This year I spent the winter holidays in beautiful rural Vermont, where I got an inside glimpse into the fascinating world of maple syrup production.
During our stay, we were given a private tour of a friend's "sugar shack" (the wooden shed where the delicious syrup is produced), as well as tasty samples. We also visited the slightly kitch, yet informative, New England Maple Museum, which explains how maple syrup production has evolved since its discovery by the Native Americans. I'd like to share a little of its history with you...
What exactly is maple syrup?
Maple syrup is a substance usually made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees, although it can also be made from other maple species. In cold climates, these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped by creating holes in their trunks and collecting the extracted sap. The sap is processed by prolonged heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup. Surprisingly, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon a maple syrup!
A Brief History
Early settlers in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada learned about sugar maples from Native Americans. Various legends exist to explain the initial discovery. One is that the chief of a tribe threw a tomahawk at a tree, sap ran out and his wife boiled venison in the liquid. Another version holds that Native Americans stumbled on sap running from a broken maple branch.
Which grade is right for you?
Maple syrup can be pretty pricey, so you'd better be sure you know what you're in for when you splurge on a bottle. Even directly from the source, expect to pay around $50 a gallon - and MUCH more if you're in Europe. Between all the grades and shades of maple syrup out on the market (not to mention the imposters below!), it can get a little confusing.
All maple syrup is graded according to scales based on its density and translucency.
One would expect "Grade A" to naturally be the best, however, it's really just a question of taste and usage. As you may imagine, the darker the syrup, the more intense the maple flavor. Darker syrups are more commonly used in cooking, while the lighter grades are mainly used directly, such as on pancakes. Personally, I prefer the stronger kick of the darker grades.
Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
- Calcium: 7% of the RDA.
- Potassium: 6% of the RDA.
- Iron: 7% of the RDA.
- Zinc: 28% of the RDA.
- Manganese: 165% of the RDA.
In my opinion, it's hard to find a dish that maple syrup won't compliment.
Interested in incorporating real maple syrup into your cooking?
Try out some of these delicious recipes:
Maple Roast Turkey and Gravy (my Thanksgiving standard)
57 Magical Ways to Use Maple Syrup
I hope you all enjoy a sweet year ahead!