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Maple Syrup: The Antioxidant Ambrosia and its Benefits

Since time immemorial, maple syrup has been an inseparable companion of pancakes and desserts. No Spring is incomplete in Canada, Vermont, and specific parts of North America, the East Coast, and the Midwest, without collecting the raw maple sap and creating maple syrup. Tapping the Maple trees begin as early as January and the harvesters wait until March or April to collect the sap and boil it down to a concentrated, sweet syrup that we know as maple syrup. Then it is filtered and bottled for sale and consumption. Forty gallons of raw maple sap have to be collected and concentrated on collecting a single gallon of pure maple syrup.

There are several restrictions on the Canadian government’s composition and production of maple syrup to ensure the distribution and consumption of only the purest kind. The makers procure maple syrup from the trees of the genus Acer, chiefly from three of them: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Black Maple (Acer Nigrum), and Red Maple (Acer rubrum). But that is not enough to pass the test of purity. Maple syrup can only be bottled and sold if it:

has a uniform colour tonedoes not have any sediments and is cleardoes not fermenthas a natural maple flavour and smell and is typical of its colour grade.

The makers ensure that all the factors mentioned above make the maple syrup you finally consume unadulterated and offers only sweetness, flavour, and nutritional benefits. Therefore, this article shall explore the health benefits and nutritional relevance of utilising maple syrup instead of sugar in your daily diet. 

Nutritional Properties of Maple Syrup

According to the USDA, 100 grams of maple syrup possess the following nutritional values.

Calories: 260 KcalCarbohydrates: 67 gmTotal sugar: 60.5 gmWater: 32.4 gmPotassium: 212 mgCalcium: 102 mgMagnesium: 21 mgSodium: 12 mgManganese: 2.91 mgPhosphorus: 2 mgCholin: 1.6 mgZinc: 1.47 mgRiboflavin: 1.27 mgIron: 0.11 mgPantothenic Acid: 0.036 mgCopper: 0.018 mg

Note: The nutritional values are for one hundred grams of maple syrup. But that is not the recommended amount for eating. Advisable maple syrup consumption for best taste and healthy intake of nutrients is not more than two tablespoons a day. 

Varieties of Maple Syrup

Up until 2014, there were all kinds of grading systems for the different varieties of maple syrup, but they were a tad misleading. Earlier, maple syrup used to be graded A, B, or C, based on its colour and taste. However, people would often get confused about the grading system based on quality, considering grade A to be better and grade C not so much. So the USDA, in 2015, adopted a new grading system and cleared all this confusion. 

Maple syrup is graded or differentiated into its varieties based on its appearance and flavour, depending on the time of the maple sap harvest. The sap harvested early was lighter in taste and more golden, while the syrup harvested and boiled down late in the season was darker and more full-bodied.

The new grading system found the following common varieties of maple syrup.

Golden colour and delicate taste: They harvest this syrup at the very beginning of the season. It is light, buttery-gold in colour, and has a subtle maple flavour, which is delicious when paired best with pancakes and waffles and yoghurt and ice cream. Amber colour and rich taste: They harvest mid-season, and it is the most popular for its all-purpose utility. It has a more mature maple flavour and a beautiful sunset shade. It is perfect for consumption directly with breakfast and desserts or as a part of cooking sauces and garnishing.The dark colour and robust taste: This syrup is harvested in the latter half of the season and is famous for being suitable for all kinds of recipes. It has a slow, deepening, almost liquor-like colour and has a robust taste that is good to taste directly over baked goods or as a part of a smoky glaze with your barbecue. The very dark colour and robust taste: The makers harvest this variety at the end of the season. It has a deep liquor-like colour and is perfect for cooking and baking. Although, if you prefer a robust maple flavour for your vanilla ice cream, this should be your go-to variety.

Health Benefits of Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is derived from the sap of the Maple tree. This sap contains multiple nutritional benefits that you may benefit from upon consumption. The sap is rich in minerals, compounds, and healthy acids for the human body. 

So, let us dive deeper into the health benefits of maple syrup.

1. Maple Syrup Has an Abundance of Antioxidants

Human bodies undergo a process called oxidative stress. This oxidative stress occurs due to free radicals (charged molecules that contain oxygen), which are present both within the body and in the environment (air pollutants, ozone, cigarette smoke, x-rays, and so on). These free radicals create an imbalance in the body compared to the antioxidant defences and cause oxidative stress and tissue degeneration. Consuming antioxidants help fight against this phenomenon and boosts the body’s immunity to promote cellular regeneration. 

According to studies, maple syrup yields thirty antioxidant compounds instead of twenty-six phytochemicals discovered. These antioxidants help regulate and prevent the growth of cancer cells, improve cardiovascular health, control sugar levels, improve brain health and lessen the possibility of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease and contracting Parkinson’s disease. It also helps reduce the chances of cataracts and loss of vision. 

