Syrup Bottle - © Ben Nelms - Bloomberg News

Maple Syrup Time! Earlier Than Ever – And Healthy, Too!

The annual maple syrup ‘run’ is on. And there’s a host of news on it from producers, climatologists and nutritionists. The maple syrup season is earlier because of global warming. And nutritionists report, maple syrup is even healthier than they thought…

Maple Syrup - © 2024 - healthline.com

A little background…

Every spring sugar maple trees across southern Ontario and Quebec, along with Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, awaken from their winter sleep. And start pumping sap up their trunks into the buds that will erupt into their familiar 5-pointed leaves.

This fleeting period of just a few weeks is the time maple syrup producers tap the trees and siphon off a very small amount of the overall sap flood. Many are just the latest generation of syrup makers, carrying on an ancient family tradition.

In fact, maple syrup making was handed down, to the first French settlers in what’s now Quebec, by the indigenous people they found there. Today, about 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup is made in Quebec.

The sap is collected in buckets and amalgamated in large metal pans’. The original method of syrup making employs a wood fire under the pan to evaporate excess water. And it turns a unique deep amber colour as it ‘cooks’. The longer you cook it, the darker and thicker it gets. The resulting thick liquid is pure maple syrup.

Blame – or credit – climate change?

The maple syrup season has started earlier than ever before this year. Weeks earlier, in fact. And climatologists say that’s because the maple syrup ‘belt’ has enjoyed the mildest winter since official records have been kept.

And that has led producers to predict a longer than usual syrup season. Resulting in a bumper crop. That may have a number of consequences – not all good. Too much syrup on the market later this spring could depress the price. And too much sap to process could reduce the quality and intensity of the resulting syrup. But that all remains to be seen.

Producers are also ramping up the promotional machine to hype their ‘Old Tyme Maple Sugaring’ events. Many invite the public to visit their syrup operations and see the process in progress.

And they almost always include a maple sugar candy-making session for the kids. Just pour the darkest, thickest grade of syrup onto fresh snow, and it will solidify instantly into maple sugar taffy. They also have ‘new crop’ syrup for sale, of course.

Maple syrup is good for you!

Recent evidence bolsters the old belief that maple sugar is a special sweet – and it’s actually good for you.

Consumer Reports says: “In two tablespoons, you get quite a bit of the mineral manganese and the B vitamin riboflavin, plus small amounts of the minerals calcium, potassium, and zinc. In addition, pure maple syrup contains antioxidants.

“”Maple syrup contains great minerals like iron, which helps with red blood cells, [and] manganese, which is amazing for our joints,” explains nutritionist, Diane Murphy.

“Maple syrup also contains minerals that have synergy, which means they work well together, like sodium and potassium, which help to regulate fluid in our cells; and calcium and magnesium, which work really well to help contract and relax our muscles, and that includes the heart.”

Nutritionist Rachel Cavan notes: “There are 67 antioxidants in pure maple syrup, and 9 of them are unique to maple syrup.”

Alas, the news isn’t all good

Consumer Reports says: “Two tablespoons [of maple syrup] have 104 calories and 24 grams of sugars, and many other foods have those same nutrients without the high calorie and sugar load.”

Nutritionists, however, point out that maple syrup not the same kind of sweet as refined sugars, such as the demon high-sugar corn syrup.

And, “Compared to other refined sugars such as corn syrup, it has a lower glycemic index,” says family physician Dr. Stephanie Liu. “What that means is it’s less likely to spike your blood sugars.”

My take

It’s a great tradition, and – in spite of its relatively high price – maple syrup can be a welcome and healthy part of your diet. One thing none of the experts cited above deign to mention is, maple syrup is approximately 12 times sweeter than table sugar. So you need less to get the same ‘sweet’ satisfaction. And it boasts, hands down, the best and most complex flavour of any sweetener, natural, refined or artificial.

I’m blessed, to live in the middle of the Eastern Ontario maple syrup region. I can go out to any of a dozen syrup operations in about an hour and get my fresh, new crop syrup direct from the source.

And if you’re not a resident of the ‘syrup belt’, you’re still lucky: Maple syrup is available year round at most supermarkets across North America!

Dive into the maple syrup tradition this year… And discover (or rediscover) a wondrous part of our collective heritage..

~ Maggie J.

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