
Creative recipes for incorporating maple syrup into cooking abound. The Federation for Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (PureCanadaMaple.com) has a large database of recipes to peruse -- and features new recipes every month. Start slow by including maple sugar into your treats as you bake, or decide instead to make yourself a Maple Leaf as a way to relax and unwind.
"Antioxidants in Maple Syrup," Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Accessed September 25, 2014, http://www.purecanadamaple.com/benefits-of-maple-syrup/antioxidants-in-maple-syrup
"Cooking with Maple Syrup," The Vegetarian Resource Group, Vegetarian Journal, Habeeb Salloum, 2009 Issue 1, http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2009issue1/2009_issue1_maple_syrup.php
"Health Benefits of Maple Syrup," Coombs Family Farms, Get Real Maple Blog, November 30, 2012, http://www.coombsfamilyfarms.com/health-benefits-of-maple-syrup/
"Is Pure Maple Syrup Healthy?," Livestrong.com, Suzanne S. Wiley, December 18, 2013, http://www.livestrong.com/article/403181-is-pure-maple-syrup-healthy/
"Make Mine Maple," Wall Street Journal, Food & Drink, Kevin Sintumuang, February 26, 2011, http://www.purecanadamaple.com/maple-syrup-recipe/orange-and-maple-gazpacho-recipe
"Maple Syrup Nutrition," Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Accessed September 25, 2014, http://www.purecanadamaple.com/benefits-of-maple-syrup/maple-syrup-nutrition
"Nutrition for Exercise," Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Accessed September 25, 2014, http://www.purecanadamaple.com/maple-syrup-recipes/nutrition-for-exercise
"Orange and Maple Gazpacho Recipe," Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Accessed September 25, 2014, http://www.purecanadamaple.com/maple-syrup-recipe/orange-and-maple-gazpacho-recipe
"Sweet Health Benefits of Maple Syrup," Vibrant Glow, June 23, 2011, http://www.vibrantglow.com/2011/06/sweet-health-benefits-of-maple-syrup.html