Maple Syrup: A Sweetener From North America

Maple syrup was first produced by Native Americans from the Northeastern part of North America. According to archaeologists, maple syrup production predated the arrival of Europeans. The exact origin of maple syrup was never documented, so no one knows who discovered it, but there are legends of how it was discovered. One such legend involves venison being cooked in maple sap for a chief. Many Native American dishes used maple syrup or maple sugar instead of the salt common in European food.

The Algonquins harvested maple syrup by making incisions into the bark of maple trees and inserting reeds or pieces of bark to convey the sap to containers. The sap would then be concentrated by heating it with stones. Alternatively, they would freeze it and remove the ice layer on top.

European settlers would learn how to harvest maple sap from Native Americans. Instead of the incisions used by the Aboriginal people, the Europeans drilled into the tree trunks and inserted wooden spouts. They hung buckets from each spout to catch the sap. The sap was only collected during the winter since it takes on an unpleasant taste as temperatures rise. The sap was boiled to reduce its water content and increase its sweetness.

In the mid-1800s, maple syrup producers were using flat pans made of sheet metal to boil the maple sap. These pans allowed for increased evaporation due to the greater surface area. Evaporators were eventually used to reduce maple syrup and significantly reduced the time it took.

The syrup is reduced to at most 5 percent of the original volume of maple sap so that 100 gallons of maple sap would produce no more than 5 gallons of maple syrup.

Modern harvesters run tubing from the trees directly to the buildings where the sap is processed to syrup. Aside from the tubing, the process is still very much like the one used by the Native Americans. The harvested sap is reduced with heat.

Maple syrup flavor profile

Maple syrup’s flavor varies depending on the time of year at which it was harvested. The taste of maple syrup is primarily sweet with caramel, vanilla, and toffee overtones.

Health benefits of maple syrup

While it is not commonly considered a health food, maple syrup does contain some important nutrients and provides significant health benefits. The nutrients in maple syrup include:

  • Vitamins: Maple syrup isn’t rich in any vitamin, but it does contain a few B vitamins in small amounts. These include thiamin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid.
  • Minerals: Maple syrup does contain moderate amounts of several minerals per serving. It contains high amounts of one in particular: manganese. You can also get calcium, iron, and zinc from it.
  • Antioxidants: You can get antioxidants from maple syrup. These compounds help to protect your body from the damage caused by free radicals.

Occasional consumption of maple syrup may help to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Osteoporosis: The loss of bone density that often accompanies menopause can be slowed by consuming more of certain minerals, including those found in maple syrup.
  • Inflammatory diseases: Because of its antioxidant content, maple syrup can help fight inflammatory conditions like arthritis and heart disease.

Common uses

The most popular way to use maple syrup is as a sweetener. It is poured on as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and even oatmeal. You will also see it commonly used as a glaze for ham and bacon.