"In the north when winter's claw
Relaxes now to keep the laws
Of nature in control
People come and stand in line
To rob the forest of her wine
But they don't feel the cold
Love and maple syrup shine like
Embers warm, like thoughts divine
They tell us it is spring"
Excerpts from 'Love and Maple Syrup' by Gordon Lightfoot
I love maple syrup. I love it on pancakes, on waffles, on French toast with fried eggs. But maple syrup is so much more than just pancake sauce. Maple syrup is the nectar of the gods; an epicurean delight that is meant to be experienced. It's amazingly full-bodied, with a complex and unreservedly enjoyable flavor that is, to me, what honey is to bees. I use it in my coffee every morning. And I pour it over oatmeal and other whole grain hot cereals. I enjoy it as a topping on fruit, yogurt, ice-cream, and pudding. I like to drizzle it over popcorn. And I find it absolutely heavenly in baked beans, pies, cakes, cheesecakes, cookies, sticky buns, cobblers, and corn bread. What's more, it makes a fantastic glaze for baked ham, pork chops, chicken or duck, and a delightful addition to stir fries.
For those who would like to get even more creative, how about adding a little maple syrup when preparing your favorite marinade? Just think about a delectable maple-marinated pork loin or burgers, wings or chops. And what about potatoes and zucchini infused with maple marinade? How about mixing up a batch of your favorite barbecue sauce with a generous measure of maple syrup added? Just thinking about basting baby back ribs, chicken, portabellas or shish kabobs in a sauce that sweet and tangy makes me want to step outside and start the grill right now! Mmm! Mmm! And a little bit of maple syrup can go a long way when it comes to making pickles, too.
For those of you that are into home-brewing - how about trying your luck at creating a batch of maple beer? I'm not particularly fond of dark beers, but several years ago, I had the opportunity to try a maple porter that had been crafted by a friend of a friend. It was a heady, dark beer that proved to be out of this world. He said that the recipe had been styled after one passed down by his grandfather who, as he told it, would boil down late season, mildly buddy sap partway to syrup; add the right amount of hops and yeast and forget about it until it was time to bottle.
Maybe you'd rather sip whiskey than drink beer. Fortunately for you, maple syrup blends very nicely into whiskey, too. In fact, there are several commercial distillers marketing extremely enjoyable maple whiskeys. Have you ever heard of Quebec-made Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky or Crown Royal Maple Finished? That's what I'm talking about!
It's hard to believe that something so sweet, so unique, yet so versatile, can also be good for you. But the fact is, real maple syrup offers several potentially remarkable health benefits, too. A 2010 University of Quebec study observed that maple syrup showed anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, with the anti-inflammatory effects appearing stronger in the darker syrup. That same study also indicated that the antioxidant capacity of pure maple syrup was similar to that of orange juice. And maple sugar, which has a glycemic index of 54, does not raise blood sugar as quickly as granulated table sugar (sucrose), which has a GI of 95. Let me elaborate on that.
A 2011 study conducted by University of Rhode Island researchers identified 54 compounds in maple syrup, many with antioxidant activity and potential health benefits. "We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup," said Dr. Navindra Seeram, assistant pharmacy professor at URI and a lead scientist on the maple syrup research team. "It is a one-stop shop for these beneficial compounds, several of which are also found in berries, tea, red wine and flaxseed, just to name a few." Seeram, working with Chong Lee, a professor of nutrition and food sciences at URI, also discovered that phenolic compounds (beneficial anti-oxidants) in maple syrup inhibit two carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes that are relevant to Type 2 diabetes management. In other words, maple sugar is potentially an anti-diabetes compound.
Maple syrup is also an excellent source of zinc and manganese. Zinc deficiency has been shown to compromise white blood cell counts and immune system response, especially in children. Manganese helps keeps bones strong and blood sugar levels normal. It also promotes repair of muscle and cell damage. What's more, a quarter-cup serving of maple syrup provides more potassium than a banana. And ounce for ounce, maple syrup offers more calcium than milk.
The maple sugaring season has begun. Several area producers have fresh new maple syrup available. So why not buy some today - and see what delightfully decadent (and healthy) gourmet extravagances you can create in your kitchen, using locally produced real maple syrup.