Maple syrup also happens to be an excellent source of manganese. Hence, 83 grams of it compensates for more than 100% of the daily recommended intake for an adult. Manganese is one of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) components, which helps fight free radicals. 

Studies show that manganese helps form bones and connective tissue, improves blood clotting factors, and boosts sex hormones. It also plays a significant role in calcium absorption, regulating blood sugar levels, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and proper functioning of the brain and nervous system.

2. Maple Syrup is Rich in Riboflavin 

Riboflavin, another name for Vitamin B2, plays a significant role in maintaining the different bodily functions and is found abundantly in maple syrup. According to research, Riboflavin prevents a boatload of diseases like migraine, anaemia, cancer, hyperglycemia, hypertension, cataracts, fatigue, and oxidative stress. It also facilitates the absorption of iron in tryptophan metabolism, maintains gut health, ensures proper functioning of mitochondria at the cellular level, promotes brain health, and prevents skin disorders. 

3. The Golden Goodness is Full of Potassium

Potassium aids in the smooth functioning of the circulatory system, excretory system, nervous system, and skeletal system of the human body. Research shows that Potassium intake reduces the possibility of cardiovascular diseases, lessens water retention in the body, ensures proper renal functioning, prevents the formation of kidney stones, controls hypertension, and keeps away strokes. Potassium also helps improve bone health, decreases the risk of hypercalciuria and osteoporosis, and may prevent the onset of diabetes with long-term treatment with thiazide diuretics. Therefore, it is wise to consume maple syrup in moderation to guarantee a proper potassium intake.

4. The Maple Nectar is a Friend to your Digestive System and Diabetes

Recent research and multiple studies have shown that maple syrup contains inulin and is also effective as a phytomedicine in protecting your gastro-intestinal and colorectal tracts from cancer. Insulin is a natural dietary fibre that acts as a prebiotic and promotes gut health. Maple syrup also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It scores low to medium (54) on the glycemic index, especially when compared to alternate sweeteners like sucrose, honey, and corn syrup. A comparatively lower GI makes maple syrup a more diabetic-friendly sweetener option when consumed in moderate amounts.

How to Prepare Maple Syrup?

Pure Maple Syrup

Making pure maple syrup is a difficult task but rewarding when you arrive at the final result. However, following these steps need diligently. Please follow the method below to make quality maple syrup at home.

Preparation and Tapping Method

Months before the season starts, all the tapping, collecting, and boiling instruments need to be tested and kept ready. Also, it would be best to keep in mind that the weather is subject to whims when you choose to tap the trees. Good amounts of sap can be collected only when the nights are freezing and the days are warm and sunny. Also, once tapped, the season lasts only 6-8 weeks. Also, the harvester must check their buckets and sap tanks at least once a day and transport them to his sugarhouse as quickly as possible to prevent fermentation and contamination. The sap can be tapped and collected either by the classic spout and bucket method or the more modern pipeline and tubing method. Larger syrup producers may choose to apply vacuum and collect sap. 

Boiling and Filtering

Once you collect it, you must immediately boil maple sap to retain its purity. It must boil until the sap is gone. Only the concentrated maple syrup remains behind at a 67% sugar content when read on a hydrometer, or the syrup reaches 219 degrees F, at sea level, according to a thermometer. Using both the devices guarantees the proper density of the syrup, after which you can filter it. You can filter maple syrup with a simple wool filter or a filter press. 

Bottling

After filtering, you need to grade the syrup by colour using a standardised grading kit. Once graded, bottle the syrup at 190 F and seal it immediately to prevent contamination. 

Storage and Safety

According to the USDA, pure maple syrup in a glass bottle can last four years from the date of purchase if stored in a cool, dry area. If refrigerated, it might last for an eternity. Maple syrup in plastic containers will last about 18 months to 24 months. However, the shelf life of commercial maple syrup may vary depending on the container’s label.

Possible Adverse Effects of Maple Syrup

Tooth Decay 

All kinds of sugar and sweeteners, especially those with added sugar, can cause tooth decay and cavities. In addition, the bacteria feed on sugar and cause dental degeneration, causing painful cavities and other dental problems. Therefore, it is better to limit maple syrup consumption to moderate amounts to avoid tooth decay because even the golden nectar of breakfasts has natural sugars in large doses. 

Allergic Reactions

Maple syrup or sap rarely contains any allergens. However, those with tree pollen or specific nut allergies may be allergic to raw maple sap. This allergy may give rise to mild symptoms, such as itching and burning of the mouth and throat, digestive disturbances, runny nose, and development of hives, to more severe symptoms, such as swollen facial parts, wheezing, and narrowing of the throat, and difficulty in breathing. If you are allergic to maple sap, there is no rule that you will also be allergic to maple syrup. However, if the allergy is severe to maple sap or tree pollen, it is better to carry an adrenaline auto-injector with you in case of an emergency.

