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Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar: North American Natural Sweeteners

Maple syrup is made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, black maple, or red maple trees; however, it can also be made from other maple species. Next to honey, it is the most popular natural sweetener in North America.

Maple syrup production is mainly located in northeastern North America; specifically, the northeastern states (including New York, Vermont and Maine) and the southeastern parts of Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Given the correct weather conditions, it can be made anywhere in the habitat range of the maple trees. In cold environments, the trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then turned to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring.

The three species of maple trees are predominantly used to produce maple syrup are the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), the black maple (A. nigrum), and the red maple (A. rubrum). These species are preferred because of the high sugar content (roughly two to five percent) in the sap. Some botanists include the black maple as a subspecies of A. saccharum, the sugar maple. Red maple has a shorter season which alters the flavor of the sap because it buds earlier than sugar and black maples.

The best maple syrupis made from sugar maple sap which is preferred for maple syrup production because it has an average sugar content of two percent. Sap from other maple species is usually lower in sugar content, and about twice as much is needed to produce the same amount of finished syrup.

The caloric content of maple syrup is similar to sugar. However, 13 grams of maple syrup (a little less than a tablespoon) contains 22% of the FDA daily value of manganese. The same amount of syrup contains 3.7% of the daily value of zinc. Maple syrup has 15 times as much calcium as honey and 1/10 of the sodium.

Scientists are studying the natural phenols found in maple syrup for potentially beneficial antioxidant compounds relevant to type 2 diabetes. Thirty-four new compounds have been discovered, 5 of which have never been seen in nature. One of those new compounds is quebecol, a phenolic compound created when maple sap is heated and reduced to make syrup.

Maple sugar is made from the controlled crystallization of maple syrup and takes several forms. Granulated maple sugar looks like brown sugar with variable grain size. It is easy to store in air tight jars and it will not mold or separate. Granulated maple sugar is often sifted to create a uniform sugar. There is nothing wrong with large crystals, they are edible and the same exact thing as the small crystals but they can cause difficulties in measuring and should be reserved for other purposes. The difference in measuring kosher salt and regular table salt are similar.

To make granulated maple sugar it is important that you start with 100% pure maple syrup. Pour the maple syrup into a medium saucepan; pour between one and 1.5 inched of syrup. Maple syrup can produce a lot of foam when heated so use a larger pan than you think you will need.

Heat the syrup to 40-45°F above the boiling point of water, water boils at 212°F at sea level. When the syrup reaches the desired temperature immediately transfer it to a flat pan (with sides) stir the syrup as it cools until there is no more moisture and the granulation is complete.

Several types of maple sugar candy can be made by varying this process. By changing the temperature, the syrup is heated to, when and how it is stirred and how it is molded you can make molded maple hard candy, molded maple soft candy, maple butter, maple fondant and maple nougat.

Not all maple syrup is suitable for making sugar. In order to have small crystals form the invert sugar must be less than 10%. The tests for invert sugar and confusing and not readily available for the home sugar maker so the general rule is that lighter syrups (grade AA, grade A) contain less invert sugar than darker syrups and are more likely to create a useable sugar.

While maple sugar is hardly a health food it is better than most of the alternatives. Maple sugar is made from boiled tree sap, heating and mechanical straining are the only forms of processing it goes though. It contains more trace minerals (including manganese, zinc and copper) and antioxidants than cane sugar. Honey is another natural form of unprocessed sugar. Cane sugar is refined from sugarcane, a tropical grass. Sugarcane refining includes several chemical processes to remove impurities and to increase the sucrose content. The sugarcane industry has a larger impact on the environment due to fertilizer run off, pesticide applications and refinery emissions.

A majority of this article originally appeared here and republished on this site with permission.


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