March 10, 2013

Maple syrup has many uses

Richard Gast, Cornell Ag Connection

— I love maple syrup. I love it on pancakes, on waffles, on French toast with fried eggs.

But maple syrup is so much more than just pancake sauce. Maple syrup is the nectar of the gods, an epicurean delight that is meant to be experienced. It’s amazingly full bodied, with a complex and enjoyable flavor that is, to me, what honey is to bees.

I use it in my coffee every morning. And I pour it over oatmeal and other whole-grain hot cereals. I enjoy it as a topping on fruit, yogurt, ice-cream and pudding. I like to drizzle it over popcorn. And I find it heavenly in baked beans, pies, cakes, cheesecakes, cookies, sticky buns, cobblers and corn bread. What’s more, it makes a fantastic glaze for baked ham, pork chops, chicken or duck, and a delightful addition to stir fries.

For those who would like to get even more creative, how about adding a little maple syrup when preparing your favorite marinade? Just think about a delectable maple-marinated pork loin or burgers, wings or chops. And what about potatoes and zucchini infused with maple marinade?

How about mixing a batch of barbecue sauce with a generous measure of maple syrup? Just thinking about basting baby-back ribs, chicken, portabellas or shish kabobs in a sauce that’s sweet and tangy makes me want to start the grill right now. And a little maple syrup can go a long way when it comes to making pickles.

For those of you into home brewing, how about a batch of maple beer? I’m not particularly fond of dark beers, but several years ago I tried a maple porter that had been crafted by a friend of a friend. It was a heady, dark beer that proved to be pretty darn good. He said the recipe had been styled after one passed down by his grandfather who would boil down late-season, mildly buddy sap partway to syrup, add the right amount of hops and yeast, and forget about it until it was time to bottle.

Maybe you’d rather sip whiskey than drink beer. Fortunately for you, maple syrup blends very nicely into whiskey. In fact, there are several commercial distillers marketing maple whiskeys. Have you ever heard of Quebec-made Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky or Crown Royal Maple Finished?

It’s hard to believe that something so sweet can be good for you. But maple syrup offers several health benefits.

A 2010 University of Quebec study observed that maple syrup showed anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, with the anti-inflammatory effects appearing stronger in the darker syrups. That same study indicated that the antioxidant capacity was similar to that of orange juice. And maple sugar, which has a glycemic index (GI) of 54, does not raise blood sugar as quickly as granulated sugar (sucrose), which has a GI of 95.

In a 2011 study conducted by the University of Rhode Island, researchers identified 54 compounds in maple syrup, many with antioxidant activity and potential health benefits.

”We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup,” said Dr. Navindra Seeram, assistant pharmacy professor at URI and a lead scientist on the maple-syrup research team. “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, working with Chong Lee, a professor of nutrition and food sciences, also discovered that phenolic compounds (beneficial anti-oxidants) in maple syrup inhibit two carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes that are relevant to Type 2 diabetes management.

Maple syrup is also an excellent source of zinc and manganese. Zinc deficiency has been shown to compromise white blood cell counts and immune system response, especially in children. Manganese helps keeps bones strong and blood-sugar levels normal. It also promotes repair of muscle and cell damage. What’s more, a 1/4-cup serving provides more potassium than a banana. And, ounce for ounce, it offers more calcium than milk.

The maple sugaring season has begun. Several area producers have fresh syrup available. So why not buy some today and see what delightfully decadent (and healthy) gourmet extravagances you can create using locally produced real maple syrup.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy, agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email