High in Sugar

Though maple syrup has a low-to-moderate glycemic index score and is not that high in calories, it does have a high amount of natural sugar that can spike the sugar levels when consumed in excess. As a result, it can also lead to a gain in weight. It can also adversely affect your blood sugar levels which is especially worrisome if you are diabetic.

Conclusion

Maple syrup is a classic condiment that is not only moderate in calories but also houses a plethora of valuable nutrients and antioxidants. It is graded and divided into varieties based on its colour and flavour, making it easier to segment its function and relevance according to different preparations and recipes. Maple syrup is abundant in antioxidants, manganese, Riboflavin, Potassium, and Inulin, among other minerals and compounds. 

It holds a unique nutrient-rich threshold as an alternative sweetener with a low-to-moderate glycemic index score. It can maintain this score due to its richness in minerals and antioxidants. Also, it protects the body from many diseases like cancer, stroke, and cataracts. In addition, it ensures the smooth functioning of the heart, brain, nervous system, circulatory system, skeletal system, kidneys, skin, and eyes. It is indeed antibiotic ambrosia, but only when consumed in moderation. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. 1 Is maple syrup healthier than honey?

A. When compared side by side, maple syrup has a winning edge over honey in the nutritional benefits it offers. Maple syrup contains less sugar, fewer calories, and fewer carbohydrates when compared to honey. The former also has a lower GI score than the latter. Though honey has its respective health relevance, maple syrup outshines it with its huge stock of antioxidants, manganese, potassium, and Riboflavin.

Q. 2 Is maple syrup better than sugar?

A. Maple syrup is a sugar product, much like all other sweeteners. However, natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar contain no added sugar in their pure form. Their sugar content is mainly glucose and fructose, unlike sucrose or table sugar which is much worse for health than maple syrup unless consumed minimally.

Q. 3 Do I have to refrigerate maple syrup?

A. When stored in a cool, dry place, pure maple syrup in a glass container will last for at least four years. If refrigerated, maple syrup will last indefinitely.

Q. 4 Is pure maple syrup healthier than pancake syrup?

A. Pure maple syrup is always healthier than pancake syrup because the latter is high in preservatives, added sugar, and additives. In addition, while maple syrup is a by-product of boiling down maple sap, pancake syrup uses corn syrup and artificial maple extract. As a result, it serves as a poor, unhealthy substitute for the original maple nectar.

Q. 5 Is maple syrup in coffee good?

A. Maple syrup is a better sweetener than table sugar for coffee. Also, it has fewer calories and a lower glycemic index score because it dissolves easily in coffee and does not crystalise. It also offers a unique, full-bodied woodsy flavour, complemented by the caffeine bitterness and nutritional benefits of maple syrup when consumed in moderation.

Q. 6 Is maple syrup as good as honey?

A. Maple syrup is just as good as honey and even slightly better when you look at the extra nutritional benefits and protection from diseases than honey. Of course, honey has its health benefits and flaws, but maple syrup shines more because of its diabetic-friendly nature and antioxidant-rich composition.

Q. 7 Is coconut sugar better than maple syrup?

A. Coconut sugar has a low GI score (35), while maple syrup has a low-to-medium score (54). The former is also very low in calories compared to the latter (in a tbsp of each, coconut sugar clocks at 15 calories while maple syrup is at 52. Therefore, coconut sugar is a better option for people with diabetes and those on a diet. But, if you consider the health benefits, coconut sugar does not even come close to all the nutritional benefits that maple syrup offers. In this area, maple syrup is the winner.

Q. 8 Can people with diabetes eat maple syrup?

A. With a low-to-moderate glycemic index score of 54, maple syrup is a diabetic-friendly option, especially with all the extra nutritional benefits that help control the spikes in blood sugar level. But that holds when you consume it in moderation; the sugar levels are likely to increase.

Q. 9 Is honey sweeter than maple syrup?

A. Both honey and maple syrup have similar flavour profiles as both have a caramel undertone to their sweetness. However, maple syrup has a more woody and smoky edge which contrasts with the floral sweetness of honey. In addition, since honey possesses more sugar than maple syrup (in a tbsp of each, honey contains 17.3gms of sugar, while maple syrup has 13.5 gms), it tastes slightly sweeter than maple syrup.

Q. 10 Is maple syrup healthier than corn syrup?

A. Maple syrup is much healthier than corn syrup in every aspect. For example, maple syrup has a lower GI score (54 against 90), has fewer calories (260 Kcal against 286 Kcal), and offers many health benefits, unlike the meagre nutritional benefits of corn syrup. 

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