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 Maple Syrup,

 its origin and its benefits


 

Indigenous people living in the northeastern part of North America were the first groups known to have produced maple syrup and maple sugar. According to aboriginal oral traditions, as well as archaeological evidence, maple tree sap was being processed into syrup long before Europeans arrived in the region. There are no authenticated accounts of how maple syrup production and consumption began, but various legends exist; one of the most popular involves maple sap being used in place of water to cook venison served to a chief. Other stories credit the development of maple syrup production to Nanabozho, Glooskap, or the squirrel. Aboriginal tribes developed rituals around sugar-making, celebrating the Sugar Moon (the first full moon of spring) with a Maple Dance. Many aboriginal dishes replaced the traditional salt in European cuisine with maple sugar or syrup.

 

 

 

 

 


 

The Algonquians recognized maple sap as a source of energy and nutrition. At the beginning of the spring thaw, they used stone tools to make V-shaped incisions in tree trunks; they then inserted reeds or concave pieces of bark to run the sap into buckets, which were often made from birch bark. The maple sap was concentrated either by dropping hot cooking stones into the buckets or by leaving them exposed to the cold temperatures overnight and disposing of the layer of ice that formed on top. While there was widespread agriculture in Mesoamerica, the Southeast and Southwest regions of the United States, the production of maple syrup is one of only a few agricultural processes in the Northeast that is not a European colonial import.

In the early stages of European colonization in northeastern North America, indigenous people showed the arriving colonists how to tap the trunks of certain types of maple trees during the spring thaw to harvest the sap. André Thevet, the "Royal Cosmographer of France", wrote about Jacques Cartier drinking maple sap during his Canadian voyages. By 1680, European settlers and fur traders were involved in harvesting maple products. However, rather than making incisions in the bark as the indigenous inhabitants did, the Europeans used the method of drilling tapholes in the trunks with augers. During the 17th and 18th centuries, processed maple sap was used primarily as a source of concentrated sugar, in both liquid and crystallized-solid form, as cane sugar had to be imported from the West Indies.

Maple sugaring parties typically began to operate at the start of the spring thaw in regions of woodland with sufficiently large numbers of maples. Syrup makers first bored holes in the trunks, usually more than one hole per large tree; they then inserted wooden spouts into the holes and hung a wooden bucket from the protruding end of each spout to collect the sap. The buckets were commonly made by cutting cylindrical segments from a large tree trunk and then hollowing out each segment's core from one end of the cylinder, creating a seamless, watertight container. Sap filled the buckets, and was then either transferred to larger holding vessels (barrels, large pots, or hollowed-out wooden logs), often mounted on sledges or wagons pulled by draft animals, or carried in buckets or other convenient containers.The sap-collection buckets were returned to the spouts mounted on the trees, and the process was repeated for as long as the flow of sap remained "sweet". The specific weather conditions of the thaw period were, and still are, critical in determining the length of the sugaring season. As the weather continues to warm-up, a maple tree's normal early spring biological process eventually alters the taste of the sap, making it unpalatable, perhaps due to an increase in amino acids.

The boiling process was very time-consuming. The harvested sap was transported back to the party's base camp, where it was then poured into large vessels (usually made from metal) and boiled to achieve the desired consistency. The sap was usually transported using large barrels pulled by horses or oxen to a central collection point, where it was processed either over a fire built out in the open or inside a shelter built for that purpose (the "sugar shack").

 


 

Around the time of the American Civil War, syrup makers started using large, flat sheet metal pans as they were more efficient for boiling than heavy, rounded iron kettles, because of a greater surface area for evaporation. Around this time, cane sugar replaced maple sugar as the dominant sweetener in the US; as a result, producers focused marketing efforts on maple syrup. The first evaporator, used to heat and concentrate sap, was patented in 1858. In 1872, an evaporator was developed that featured two pans and a metal arch or firebox, which greatly decreased boiling time. Around 1900, producers bent the tin that formed the bottom of a pan into a series of flues, which increased the heated surface area of the pan and again decreased boiling time. Some producers also added a finishing pan, a separate batch evaporator, as a final stage in the evaporation process.

 

 

 

Buckets began to be replaced with plastic bags, which allowed people to see at a distance how much sap had been collected. Syrup producers also began using tractors to haul vats of sap from the trees being tapped (the sugar bush) to the evaporator. Some producers adopted motor-powered tappers and metal tubing systems to convey sap from the tree to a central collection container, but these techniques were not widely used. Heating methods also diversified: modern producers use wood, oil, natural gas, propane, or steam to evaporate sap. Modern filtration methods were perfected to prevent contamination of the syrup.

