It’s that time of year. It’s not quite spring but it’s not quite winter and we’re experiencing the best – and the worst – of both worlds.
How can we make the best of this situation? Two golden words my friends: maple syrup. It’s mesmerizing – the way it flows, smells, looks, tastes. How versatile it is as a food. It can be enjoyed on fresh snow or on piping hot-off-the stove top pancakes.
On a Sunday morning, its sweet glory can bring a family together at the breakfast table as surely as it will stick to your fingers after you sneak a taste. Although most often it only makes appearances at Sunday brunch, it used to be as common in the kitchen as table salt. Sugar was expensive and difficult to find. Maple syrup was a cheap substitute: funny how the breakfast tables have turned.
Although the price has changed, much else about maple syrup has not, including the way it is produced. It used to be quite a gruelling process – a large quantity of sap was boiled over an open fire and this would create only 4.54 litres or one gallon of syrup. This is still the process, but luckily for syrup farmers, there are easier ways of getting the gallons or litres to the pot rather than lugging it back and forth.
Today, Canada makes more than 80 per cent of the world’s maple syrup; the vast majority of this comes from Québec and Ontario.
Know your grades
Luckily for us, pure maple syrup is quite readily available – hard work included. It can be found at your grocery store, local food markets, and even on fun family trips to the sugar bush. Do a quick Internet search to find your closest one and make it an outing for everyone to enjoy.
When it comes to choosing your liquid gold, there are grades to consider. The three versions of Grade A (Canada 1) maple syrup are Light Amber, Medium Amber and Dark Amber. The lighter the colour, the more subtle the flavour. There is also a Grade B (Canada 2). It has the most pronounced taste and is usually reserved for cooking.
Along with pure maple syrup, there are many other table syrups. These are substitutes. These syrups are usually thickener than pure maple syrup and may not have any maple content. The fenugreek seed can be prepared to have a maple-like flavour and is used to make a strong commercial flavouring that is similar to maple syrup, but it is much less expensive. It is also made from sugars of one type or another such as cane, beet, or corn syrup. A benefit of this imitation syrup is that there is reduced sugar or sugar-free options. It is also costs considerably less.
If you are ever unsure if the syrup you are buying is pure or an imitation, just read the label. It should say 100 per cent pure and the ingredients list should only include one thing: maple syrup. In fact, there may not even be an ingredients list.
Once you’ve picked your pancake-topper, you can store it in a cool dry place at home until it is opened. After that, it should be kept in the fridge. If you ever see mold in the syrup bottle, be sure to throw the entire contents out rather than scooping it out as the rest of the syrup could be contaminated.
Courtesy of Ontariomaple.com.
Medicine you won’t mind taking
Maple syrup has about the same calorie content as white cane sugar, but it also has significant amounts of potassium, calcium, small amounts of iron and phosphorus, and trace amounts of B-vitamins. It’s also low in sodium.
The magic of maple doesn’t stop there. Maple syrup has the mineral manganese which is an essential co-factor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defences. In 28.35 grams or one ounce of maple syrup, 22 per cent of our daily requirements are supplied. It is a great substitute for sugar if you are trying to protect the health of your heart because the zinc supplied by maple syrup acts as an antioxidant.
Zinc and manganese are important allies in the immune system. Many types of immune cells appear to depend upon zinc for optimal function. Researchers have studied the effects of zinc deficiency (and zinc supplementation) on the immune response in children and their number of white blood cells. Zinc deficiency has been shown to compromise the number of white blood cells and immune responses, while zinc supplementation has been shown to restore conditions to normal.
Maple syrup may help to support reproductive health and provides special benefits for men. Zinc is concentrated more highly in the prostate gland than in any other human tissue. Low levels of zinc in this gland relate to a higher risk of prostate cancer. In fact, zinc is a mineral used therapeutically by healthcare practitioners to help reduce prostate size. Manganese may also play a role in supporting male health since it is a catalyst in the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol. It also participates in the production of sex hormones, thus helping to maintain reproductive health.
So after all the history, the health benefits, and the fun you can have collecting maple syrup – it really comes down to this: maple syrup is delicious.