Puerto Rican Vegan: The Skinny on Maple Syrup

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Skinny on Maple Syrup
























I'm always on the lookout for fun educational field trips we can take as a family.  New Jersey Family is one of my absolute favorite sites for local events.  Every week I get an email with family-friendly activities taking place near us.  Their website also features lots of awesome articles, How-Tos, and giveaways.  I actually just won a Cuisinart electric hand mixer last week by commenting on my favorite thing to bake...vegan carrot cake, of course!  I just realized I haven't posted the recipe for that one.  Wow, you've been missing out!

Anyway, on Saturday I found a great little local event called the Annual Maple Sugar Fest which took place at the Great Swamp Nature Center in Chatham.  There were taste tests, crafts, nature walks, and games.  They even had a wigwam the kiddos could enter as an example of how the Native Americans in our area who harvested tree sap used to live.  We learned so much about maple syrup that I wanted to share with all of you some of the interesting tidbits:

  • Maple syrup requires such a specific climate that northeast US and Canada is the only place in the world where it can be harvested.
  • Maple syrup is made from maple tree sap which looks and tastes just like water.  It is cooked down to evaporate the water, leaving the browned syrup behind.  
  • The way they retrieve the sap has stayed just about the same for hundreds of years.  A small hole is drilled into the tree about an inch past the bark.  For small farms, a bucket is placed to catch the sap.  Larger farms connect hoses to bring all the sap into a factory.
  • In super cold winters (like the one we've been having in 2014), the sap freezes inside the tree and very little will be harvested.
  • The different grades and shades of maple syrup have to do with when in the season it was harvested.  
  • Grade A Light Amber (Fancy grade) is harvested early in the season, contains the most sugar content, and is the most expensive.
  • Grade A Medium and Dark Amber are the most common forms of syrup found in grocery stores, harvested mid-season.
  • Grade B is harvested at the end of the season (late March), is darkest in color, has the least amount of sugar content, but most amount of "maple" flavor - which makes it great for cooking.
  • Commercial maple syrup (think Aunt Jemima and the like) have zero actual maple syrup content, made mostly from high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, and other artifical flavors/colors.  
  • Pure maple syrup is costly in comparison to commercial syrup because it takes about 5 1/5 days for the average tree to produce about 40 gallons of sap, which is what it takes for one gallon of syrup.
  • Because maple syrup comes from very old trees, there is no need for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc - which makes it inherently organic.  It also has a slew of vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), niacin, and folic acid.
Whew!  Fascinating, no?   We love maple syrup in our home.  I use it as a sugar substitute in some recipes, and of course over homemade vegan pancakes!  What do you use maple syrup for?  What is your favorite grade?



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