Maple syrup is simply the sap taken from maple trees boiled down to a syrup.
Nothing is added to make it free-flowing or shelf-stable, or to stop it cyrstallising. It has heaps of zinc and good supplies of calcium and iron, along with magnesium and potassium, so you don’t need to feel so guilty about having a drizzle or two on pancakes or French toast!
As you would expect, there are many imitations, usually made from corn syrup with very little or no maple syrup at all, or worse still, with artificial maple flavouring. These cheaper products are marketed as ‘maple flavoured syrups’ and lack the unique burnt caramel butterscotchy flavour of maple syrup and tend to be overwhelmingly sweet. They also lack maple syrup’s inherent goodness.
Maple syrup will keep unopened for at least 2 years, but once opened it should be stored in the refrigerator. It’ll keep its haunting aroma and caramel taste for at least a year. If maple syrup is too cold to use straight from the refrigerator, warm it in a microwave, or in a small bowl sitting in a little hot water.
Substituting maple syrup for sugar in baking
Genuine maple syrup has an amazing rich caramel flavour which lingers long in the mouth, but it’s not excessively sweet. The sweetness dissipates long before the caramel flavour is finished. As a rule of thumb if you want to substitute maple syrup for honey in baking, it is a one-to-one ratio, but if using maple syrup to replace sugar, use the following guide: Replace 1 cup granulated or caster (superfine granulated) sugar with ¾ cup maple syrup, but cut down the main liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons.
Maple syrup will make cake batters browner than those made with white sugar, and the baked goods will brown more easily, so watch the heat, or cover the top of cakes loosely with tin foil towards the end of baking.
How to use it
In savoury dishes, use just a little, so that it can impart its complex smoky caramel tones without adding excessive sweetness. It suits strongly flavoured foods such as salmon, bacon, pork, and duck and is good in marinades for spare ribs or barbecue meats. It also teams well with soy sauce in marinades.
But for some, the classic ways – over French toast, pancakes and hotcakes is the best…but here are a few other winning ways:
For extra flavour add maple syrup to beaten eggs, milk/cream when making French toast.
Roll scallops in streaky bacon, brush with maple syrup and grill until golden.
Brush salmon steaks with maple syrup and grill until golden and crusty.
Drizzle over porridge and serve with thick Greek yoghurt.
Use in a vinaigrette in place of honey then use it to dress duck, pork, chicken or ham dishes or warm salads, on barbecued vegetables.
Make a thick maple cream by whipping 1 cup cream until starting to thicken, then adding ¼ cup maple syrup, and whipping until thick. Serve with glazed apple or apricot tarts, or as you would whipped cream.
Make maple milk instead of chocolate milk for the kids when they come home from school. Mix 1 cup icy-cold milk with 2 tablespoons maple syrup and froth up with a hand-held milk-frother (or use a whisk).
Toss salad greens, sliced strawberries or slivered juicy pears and toasted sliced walnuts with a vinaigrette made with maple syrup, oil, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.
Simmer cooked baby carrots in a glaze of ¼ cup maple syrup, 3 tablespoons butter and either ½ teaspoon ground ginger or the juice squeezed out of 1 tablespoon coarsely grated ginger until glazed.
How it is made
It was native Americans who showed colonists how to tap maple trees to extract sap. Although it was a lengthy and laborious task, it went on to become an important localized industry. Not much has changed in the way the sap is extracted – it still needs to be collected and boiled down to obtain the pure syrup – but methods of transporting it from trees to what are colloquially known as ‘sugar shacks’ has vastly improved, as has the method for boiling down the syrup.
Maple trees are tapped at the end of winter, just as spring is unfolding, and the process typically lasts for 3-4 weeks. Freezing nights – and temperatures can drop as low as minus 15°C – and hot days force the trees to take up water from the soil then develop pressure in the stems. When this point is reached, the sap is ready to flow. Trees are generally around 40 years old before they are ready for tapping, and although a large tree can have 2-3 taps inserted at a time, it’s still a lengthy process as the trees can only be tapped for syrup during the day and the sap can’t be pumped out of the trees, it has to drip out bit by bit. As the weather gets warmer the biological changes in the tree make the syrup unpalatable, and tapping ceases until the following year.
The sap is boiled for 10-12 hours until it forms a clear pale golden brown syrup, known as maple syrup. It takes approximately 40 litres of sap to be boiled down to 1 litre of syrup. It can be boiled further (to 132°C) until it forms a toffee, then poured onto snow and quickly rolled up and eaten as a treat known as ‘sugar on snow’ or taffy. The syrup is also made into maple ‘butter’ (a creamy spreadable product, made without butter) by centrifugation, and shaped into a loaf which crystallizes; it is scraped off and spread on toast. If it is boiled for around 20 hours, it forms hard candy.
Canada makes around 80% of the world’s production. I have used the O’Canada brand maple syrup in Shared Kitchen recipes.