Maple syrup and maple sugar were used during the American Civil War and by abolitionists in the years prior to the war because most cane sugar and molasses were produced by Southern slaves. Because of food rationing during the Second World War, people in the northeastern United States were encouraged to stretch their sugar rations by sweetening foods with maple syrup and maple sugar, and recipe books were printed to help housewives employ this alternative source.

 


 

A large number of technological changes took place during the 1970s. Plastic tubing systems that had been experimental since the early part of the century were perfected, and the sap came directly from the tree to the evaporator house. Vacuum pumps were added to the tubing systems, and preheaters were developed to recycle heat lost in the steam. Producers developed reverse-osmosis machines to take a portion of water out of the sap before it was boiled, increasing processing efficiency.

Improvements in tubing and vacuum pumps, new filtering techniques, "supercharged" preheaters, and better storage containers have since been developed. Research continues on pest control and improved woodlot management.

 


 

Production methods have been streamlined since colonial days, yet remain basically unchanged. Sap must first be collected and boiled down to obtain pure syrup without chemical agents or preservatives. Maple syrup is made by boiling between 20 and 50 volumes of sap (depending on its concentration) over an open fire until 1 volume of syrup is obtained, usually at a temperature 4.1 °C (7.4 °F) over the boiling point of water. As the boiling point of water varies with changes in air pressure the correct value for pure water is determined at the place where the syrup is being produced, each time evaporation is begun and periodically throughout the day.  Syrup can be boiled entirely over one heat source or can be drawn off into smaller batches and boiled at a more controlled temperature.

Boiling the syrup is a tightly controlled process, which ensures appropriate sugar content. Syrup boiled too long will eventually crystallize, whereas under-boiled syrup will be watery, and will quickly spoil. The finished syrup has a density of 66° on the Brix scale (a hydrometric scale used to measure sugar solutions).  The syrup is then filtered to remove sugar sand, crystals made up largely of sugar and calcium malate. These crystals are not toxic, but create a "gritty" texture in the syrup if not filtered out. The filtered syrup is graded and packaged while still hot, usually at a temperature of 82 °C (180 °F) or greater. The containers are turned over after being sealed to sterilize the cap with the hot syrup. Packages can be made of metal, glass, or coated plastic, depending on volume and target market. The syrup can also be heated longer and further processed to create a variety of other maple products, including maple sugar, maple butter or cream, and maple candy or taffy.

 


 

Maple syrup production is centred in northeastern North America; however, given the correct weather conditions, it can be made wherever suitable species of maple trees grow. A maple syrup production farm is called a "sugarbush" or "sugarwood". Sap is often boiled in a "sugar house" (also known as a "sugar shack," "sugar shanty," or cabane à sucre), a building louvered at the top to vent the steam from the boiling sap.

Maples are usually tapped beginning at 30 to 40 years of age. Each tree can support between one and three taps, depending on its trunk diameter. The average maple tree will produce 35 to 50 litres (9.2 to 13.2 US gal) of sap per season, up to 12 litres (3.2 US gal) per day. This is roughly equal to 7% of its total sap. Seasons last for four to eight weeks, depending on the weather. During the day, starch stored in the roots for the winter rises through the trunk as sugary sap, allowing it to be tapped. Sap is not tapped at night because the temperature drop inhibits sap flow, although taps are typically left in place overnight. Some producers also tap in autumn, though this practice is less common than spring tapping. Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until they are over 100 years old.

 


 

Until the 1930s, the United States produced most of the world's maple syrup. Today, after rapid growth in the 1990s, Canada produces more than 80 percent of the world's maple syrup, producing about 26,500,000 litres (7,000,000 US gal) in 2004. The vast majority of this comes from the province of Quebec, which is the world's largest producer, with about 75 percent of global production totalling 24,660,000 litres (6,510,000 US gal) in 2005. As of 2003, Quebec had more than 7,000 producers, collectively making over 24,000,000 litres (6,300,000 US gal) of syrup. Production in Quebec is controlled through a supply management system, with producers receiving quota allotments from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec), which also maintains reserves of syrup. Canada exports more than 9,400,000 litres (2,500,000 US gal) of maple syrup per year, valued at more than C$145 million. The provinces of Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island produce smaller amounts of syrup.

The Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan produce maple syrup using the sap of the box elder or Manitoba maple (Acer negundo). A Manitoba maple tree's yield is usually less than half that of a similar sugar maple tree.Manitoba maple syrup has a slightly different flavour from sugar-maple syrup, because it contains less sugar and the tree's sap flows more slowly. Vermont is the biggest US producer, with over 1,320,000 US gallons (5,000,000 L) during the 2013 season, followed by New York with 574,000 US gallons (2,170,000 L) and Maine with 450,000 US gallons (1,700,000 L). Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all produced marketable quantities of maple syrup of less than 265,000 US gallons (1,000,000 L) each in 2013. As of 2003, Vermont produced about 5.5 percent of the global syrup supply.

Maple syrup has been produced on a small scale in some other countries, notably Japan and South Korea. However, in South Korea in particular, it is traditional to consume maple sap, called gorosoe, instead of processing it into syrup. In 2013, 65% of Canadian maple syrup exports went to the United States (a value of C$178 million), 9% to Japan (C$25 million), 8% to Germany (C$22 million) and 4.3% to the United Kingdom (C$12 million).

 


Following an effort from the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI) and many maple syrup producer associations, both Canada and the United States have altered their laws regarding the classification of maple syrup to be uniform. Whereas in the past each state or province had their own laws on the classification of maple syrup, now those laws state the same grades throughout. This had been a work in progress for several years, and most of the finalization of the new grading system was made in 2014. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced in the Canada Gazette on 28 June 2014 that rules for the sale of maple syrup would be amended to include new descriptors, at the request of the IMSI.

As of December 31, 2014, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and as of March 2, 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) issued revised standards on the classification of maple syrup as follows:

  • Grade A

    • Golden Colour and Delicate Taste

    • Amber Colour and Rich Taste

    • Dark Colour and Robust Taste

    • Very Dark Colour and Strong Taste

  • Processing Grade

  • Substandard

 


 

As long as maple syrup does not have an off-flavor and is of a uniform color and clean and free from cloudiness, turbidity, sediment, it can be identified as one of the A grades above. If it does exhibit any of the problems mentioned earlier, it does not meet Grade A requirements and must be labeled as Processing Grade maple syrup and may not be sold to the consumer. If maple syrup does not meet the requirements of Processing Grade maple syrup (including a fairly characteristic maple taste), it is classified as Substandard.

As of February 2015, this new grading system has been accepted and made law by most maple-producing states and provinces, other than Ontario, Quebec, and Ohio. Vermont, in an effort to "jump-start" the new grading regulations, adopted the new grading system as of January 1, 2014, after the grade changes passed the Senate and House in 2013. Maine passed a bill to take effect as soon as both Canada and the United States adopted the new grades. They are allowing a one-year grace period. In New York, the new grade changes became law on January 1, 2015, with a one-year grace period. New Hampshire did not require legislative approval and so the new grade laws became effective as of December 16, 2014, and must be complied with as of January 1, 2016 at the latest.

Golden and Amber grades typically have a milder flavour than Dark and Very dark, which are both dark and have an intense maple flavour. The darker grades of syrup are used primarily for cooking and baking, although some specialty dark syrups are produced for table use. Syrup harvested earlier in the season tends to yield a lighter color. With the new grading system, the classification of maple syrup depends ultimately on its translucence. Golden has to be more than 75 percent translucent, Amber has to be 50.0 to 74.9 percent translucent, Dark has to be 25.0 to 49.9 percent translucent, and Very Dark is any product less than 25.0 percent translucent.

 

Nutritional facts and benefits


 

The basic ingredient in maple syrup is the sap from the xylem of sugar maple or various other species of maple trees. It consists primarily of sucrose and water, with small amounts of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose from the invert sugar created in the boiling process. Accordingly, sugars comprise 90% of total carbohydrates which contribute nearly all of the 261 calories per 100 g serving.

Maple syrup generally is devoid of micronutrient content, excepting appreciable amounts of zinc and manganese which contribute 44% and 157% of the Daily Value, respectively, per 100 g of syrup consumed. Maple syrup also contains trace amounts of amino acids which increase in content as sap flow occurs. Additionally, maple syrup contains a wide variety of volatile organic compounds, including vanillin, hydroxybutanone, and propionaldehyde. It is not yet known exactly what compounds are responsible for maple syrup's distinctive flavour however its primary flavour contributing compounds are maple furanone, strawberry furanone, and maltol.

