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Can you tell me more about maple syrup?

Background

When you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, don't forget to consider using maple syrup, which contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey. It is available throughout the year in your local supermarket.

Maple syrup is one of the many wonders of the world. This viscous amber liquid with its characteristic earthy sweet taste is made from the sap of the sugar, black or red maple tree. The process of creating maple syrup begins with tapping (piercing) the tree, which allows the sap to run out freely. The sap is clear and almost tasteless and very low in sugar content when it is first tapped. It is then boiled to evaporate the water producing syrup with the characteristic flavor and color of maple syrup and sugar content of 60%.

The scientific name for the sugar maple tree, from which maple syrup is obtained, is Acer saccharum.

Maple syrup is rich in manganese as well as zinc. Both of these minerals serve as antioxidants, contributing to the quenching of free radicals that can cause cellular damage. These nutrients also contribute to a healthy immune system.

History

The process of making maple syrup is an age-old tradition of the North American Indians, who used it both as a food and as a medicine. They would make incisions into trees with their tomahawks and use birch barks to collect the sap. The sap would be condensed into syrup by evaporating the excess water using one of two methods: plunging hot stones into the sap or the nightly freezing of the sap, following by the morning removal of the frozen water layer.

When the settlers came to North America, they were fascinated by this traditional process and in awe of the delicious, natural sweetener it produced. They developed other methods to reduce the syrup, using iron drill bits to tap the trees and then boiling the sap in the metal kettles in which it was collected.

Maple syrup was the main sweetener used by the colonists since sugar from the West Indies was highly taxed and very expensive. As sugar became cheaper to produce, it began to replace maple syrup as a relied upon sweetener. In fact, maple syrup production is approximately one-fifth of what it was in the beginning of the 20th century.

Maple syrup-producing trees are only found in select regions of North America. Producers of maple syrup include the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, as well as the states of Vermont and New York in the U.S.

Selection and Storage

Maple syrup is available in individual containers and in bulk in some stores. The quality of the syrup varies in characteristics such as color, taste, and consistency. All maple syrups are labeled with a grade based upon an official United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grading system. There are three versions of Grade A maple syrup, including Light Amber, Medium Amber and Dark Amber. The lighter the color, the more subtle the flavor. Maple syrup is also available in a Grade B version, although since it has the most pronounced taste, it is usually reserved for cooking and use in processed foods.

Pure maple syrup is distinguished in its labeling from maple flavored syrups. While they are generally more expensive, their rich unique flavor makes them worth the extra money.

While unopened containers of maple syrup can be stored in a cool dry place, they should be kept in the refrigerator once they are opened. Maple syrup can be frozen, although it should be defrosted before use since it very viscous and hard to pour when frozen. If any mold appears in the syrup, even if just on the surface, you should throw away the entire container since it may be contaminated.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

Here are a few suggestions on how to incorporate maple syrup into your Healthiest Way of Eating.

  • Maple syrup, used in place of table sugar as a sweetener, gives tea and coffee a unique taste.
  • Pour some maple syrup on oatmeal topped with walnuts and raisins.
  • Add maple syrup and cinnamon to puréed cooked sweet potatoes.
  • Combine maple syrup with orange juice and soy sauce and use as a marinade for baked tofu or tempeh.
  • Spread peanut butter on a piece of whole wheat toast, top with sliced bananas and then drizzle maple syrup on top for a sweet, gooey treat.

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