Oh Maple syrup, we praise thee!

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Maple syrup begins as sap in a maple tree. Maple sugar and maple syrup were an important part of the diet of Native Americans (of North America) long before the arrival of European explorers.

The production of maple syrup is a cottage industry concentrated in the eastern Canadian provinces, especially Quebec, and the American Northeast, where conditions are favorable. A good sap run needs: severe winters that freeze tree roots, snow that covers the roots in the spring, and sun exposure.

Maples produce sweeter and more plentiful sap than any other tree, thanks to an intricate mechanism where the tree forces sugars from the previous growing season out of the trunk and into the outer zone, or cambium. For ages, sap has been collected by punching a small hole in the maple tree, inserting a spout into the cambium, and hanging a bucket into which the sap dripped. Today, the process is carried out in a similar manner, with the addition of plastic taps and tubing that carries the sap of multiple trees to a central tank.

The production process has also been streamlined, but is still based on boiling the collected sap down without any chemicals or preservatives over an open fire at a temperature of 4°C or 7°F.  This allows for the right sugar content and consistency. It takes 20-50 liters of sap to produce one liter of syrup. The syrup’s final composition is approximately 62% sucrose, 34% water, 3% glucose and fructose, and 0.5% malic and other acids.  It has a low mineral content, but nutritionally significant amounts of zinc and manganese, as well as calcium.

Maple syrup comes in grades – ranging from grades A-C in the United States, and 1-3 in Canada – which correspond to color, flavor, and sugar cotent. Grade A, for example, is not better than the rest, but less concentrated, lighter, and delicately flavored, making it a popular choice for pouring directly onto foods. Grades B and C are stronger in flavor and more often used for cooking and baking. Maple syrup can be substituted for white sugar in equal amounts.

True maple syrup is pricy. Beware of artificially flavored supermarket versions who pose as the real thing. Maple syrup should be refrigerated after opening.

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Text: Jasmina Knezovic
Photo: mnprairieroots, creativecommons

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