New compounds have been identified in maple syrup, one of which is quebecol, a natural phenolic compound created when the maple sap is boiled to create syrup.

One author described maple syrup as "a unique ingredient, smooth- and silky-textured, with a sweet, distinctive flavour – hints of caramel with overtones of toffee will not do – and a rare colour, amber set alight. Maple flavour is, well, maple flavour, uniquely different from any other.

Agriculture Canada has developed a "flavour wheel" that details 91 unique flavours that can be present in maple syrup. These flavours are divided into 13 families: vanilla, empyreumatic (burnt), milky, fruity, floral, spicy, foreign deterioration or environment, maple, confectionery, plants forest-humus-cereals, herbaceous, or ligneous.These flavours are evaluated using a procedure similar to wine tasting. Other culinary experts praise its unique flavour. (source Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

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Health benefits of real maple syrup are far more comprehensive than you might expect. The only product in our diet coming directly from a plant’s sap, this natural sweetener features over 54 antioxidants that can help delay or prevent diseases caused by free radicals, such as cancer or diabetes. In addition, maple syrup features high levels of zinc and manganese, keeping the heart healthy and boosting the immune system.

It is not surprising that an increasing number of health-conscious consumers bypass white and brown sugar, stevia, agave syrup and honey in the grocery store in favour of pure maple syrup for health benefit in their diet. Did you know that pure maple syrup has the same beneficial classes of antioxidant compounds found in berries, tomatoes, tea, red wine, whole wheat and flax seed? The sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with documented health benefits qualifies maple syrup as the next champion food.

 

 

 

 

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Eating food high in antioxidants should be on top of everyone’s healthy diet list. Maple syrup features 54 different antioxidants positioning the flavourful ingredient among fruits and vegetables well-known for their health benefits. Pure maple syrup is a superior ingredient to white sugar to increase your antioxidant intake. Why? Tree saps are commonly higher in antioxidant activity than processed sweeteners.

 

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are vitamins and nutrients that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Common health conditions related to free radicals include cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and degenerative disorders.

 

What do antioxidants do?

Eating foods high in antioxidants may help in delaying or preventing such free radical-induced illnesses.

Pure maple syrup contains many active antioxidant elements, such as polyphenols, trace elements and vitamins. New studies found that maple syrup combines many families of antioxidants, some of which are also found in berries, tea, whole wheat, flax seed and red wine. The sheer number and variety of healthy compounds make the sweetener a powerful antioxidant cocktail. The antioxidant strength is similar to that of red Gala apples, broccoli or bananas. A ¼ cup portion of maple syrup contains as many antioxidants as a raw tomato or broccoli, providing between ten and 38% of the recommended daily antioxidant allowance. The darker the grade of maple syrup the higher the antioxidant activity.

 

 

 

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According to the URI research team, maple syrup contains a cocktail of polyphenol compounds, several with antioxidant properties and many with well-documented health benefits. “We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup,” said Seeram. “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 continued. “Not all sweeteners are created equal. When choosing a sweetener, pure maple syrup may be a better choice because of the range of antioxidant compounds not found in other sweeteners.”

Maple syrup may prove to be relevant in Type 2 diabetes management, although the findings must be verified in clinical trials. “We discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar,” said Seeram. “In fact, in preliminary studies maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to several other healthy plant foods such as berries, when tested on a dry-weight basis. By 2050, one in three people will be afflicted with Type 2 diabetes and more and more people are looking for healthier diets, so finding a potential anti-diabetic compound in maple syrup is interesting for the scientific community and the consumer,” said Seeram.

Five of the 54 antioxidants in maple syrup were identified for the first time in nature, and are unique to the natural sweetener. Among the five new compounds never before identified, one polyphenol is of particular interest. Given the common name of Quebecol, in honour of the province of Quebec, this compound is created during the process of boiling down maple sap into maple syrup. “We don’t know yet whether the new compounds contribute to the healthy profile of maple syrup, but we do know that the sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with documented health benefits qualify maple syrup as a champion food,” commented Seeram, whose findings have recently been published in the Journal of Functional Foods. Dr. Seeram’s work at URI is supported by a grant funded by The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, in conjunction with the Conseil pour le développement de l’agriculture du Québec (CDAQ) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) on behalf of the Canadian Maple Syrup Industry.

 

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