Maple syrup – a sweet spice
Is maple syrup a spice?
This sounds a bit unusual for European ears, but maple syrup is used as a seasoning every day in Canada. Maple syrup is not only used for sweet dishes, but also for savoury ones! And in Canada, we discovered a cookbook that only has recipes with maple syrup in it.
I first tasted maple syrup when I was sixteen when I first came to the USA and it was served with pancakes. Back home we bought the maple syrup which was available in stores.
But it was only after our trip to Canada in autumn 2019 that I knew how great it really tastes and, above all, how it’s produced and used.
Maple syrup is a natural product that is extracted from sugar maple trees.
Sugar maple grows mainly around the big lakes in Canada and Northern USA. Canada, more precisely the regions of Quebec and Ontario, is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup, followed by the USA.
The maple tree and also it’s syrup are, Canada’s trademark. Canada even has a maple leaf as the subject on its national flag.
These trees are best known for their dazzling colours in autumn. Before they lose their leaves, they turn from yellow to orange to deep red. This event is called “Indian Summer”. The interesting thing is that the trees don’t get the same colour every year. Apparently, it depends on how dry a year was, or how the temperature is in the fall. Locals near the Algonquin National Park told us that in 2019 the trees turned an extraordinary red.
How is maple syrup produced?
Maple syrup is produced in spring when the days get a little warmer, but the nights are still cold and frosty.
This is when the trees start to bring sap and nutrients from the roots to the buds. And this sap is tapped and thickened which turns it into syrup.
It takes about forty litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup, and each tree delivers about this amount in two weeks or so. The entire harvesting period lasts about four to six weeks between February and April, depending on the year.
To collect the sap, a tap is driven into the tree trunk, where the sap drips out.
On smaller farms, the juice is collected in buckets, while on larger farms, the juice is fed directly to the production facility via pipes. There it is boiled down until it has the typical colour and consistency. Real, pure maple syrup has no additives but consists only of maple juice. Traditionally the juice is cooked over a wood fire. Even private individuals who own sugar maple trees sometimes make their own syrup.
In Canada, there is still the tradition of pouring the first, still warm maple syrup on fresh, clean snow. Then it cools down and is wrapped on a wooden stick and eaten. This is called “Taffy-on-Snow”.
Why doesn’t every maple syrup have the same colour?
There are four different colour and taste levels of maple syrup:
Gold: mild taste, to sweeten tea, coffee, fresh fruit or salad sauces
Amber: rich in flavour, for pancakes or for glazing vegetables or meat
Dark: robust taste, for sauces, over ice cream, or together with rather hot spices
Very dark: strong taste, for baking or marinades
These different degrees have nothing to do with processing, but with the time of sap harvesting. Early in the year, the juice is lighter and milder; the later in the year the juice is harvested, the darker and more intense it is.
The sugar content, on the other hand, is the same in all four grades.
What is made from maple syrup?
Besides maple syrup, maple sugar, maple butter, maple candy, maple vinegar, maple mustard, maple barbecue sauces, maple cotton candy and maple ice cream are also produced. And this list is by no means complete. In one shop we even discovered maple biscuits for dogs!
How can I store maple syrup?
Unopened syrup actually has an unlimited shelf life, preferably in a cool, dry place. Once open, it must be stored in the refrigerator. If you have purchased large quantities, you can freeze it without any problems, this is even recommended. And I can confirm this.
How can I use maple syrup?
Only the sky is the limit!
As already mentioned in the beginning, maple syrup is very versatile. Of course, you can just use it instead of sugar. Or simply as a spice, or for glazing vegetables or meat, or for soups, or gratinated cheese, or for grilled salmon, or, or, or, or
On the homepage of the Association of Maple Syrup Producers of Ontario, you will find a variety of recipes.
And next week you will find my ultimate recipe for Maple Syrup Buttercream Biscuits!